Campus Life Editor
Warning: This article contains spoilers for Amazon’s Cinderella!
If you are a child and this is your first experience with the character Cinderella ever, you might enjoy the recent remake of the classic story. Other than that, it is difficult to tell who the movie is made for.
Cinderella’s story has been told a million times, so it leads us to question: what makes this one special? Cinderella (2021), released on Amazon on Sept. 3, really embodies a “girlboss” new take for the original tale.
I love an empowering story as much as the next person, but the lack of unique storytelling and the weak attempt at making this the feminist Cinderella ruins the experience of the musical. There are many stories that are empowering without the heavy-handed performative action, even those retelling Cinderella — for example, Ella Enchanted (2005), Cinderella (1997), and Ever After: A Cinderella Story (1998). I would even argue that Hilary Duff and Selena Gomez have Camila Cabello’s performance of Cinderella beat.
This version of Cinderella is, sadly, another weak remake.
The cast for Cinderella is undoubtedly stacked. Camila Cabello, the famous Cuban-American singer, makes her acting debut in this musical as the titular role. There are also traditional film stars like the fifth James Bond, Pierce Brosnan, who plays King Rowan, and Minnie Driver, from films such as Good Will Hunting, who plays alongside Brosnan as Queen Beatrice. The cast even pulls from Broadway fame, with Billy Porter playing the fabulous fairy godparent (also known as Fab G), and Idina Menzel playing Vivian, the evil stepmother. Then, of course, there is James Corden, actor and producer for the film. Corden went viral for promoting the release by traumatizing commuters in a rat suit alongside his fellow cast members; it was reminiscent of his performance in the movie musical adaptation of Cats.
For those who follow drama in the music industry, you might already be familiar with Camila Cabello’s racist past. It came as a shock to me that the singer was announced to be the newest rendition of Cinderella. I am a believer that people can change from resurfaced ten-year-old posts, but Cabello’s insensitivity still follows her.
On July 23 of this year, she performed a recent release “Don’t Go Yet” on The Tonight Show. When she received backlash for having one of her backup dancers in blackface, she gave a ‘Notes app’ response on Twitter with no real apology. In March, she had also announced in her interview with People she had been going to weekly racial healing sessions to learn from her problematic past.
Representation and inclusivity in mainstream movies are important and having a Cuban woman and a queer Black person play side-by-side as some of the most recognizable characters in media should be a cause for celebration. However, it’s hard for me to overlook the blatant anti-blackness that has come from Camila Cabello. How can we celebrate steps forward when we continue to highlight anti-Black celebrities?
Billy Porter’s performance was amazing, and I really wish the writing had created a stronger character out of Fab G, but they reduced his character to a spectacle.
Kay Cannon, the director and writer, is famous for creating Pitch Perfect (2012), and, unfortunately, it shows. The movie, although an attempt to reimagine the tale in a modern feminist approach, oozes White feminism and only brushes the surface of potential with its story. The cheesy lines, poor character development, and watered-down Hollywood “girlboss” takes are disappointing, to say the least.
The story follows Ella, a dressmaker living in the basement of her home while her stepmother and stepsisters boss her around. She dreams of opening up her own shop and selling her dresses to people all over the world. Prince Robert, played by Nicholas Galitzine, needs to marry in order to ascend the throne and a ball is thrown in order to match him with someone of equal social status. When Ella stands up to the king, the prince falls for her, resorting to the ‘pretending to be a commoner’ trope to talk to his love interest.
Ella’s stepmother wants to marry her off to a stranger to move their family up in society, but Ella is dedicated to her craft. The prince buys one of her dresses as a way to correct “an unjust system,” yet continues to benefit from it when he invites her to the ball. They fall in love, she receives a job offer fulfilling her dreams, and the prince gives up his title to allow his sister, Princess Gwen (Tallulah Greive), to be the monarch.
Camila Cabello’s performance as Ella was an excellent acting debut. Her character was likable and fun, but it felt like she wasn’t the main character throughout the film. Idina Menzel’s portrayal of the stepmother was phenomenal. Cannon took a different approach when writing the stepmother for this remake, making her have her own struggles as well. Vivian, the stepmother, wanted to be a pianist but was denied the opportunity because she was a woman, mirroring the struggle that Ella was experiencing.
Billy Porter truly remade the fairy godmother as Fab G. Porter’s acting was true to the goal of creating a diverse Cinderella story, but fell short. The writing used Fab G as a means to continue the story instead of the true purpose behind the fairy godparent: a parental figure to Ella. Billy Porter has mentioned in interviews that he wanted to bring to the screen the same magic that Whitney Houston brought in her performance of the Fairy Godmother in the 1997 version of Cinderella starring Brandy. While Porter brought his own twist to the character, stating, “magic has no gender,” the writing of Kay Cannon could not bring it to life in a meaningful way. Instead, we got a queer character that would be palatable for a White audience with catchphrases adopted by White feminists like “work” and “yasss.” While Porter looked whimsical, bad writing got the best of this character.
Nicholas Galitzine was forgettable only because there was nothing about the actor that attached itself to the character. If you replaced Galitzine with any other young guy that can sing, it would not make much of a difference. The side stories of Gwen, Rowan, and Beatrice are all too forgettable as well. Unfortunately, the writing spread itself too thin with a cast that had potential.
Although I loved the music choices for the jukebox musical, it all felt very tone deaf. Using Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation,” a song about social issues and racial unity, as a dance montage introduction for the townspeople and Ella feels inappropriate knowing the context of the song. Idina Menzel, who gives an amazing performance as the stepmother, sings to her daughters about the importance of marrying into wealth with Madonna’s “Material Girl,” a song that is meant to be ironic and provocative. It made the musical compositions feel a lot more superficial.
The last montage scene is a callback to that from Ella Enchanted without the same satisfying feeling to the end. I will say, though, the Town Crier and drumline accompaniment were more impressive than many of the other musical numbers.
The highlight of the film by far was the costume design. The genius behind the design for this film is Ellen Mirojnick, who also worked on the 1997 Cinderella starring Brandy. The dresses were phenomenal, and each character had a piece of their personality embedded. The best look was that worn by Billy Porter, who donned a gorgeous monarch inspired look that combined femininity and masculinity to create a unique and magical costume. According to a Variety article, Fab G’s look came together perfectly, with fabric matching the color of the butterfly and the last minute touches of the necklace and Jimmy Choo boots, “There was a monarch butterfly on the front foot. I wanted to cry,” said Mirojnick about seeing it come together.
Cinderella (2021) had potential, but fell short. The performances were forgettable, and the most redeeming aspects still cannot save the musical from the writing. I rarely have high hopes for a movie James Corden is a part of, and this still did not meet my expectations. A more diverse reimagining of Cinderella has been done before, and this version did nothing to make it special. The 1997 version of Cinderella featuring Brandy and Whitney Houston is also available on Disney+ if you are looking for a better alternative to the retelling of the classic story. I feel like it is time to set some stories aside when they have been told time and time again.
Cinderella was a tale that did not need another variation; instead, the potential could have been used to tell a better, unique, inclusive, and empowering story.
Featured Photo Courtesy of Christopher Raphael