If you’re a ’90s child, you probably remember when Brandy played Cinderella in the musical made-for-TV movie of the same name. It was big deal—not only because of, well, Brandy and Whitney Houston as her fairy godmother—but because of the diverse casting, rarely seen in fairy tale remakes.
That movie was inspirational for little girls, and possibly life-changing for actress Keke Palmer, who’s been cast in Broadway’s latest rendition of Cinderella. She’s the first black performer to take on the role on the Great White Way and this week she gave a nod of thanks to that classic ’90s movie.
“I feel like the reason I’m able to do this is definitely because Brandy did it on TV,” Palmer told the Wall Street Journal this week. “In me doing this, it shows everybody that everything is possible.”
Fans will know Ms. Palmer for her endearingly dorky pre-teen turn in Akeelah and The Bee. More recently, the lady’s been a stalwart of the Nickelodeon stable, starring as the lead character in True Jackson VP. All signs indicate that Palmer’s totally capable of knocking her part as the world’s favorite ingenue out of the park.
Casting outside of historical type—or, “color-blind casting”—has been on Broadway’s mind a lot, recently. Earlier this year, imposing baritone Norm Lewis became the first-ever African-American man to play the Phantom of the Opera. Turning to Hollywood, in 2013 Laurence Fishburne played the villainous Perry White in Man of Steel, essentially rebooting a historically Caucasian character. These boundary-breaking casting choices are important for so many reasons: they provide more opportunities for incredibly talented actors to take the spotlight and they reflect a more diverse landscape in the media as a whole.
In the past, representations of racially diverse princesses, in particular, have been hard to come by. Disney’s first African-American cartoon princess—The Princess and the Frog‘s Tiana—didn’t come along until 2009. It’s so important for young girls to be able to see their peers, and themselves, in leading characters—especially if those characters are supposed to serve as early role models. (Of course, that all depends on your outlook on fairy tale princesses.)
Meanwhile, Cinderella producer Robyn Goodman says the decision to cast Palmer was really quite simple.
“We’ve always just cast the best people for the parts. Sometimes they’re African-American, sometimes they’re Latino, sometimes Asian-American,” Goodman told the Wall Street Journal. “It’s wonderful when it works out and we’ve finally found our Cinderella.”
I’m thrilled to see our culture steam-roll ahead with more diverse casting. Let’s here it for Keke!