Films that made me: Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella
When most people recount watching their favourite films from childhood it usually involves the Disney classics; The Little Mermaid, Fantasia and Cinderella. However, the only Cinderella I had on replay was the version where Cinderella was played by RnB star Brandy, and icon Whitney Houston was the Fairy Godmother, and looking back it made such a huge impact on my life.
I was given this film on VHS for either my 5th or 6th birthday and, as kids do, I had it on repeat most days. At the time, I didn’t think much of the film apart from the fact it had amazing songs and the costumes were amazingly beautiful.
Looking back now, I see the film completely differently. For starters, it might have been the most diverse cast in any film I’ve ever seen- nothing has come close since. Not once did I question the fact that the prince was an asian man and his parents were a black woman (Whoopi Goldberg!) and a white man (Victor Garber). I never batted an eyelid that the one of the step-sisters was black, despite her white mother and sister, and I certainly didn’t think anything of the fact that Cinderella and the Fairy Godmother were both black. Now I realise just how revolutionary that was.
What I didn’t realise at the time was how little representation there was for black and asian people on screen, even now. It wasn’t until 2018 that we got our first black superhero in a lead role in the Marvel franchise and I can’t think of another film with a brown woman as the lead since Bend it like Beckham. Beyond this, the multi-cultural cast was not commented on and just simply was. It was progressive, even maybe unintentionally.
It’s not perfect a perfect film. After all, it’s a story about a woman falling in love with a prince after one dance and living happily ever after, but seeing that it wasn’t only white people that could be somebody even in these fantastical worlds was inspiring to me. I think maybe even subconsciously, it instilled something in me which still makes me so unsatisfied when I see a lack of diversity on TV and in films, because I know just how wonderful it can be.
Another similar colour blind casting scenario is the musical Hamilton, which I also happen to love. Casting historic figures such as Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson as black men shows that history isn’t just for white people and the show has certainly opened up that part of American history to a new audience. With the huge popularity of productions like this, it seems bizarre to me that there wasn’t more films like Cinderella being made between its release and now.
This is exactly the kind of film I’d want my children to watch in the future and hopefully by then it still won’t be the only one of its kind. So, if you haven’t watched it, I can’t recommend this film enough, if not for the futuristic casting but for the amazing songs and seeing Whitney at her best.
Press play for a favourite song of mine: