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OPINION | LET'S TALK: 'Cinderella' turns tropes on their head

by Helaine Williams | September 12, 2021 at 3:00 a.m.

So there's yet another version of "Cinderella" out — one that shows girls that they can hack through the sexist-stereotypical thinking and have the guy and the career. Or does it?

This one is a musical starring Camila Cabello as the title character, Nicholas Galitzine as the prince, Idina Menzel as the wicked stepmother, and Minnie Driver and Pierce Brosnan as the queen and king.

"The main difference is that Cinderella, who's nicknamed Ella, isn't just the stepdaughter of a wicked stepmother," reads a story at "The movie also revolves around Cinderella's aspiration to be [a] clothing designer and open her own store. Amazon's Cinderella also doesn't have a Fairy Godmother [but instead has] Fab G, a genderless Fairy Godmother" — played by Billy Porter.

Well, and there are no belted-out renditions of "Impossible/It's Possible."

I saw the movie on Amazon Prime video. It immediately draws the viewer in with interwoven versions of two hits from the '80s and '90s: Janet Jackson's "Rhythm Nation" and Des'ree's "You Gotta Be." Here's a town crier who raps to the accompaniment of a Black-college band. The Prince belts out Queen's "Somebody to Love," with help (I loved the Palace Guard choreography). Other old pop hits (yea, Earth Wind & Fire!) pepper this visual and auditory feast, an interesting mix of Old World and up-to-the-moment whose highlight is Fab G bringing Ella's fantasy dress design to reality for the ball.

I've also been checking out those Amazon Prime commercials that have been airing, one of which reconstructs the fictional fairy-tale heroine Rapunzel. The latter decides not to wait for a fellow to rescue her but buys a ladder on Amazon, escapes her tower and starts a salon catering to women with long locks like hers.

Love the messages, but one can work one's self into a fit of frustration that the need to convey such messages like these is still felt.

And no wonder. Even these days, it sometimes seems like a gal can be damned if she does, damned if she doesn't. She can catch flak for having what's been called Cinderella syndrome, waiting for a guy to come rescue and take care of her ... but then gets the side-eye, along with some unsolicited opinions, if she decides that she doesn't need to marry a fella who comes financially fit enough to "sit her down" — enable her to quit her job and be a homemaker.

I've been on both ends of the spectrum, having had my ideas of marriage heavily distorted by old-school romance novels in which the hero was always rich and take-charge, then receiving mixed messages from a well-meaning mom: Don't accept expensive gifts from a fellow you're dating but make sure he has moola to date you and spend on you once you become his bride. Get that education so you can take care of yourself, but while you're at college, you just might meet your mate there. Sure, you can work outside the home as a wife, but you will be expected to take total care of the home, too ... no exceptions. (After an ill-fated first trip to the altar, I married and am happy with a layoff-weary, self-employed writer who certainly did not fit the traditional idea of a "provider" and who — gasp — doesn't even drive.)

My question is, which is it? Do we want our girls to be Cinderellas or, as that classic Eurythmics/Aretha Franklin song says, sisters who are doin' it for themselves? Do we want to urge them to become a doctor, but be sure to marry one too, so that they'll be taken care of in case they choose not to work?

In today's world — one where Cinderella just might prefer another Cinderella, a Prince, another Prince ... where many a Cinderella has found herself having to work what may be a nickel job to support her children, alone ... where there are such things as stay-at-home dads married to bring-home-the-bacon women — one can't help but wonder why the Cinderella story is still being told in any form to anyone older than Disney princess-fan-age little girls. Girls to whom we inevitably must acknowledge that these are fairy tales; that happily-ever-afters have to be worked at and may look a whole lot different from what those movie endings would indicate.

But maybe I'm taking this too seriously, especially as a middle-ager who still sits through plenty of fantastical superhero and science fiction movies and hasn't worried about them influencing impressionable viewers to expect a real Captain Marvel or Darth Vader to jump out from behind any corners.

This new "Cinderella" is a cute, sassy little diversion from life's hassles and doldrums. And its reimagined plot bucks the broke-girl-needs-a-rich-boy-to-save-her original, right down to its woman-empowering ending.

But ideally we don't, or shouldn't, need any reminder that a gal can be a princess, and do well, all by herself ... and her prince, if he shows up, doesn't have to have the traditional trappings of one.

Someday my email will come:


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