Brandy’s Cinderella Is Still A Progressive Masterpiece
Remember when Whoopi Goldberg and Victor Garber played married royalty with a Filipino son?
On Nov. 2, 1997, ABC aired a remake of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella that would quickly become known as “The Brandy Version.” It’s also the best Cinderella remake in the history of time?—?and yes, I’ve seen “A Cinderella Story” and “Ever After.”
The “Brandy” VHS tape sparked a violent family squabble after my cousin pocketed it from our house in cold blood. I still can’t look at Jennifer during the holiday gift swap. She’s taken enough from this family.
I’m not the only one that would fight to the death for this VHS?—?the live premiere had more than 60 million viewers and gave ABC its strongest primetime premiere in 14 years. An encore broadcast on Valentine’s Day, 1998, drew another 15 million viewers.
In case you need a refresher, here’s a brief breakdown of everything that’s perfect about “The Brandy Version” (TBV):
- The costume design and all its 90s color palette greatness
- Phenomenal soundtrack with original songs full of life, love and realness
- Two derpy stepsisters with zero chill
- A cast stacked with legendary performers like Whitney Houston, Whoopi Goldberg, Jason Alexander and Bernadette Peters
- Whitney Houston, who deserves her own bullet point because she shows up in a window singing straight-up wisdom like a kween
But the absolute best part of TBV is its colorblind cast. Act one starts in a marketplace, bustling with butchers, bakers and craftsmen in every shape, size and ethnicity.
Cinderella (aka Brandy; aka 90s contemporary R&B singer who inspired my first CD purchase), wears a head of gorgeous micro braids. She’s carrying her stepsisters Minerva’s and Calliope’s shopping bags?—?Minerva is a busty black woman and Calliope is tall and thin, with powder-white skin.
Whoopi Goldberg plays a black queen and Victor Garber plays a white king. Together, they parent Prince Edward, played by Philippine-born Paolo Montalban.
Some argue the fact that this racial utopia exists in a fairy tale emphasizes a problematic distance from reality, like New York Times Critic, Caryn James, who referred to the musical as “a pumpkin that never turned into a glittering coach.” Boo you, Caryn.
I’d argue that that the fairy tale setting lent itself to a blissful multiethnic story that refuses to make race the center of the conversation. New York Newsday gets it. Just two days after the broadcast, a critic wrote:
“If it seems as though we’re making a big deal about racial categories, that’s because the TV movie didn’t. Everyone seemed truly color-blind as good contended with evil and love triumphed in the end.”
So how far have we come since TBV first premiered? Consider the Old Navy ad below from last year, which went viral for all the wrong reasons. Or this study from the University of Southern California, which breaks down an “epidemic of invisibility” that permeates Hollywood.
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My family and I will never step into an @OldNavy store again. This miscegenation junk is rammed down our throats from every direction.
I could go on and on, but none of this will be news to you: We haven’t come far enough. Perhaps it’s because there’s still not enough people of color in director, producer and writer roles. As the study notes, programs with off-camera diversity have better overall on-screen representation. After all, Whitney Houston was also a producer on TBV.
The industry still functions as a straight, white boy’s club, and 20 years later the Brandy version of Cinderella remains one of TV’s most refreshingly diverse programs. So I humbly ask that in 2017 we all take Ms. Houston’s advice and do something about it. Seriously.