Saturday, May 9, 2015

CINDERELLA 2015: All The Diversity Of A Klan Meeting

Well, there may be some black or brown people in this flick. But the trailer had all the diversity of a klan meeting for sure --which tends to mean all the main characters are will be white.

Exhibit A

Cinderella is probably the worst story to read a girl if you want to raise a future feminist. But the story can, and has been, adjusted to fit a woman of brains, character, and action in the past. And I hope this Cinderella is a little better than old-Cinderella as well.

But think about all-white fairy tales in general. Fictional characters. Inclusion would be easy. Inclusion is rarely a goal of white producers.  And sometimes I wonder if anti-diversity is the goal of  some white producers. You may not remember but one of the few (if not THE ONLY) black female characters to grace the screen during the first season of ABC's  "Once Upon A Time," was Cindi's Fairy God Mother. And she was killed off in less than 20 seconds. (Not even kidding. See video below)

So, what is a black mother to do?

Do you skip all the fairy tales brought to life on the big screen?

Do you stick with reading the story to your child so she can stick herself in the story as she sees fit?

Do you take your girl child to see in the theater to see a film populated with 100% white girls then get home and say "black girls are pretty too" AS IF your words going to leave more of an impact on her heart and psyche than one and one-half hours of white female beauty driving all the action in a storyline that just left her giddy with thoughts of happily-ever-after?

And why the hell do we still have to talk about this in 2015?

"This isn’t an indictment on the soundness of the film — it might be very good — but I’m less than excited because I don’t care about films that show a world without my family in it. I dedicate my time to family movies that dedicated theirs to consider the messages they send to children, and include inclusiveness and beauty, because yes, they’re that important. If you want to see a classic Cinderella with little sign of modernity or progressiveness, this one’s for you. But if you want your children to see the world through a prism of identities, shapes, sizes, and abilities to be represented and celebrated, this may not be the movie for yours"

Yes, I think first about how these things affect little black girls. But we need to think more about how all white movies (e-race-sure) affect white children too. And sometimes I'm not sure it doesn't affect them even more.

Some white children, either not used to seeing black and brown people at all in real life or fictional spaces will become fearful adults, some of whom become judges. Some white children never seeing, hearing or thinking of black and brown people as heroes rather than zeroes (contained in stereotypes that wash over them day in and day out without notice) will become policeman. And still other white children never seeing, hearing, or thinking of anybody but white people as heroes will grow up to be people who write textbooks for grade schools.

But what is the absolute worst thing to realize is that e-race-sure can result in black children thinking all of the very same things that white children do...only they'll be thinking it about themselves.

Changing our fiction, changing the way our stories look and feel, changing the stories we tell ourselves is part of anti-racism too. And it is not a small, insignificant part either. Repetitive messages about the heroes and zeroes are being transmitted there. Taking black and especially white children to these all white movies have had lasting effect on all of us precisely because they seem insignificant and beneath our notice.

Nearly subliminal?

I don't think these effects are necessarily limited to children either. That's why I've gotten to the point that I refuse to watch  movies and shows with a  large ensemble cast, where to 1/3 down to 1/4 isn't made up of non-white characters -- just like the United States. I don't want these all white TV shows and movies to survive, so I don't give any oxygen.

Not always easy. I have made exceptions for family dramas in particular. But I have to admit that this was a pretty easy call with "Once Upon A Time" As agency-diminishing as "Cinderella" was, femnistingly speaking, it was one of my all time favorite fairy tales as a kid.  But watching one and only person that looks like me come and go in 20 seconds as Cinderella's Fairy God Mother ticked me off  rather permanently. I can't imagine what I would have said if I had a 5 year old black girl sitting next to me when that happened.

I was a little surprised and disappointed to see that Kenneth Branagh* directed Cinderella 2015. He was at the forefront of race-less(?) casting a while back. I mean, he cast Denzel Washington and Keanu Reeves as brothers sans any explanation at all. I think he did this kind of thing more than once, too.

Frankly, race-less casting felt a little weird. But I was hoping it would catch on anyway. After all, a whole bunch of fictional stuff I saw in reruns of "Lost in Space" and "Star Trek" wind up becoming our reality in the form of minivans, video conferencing, and cell phones. Why not put the idea of better racial relations out there in the fictional atmosphere too? 

Of course, there need to be some real depictions of the real race friction, especially since white people are raised to be ignorant about their own racial identity and the racial identity of others. No racial reality in fiction?  No acknowledgment of the race hurdles in fiction? Then no progress in real life either, right? But I think race-less casting has its place in the mix.

Bottom Line: I'm really tired of these huge, all white ensemble casts in the movies and television and the attitudes they reproduce in our culture.  And, I hope you are too.

In the meantime, take your little black, brown, and white girls to see Keke Palmer play Cinderella on Broadway if you live in New York. If not, let's hope for something new. Let's hope for black, fairy-tale, battle princesses that get sh*t done then later fall in love with a prince a heck of a lot more going on than appreciation for her beauty. 


*=Does this mean Branagh's anti-racism via "colorblindness" was a fad he tired of? No acknowledgement of hurdles. No progress.