Cinderella (1997) | It’s Possible for a Multi-Ethnic Cast

Posted by Karen Ng & filed under Film, Pop Culture.

(left to right) Jason Alexander as Lionel, Paolo Montalban as Prince Christopher, Brandy as Cinderella, Whitney Houston as Fairy Godmother, Bernadette Peters as the Stepmother, Natalie Desselle-Reid as Minerva, and Veanne Cox as Calliope | Photo: bccurrentmag.com
(left to right) Jason Alexander as Lionel, Paolo Montalban as Prince Christopher, Brandy as Cinderella, Whitney Houston as Fairy Godmother, Bernadette Peters as the Stepmother, Natalie Desselle-Reid as Minerva, and Veanne Cox as Calliope | Photo: bccurrentmag.com

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Hollywood seems fond of rebooting fairy tales and lacks many original screenplays these days. First I saw the trailer for Pan (to be released in July 2015 by Warner Bros. Pictures). Then I noticed the trailer and now promotional posters on buses for the “new” Cinderella. It is (no surprise) a live action retelling of Charles Perrault’s Cinderella—or Cendrillon—to be released in March 2015 by Walt Disney Pictures.

Oh, I am so excited. (Please take the lack of an exclamation mark as an indication of sarcasm.)

Let’s not talk about the serious lack of diversity and actors of colour in these two upcoming films, like the white-washing of Tiger Lily in Pan, or the fact that the upcoming Cinderella, judging only from its trailer and Wikipedia, brings nothing innovative to the story or the screen. At least Pan is an origin story for Peter Pan. Maybe that’s why Cinderella’s costumes have to be so colourful—they’ve got to make up for the deficit somehow, but even then I’m not so impressed.

Remember, kids: diverse representation is not about squeezing white people into minority roles; we want diversity and equality.

But anyway, let’s talk about my favourite screen adaptation of the classic fairy tale, the Disney Rodgers & Hammerstein’s 1997 film version of the musical Cinderella.

Starring Brandy as Cinderella, Whitney Houston as the Fairy Godmother, and Paolo Montalban as the Prince, the movie musical is fantastic. The sets are beautifully colourful, and my parents and I have been humming and singing the songs for years.

Jason Alexander as Lionel the butler (centre) performing "The Prince is Giving a Ball" | Photo: photobucket.com

Jason Alexander as Lionel the butler (centre) performing “The Prince is Giving a Ball” | Photo: photobucket.com

I never realized how amazing the 1997 Cinderella was until I grew older and discovered that hey, one of the step-sisters is white and the other is black. And the queen is black, the king is white, and the prince is Filipino. After the realization? I just shrugged and went along with it, because that is apparently what I did as a small child; I didn’t care. The same went for my seven-year-old twin cousins and their three-year-old sister from Hong Kong when I played the movie for them. They laughed at Lionel the funny butler/valet (played by Jason Alexander from Seinfeld), oohed and aahed at Cinderella’s beautiful, sparkly blue dress, and slapped their hands over their eyes when Prince Christopher and Cinderella kissed (because kissing is gross). Not a peep of dissatisfaction, except for, “Why can’t we watch the movie again?”

(left to right) Natalie Desselle-Reid as Minerva, Veanne Cox as Calliope, and Bernadette Peters as the Stepmother | Photo: moviereviews420.tumblr.com

(left to right) Natalie Desselle-Reid as Minerva, Veanne Cox as Calliope, and Bernadette Peters as the Stepmother | Photo: moviereviews420.tumblr.com

Whoopi Goldberg as Queen Constantina (left) and Victor Garber as King Maximillian (right) | Photo: photobucket.com

Whoopi Goldberg as Queen Constantina (left) and Victor Garber as King Maximillian (right) | Photo: photobucket.com

The step-sisters were not exactly morally good people, but not so evil that I did not find some shred of liking for them near the end (they were funny, okay?), and you have to admit that the evil step-mother had a lot of influence over them. After all, Cinderella’s step-mother is Bernadette Peters. All the actors brought incredible voices and performances, and it just did not matter to me in a way that was bothersome that the cast was multi-ethnic.  I am incredibly fortunate to have grown up in a place as multicultural as the Metro Vancouver area. I see people from all sorts of backgrounds, so it only made sense that the characters I saw on screen were like that too.

Cinderella’s and Prince Christopher’s first meeting with each other is grounded in respect and the goal of equality. Disguised as a peasant, Christopher helps Cinderella with her fallen packages, and they bond over their sheltered lives after singing “The Sweetest Sounds.”

What would a man have to do to find himself in your good graces?” Christopher asks her. He is forward and a little pushy, and Cinderella is not having any of it.

“He’d have to get to know me a lot better than some girl he just met on the street,” she says. “I’m not sure I want to meet this stranger. I doubt he has any idea how a girl should be treated.”

“Like a princess, I suppose.”

“No, like a person, with kindness and respect,” says Cinderella.

Damn right.

Brandy as Cinderella (left) and Paolo Montalban as Prince Christopher (right) | Photo: photobucket.com

Brandy as Cinderella (left) and Paolo Montalban as Prince Christopher (right) | Photo: photobucket.com

The adaptation also addressed how quickly Prince Christopher falls in love with Cinderella in a song called “Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful?” I vaguely remember thinking as a small child about how right that was and how much it made sense. Does the prince only love Cinderella because she’s pretty, or is she beautiful to him because he loves her? Of course now I’m going to have to demand an answer to this question to anyone who ever tells me I’m pretty or that they love me.

So maybe 1997 was eighteen years ago and we just absolutely need a new Cinderella. However, in the 1997 songs, like “Impossible” and its variation “It’s Possible,” the Fairy Godmother sings about how nothing is impossible in this magical and mystical realm, and even plain yellow pumpkins become golden carriages. Let us hope that the world we live in now does not have to be so magical and mystical that a diverse cast in Hollywood is impossible.

For the world is full of zanies and fools,
Who don’t believe in sensible rules…

…like diverse representation in the media.

You can listen to the soundtrack here on YouTube.

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