Cinderella (1997 Film) and Whitewashing

The adaptation of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella starring Brandy Rayana Norwood and Whitney Houston was my favorite film as a child. This adaptation had a multiracial cast and a black Cinderella. When I was four years old, whenever I saw a woman with cornrows on the street, I would point to her and say that she looked “beautiful, just like Cinderella” because of this musical. It brings up a problem particularly prevalent in America of “whitewashing,” casting a hugely disproportionate number of characters in the movies and other media, especially main characters, as white actors. It’s a common argument that it makes most sense for characters to be white, but would we feel the same way if we grew up with a more transnational media that didn’t whitewash movies? Maybe more children would have grown up associating cornrows with Cinderella. This movie helps prove the arbitrariness of racial associations with certain famous characters.

-Freddy Bendekgey

2 thoughts on “Cinderella (1997 Film) and Whitewashing”

  1. I think that it’s really important to acknowledge the fact that so many characters are portrayed as white even if they are never explicitly identified as white, or are in fact, a person of colour.

    However, I’m not sure if the dynamics of transnationalism would solve the entire problem. Part of the dynamics of transnationalism is indigenization, and there have been numerous occasions in which media from other countries has been adapted for a Western audience by making characters who were originally people of colour white, such as the planned Akira or 47 Ronin.

    -Tanya

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  2. I agree with Tanya’s comment that mere exposure to transnational media is not necessarily sufficient, since, for example, international films are often adapted with white actors and books given new covers featuring white or Westernized versions of the characters. However, Freddy makes a good point about the vital importance of representation in the media to a child’s worldview. A common argument among white audiences has to do with “historical accuracy”: some argue that it makes sense for a period film set in Europe to contain only white actors, as if everyone in Europe in a given time period was white. Meanwhile, children of color are growing up without seeing themselves reflected in their favorite television and movie characters. Especially in fantasy tales like Cinderella, there’s basically no reason whatsoever that any character must be of a particular race or ethnicity, and it clearly makes a difference in a child’s life when they see princesses and superheroes who look like them, so the history argument really doesn’t hold up in context.

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