This is not my Cinderella

There’s something about Cinderella that makes me smile. At the mention of the name, I think of Gus Gus and rats that somehow became cute; Hillary Duff, Chad Michael Murray, and Stiffler’s Mom; and the men’s basketball team at the University of Dayton who stole my heart (and broke my bracket) during last year’s March Madness tournament. I also think of Brandy and Whitney Houston, and one of the best made-for-TV movies ever made. Cinderella means many things to many people, but for me, Cinderella has always been a place I called home.

Growing up in rural Indiana as a queer biracial woman, media gave me something my neighborhood could not: people who looked like me. When the TV adaptation of Roger and Hammerstein’s Cinderella premiered on my television in 1997, I fell in love with the spectrum of colors. Many different shades lit up my screen and I danced and sang along, doing my best Whitney Houston impression to the tune of “Impossible.” For the entirety of my childhood, there was a recognizable Cinderella story that was not bound by Disney’s historically white standards.

Admittedly, I hoped that the newest live-action adaptation would follow in the footsteps of Annie (released earlier this year), and continue the tradition of the Cinderella I knew and loved. Instead the cast is nearly completely white, and normally, I wouldn’t care because white casts are not something that is new to Hollywood. ET documented their “Top 7 Cinderella Movies,” and only two of them starred women of color: Selena Gomez and Brandy. And even though there have been many gains in the portrayal of women and specifically women of color (thank you, Shonda Rhimes) in media, with this version of Cinderella, I felt the erasure and the stark reminder of just how far we have to go.

This new Cinderella is just the latest representation of the ways in which we systematically deny women of color visibility in the media.  The Women’s Media Center sums it up best with their 2014 report on women in media. In the top films of 2012, 10.8 percent of speaking parts went to Black actors, 5 percent to Asian actors, and 4.2 percent to Hispanic actors. In sum, less than a quarter of speaking parts were given to non-white actors. Though Black, Hispanic, and Asian women held larger percentages (34.6, 33.9, and 34.8 percent respectively) of the speaking parts that went to women than white women (28.8 percent), this does not account for the negative imagery associated with women of color. Hispanic women were more likely to be seen in sexually revealing attire than any other demographic. And as much as I love Bailey (Grey’s Anatomy) and Miss Julian (Bones), they are still quite reminiscent of the “Sassy Black Woman” archetype. Nor do these statistics account for the segregation that happens within films (i.e. “Black films” like Tyler Perry’s Madea).

Disney’s official lineup of princesses includes nine white women, one Black woman, one Asian woman, one Native American woman, and one Middle Eastern/North African woman. The tokenization of various racial minorities does not lend itself to wide and meaningful representation; the race of each non-white princess becomes her defining characteristic.

Unlike other adaptations of Cinderella, the 1997 version was also produced by Disney and aired on the Disney-owned broadcast company ABC, providing a different — and Disney-approved — vision of the Cinderella fairytale. But the creation of a new live-action film reclaimed the fairytale, effectively erasing the deviation from the norm that the 1997 version represented. When the new Cinderella cast list was announced, the woman chosen to play her reflected the official Princess of Cinderella, or the “real” Cinderella. And while I appreciate the performance of Lily James, she is not my Cinderella.

The charm of Cinderella throughout the film was her naiveté. The narrator lauds her idealistic nature by praising Cinderella’s ability to “see the world not for what it was, but what it could be.” The latest version reminds me of the reality of the world in which we live.

I’ll be over here working towards what the world could be.

Header Image Credit: HD Wallpaper


Katie Barnes (they/them/their) is a pop-culture obsessed activist and writer. While at St. Olaf College studying History and (oddly) Russian (among other things), Katie fell in love with politics, and doing the hard work in the hard places. A retired fanfiction writer, Katie now actually enjoys writing with their name attached. Katie actually loves cornfields, and thinks there is nothing better than a summer night's drive through the Indiana countryside. They love basketball and are a huge fan of the UConn women's team. When not fighting the good fight, you can usually find Katie watching sports, writing, or reading a good book.

Katie Barnes is a pop-culture obsessed activist and writer.

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