The ‘Woke’ Cinderella Recipe: A Dash of Queerness, a Pinch of Feminism, and a Sprinkling of Fairy Dust

By Veronika Heinrich

Once upon a time, there was a young woman named Cin­derel­la (Cami­la Cabel­lo). In the 2021 film, she loves to design dress­es and wants to make a busi­ness out of it. When the prince (‎Nicholas Gal­itzine) announces a ball, her step­moth­er Vivian (Idi­na Men­zel), want­i­ng to pro­tect her from the patri­ar­chal world out­side, destroys Cinderella’s dress to keep her from poten­tial­ly mar­ry­ing a man she’d just met. The prince, how­ev­er, is in love with his best friend (Jenet Le Lacheur) but can’t real­ly admit it – not even to him­self. Also, he’s not qual­i­fied to rule the king­dom. The patri­archy, how­ev­er, wants him to become king and will nev­er agree to his smart sis­ter (Tal­lu­lah Greive) becom­ing queen.

When Cinderella’s fairy god per­son (Bil­ly Porter) arrives, they not only turn one of her designs into real­i­ty, but they also throw a par­ty at Cinderella’s place. When the prince and his best friend arrive, the pres­ence of the fairy god per­son gives them the strength to admit their feel­ings for each oth­er. The prince’s sis­ter becomes heir to the throne, and Cin­derel­la finds a queen with whom to trav­el around the world and sell her designs. And they all live hap­pi­ly ever after.

Only that’s not what happens.

After watch­ing the trail­er promis­ing a queer fairy god per­son and Lati­na singer Camil­la Cabel­lo play­ing the main role, I was look­ing for­ward to watch­ing direc­tor Kay Cannon’s adap­ta­tion of Cinderella.

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With all the promise of this trail­er, I thought that 2021 would final­ly be the year to cre­ate a movie that’s more than just a white, het­ero­nor­ma­tive tale of girl-meets-boy and gets mar­ried. I hon­est­ly thought that, at the very least, Cin­derel­la would be depict­ed as some sort of high-pow­ered pro­fes­sion­al who could serve as a role model.

Once again, I was dis­ap­point­ed. And kind of angry. The film­mak­ers were real­ly on to some­thing. I could see how they tried to deal with prob­lem­at­ic stereo­types. Yet, they didn’t take it far enough and laughed off hints at prob­lem­at­ic issues. Were they afraid of the many crit­ics who had com­plained about “the queer fem­i­nis­tic agen­da being foist­ed on them”? That’s no excuse, how­ev­er, for mak­ing a bad movie. If the tone is a pro­gres­sive, crit­i­cal one, then you got to do it right.

There is a lot of queer­ness in the movie – the most obvi­ous being the Fab­u­lous Fairy God­moth­er, which I enjoyed a lot. Or the prince’s best friend. There are moments when there’s chem­istry or at least famil­iar­i­ty between them, more than between the prince and Cin­derel­la. I under­stand that it’s the sto­ry of Cin­derel­la and the prince, but wasn’t this sup­posed to be a new take on the fairy tale? Also, instead of show­ing the skills and abil­i­ties of the prince’s sis­ter, she’s por­trayed as a brat­ty child, a mean car­i­ca­ture of Fri­days For Future teenagers. The prince – who claims not to have time for his king­dom because he prefers to get drunk and hunt fox­es – still comes across as the bet­ter choice because at least he’s not the annoy­ing pushy teen girl his sis­ter appears to be.

Addi­tion­al­ly, the main char­ac­ter Ella isn’t even like­able. She’s blunt and thinks she has a roy­al right to suc­cess. To me, she’s not brave and mod­ern but arro­gant and reck­less. At one point, when the prince falls for her, she climbs on the stat­ue of his grand­fa­ther in order to get a bet­ter view. The king shouts at her to climb down, but instead she arro­gant­ly chirps: “Everybody’s star­ing at me, just as I’d hoped. I’m sor­ry, your High­ness! It’s just real­ly hard to see in the back!”

In addi­tion, while the out­fits of the oth­er women seem to reflect their char­ac­ters’ per­son­al­i­ties, Ella’s dress­es are bor­ing, unin­spired, and life­less. And we’re sup­posed to believe this woman is a tal­ent­ed dressmaker?

There’s a whole lot more to com­plain about – like the movie fat-sham­ing big peo­ple who appar­ent­ly think about food all the time. There are things the movie did right like cast­ing a woman of col­or. I must admit that I think Cin­derel­la missed its chance here – even if the mak­ers’ inten­tions were good. Appar­ent­ly, they want­ed praise for your typ­i­cal every­day wok­e­ness while still includ­ing unhealthy stereo­types for laughs – to add just the right amount of queer­ness to be cel­e­brat­ed, yet pass as straight.

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