Ranking 'Cinderella' Adaptations Based on Diversity
Cinderella has been adapted many times over, with the latest adaptation from Amazon sparking controversy over its girlboss agenda. But what of diversity? We rank some of the most popular adaptations for diversity.
September 19, 2021
The Cinderella fairytale has been adapted a million times over, with the latest Cinderella adaptation from Amazon sparking controversy over its girl boss agenda. Most stories keep some form of Cinderella’s backstory and the plot of falling for a “prince” after a ball, but what of the diversity? This article ranks some of the most popular Cinderella adaptations based on diverse representation. (Unfortunately, not every adaptation could make it onto this list since there are so many). Spoiler warning: They’re mostly white.
Ever After is possibly the best Cinderella adaptation. This story devotes more time to characterizing Danielle (Drew Barrymore) outside of the prince, and their love is something that blossoms over many meetings rather than after one night. Danielle is a perfect example of feminism done well. She helps the poor and is critical of the ignorant nobility and the social hierarchy they enforce. She is assertive and educates the prince on their society’s flaws. The prince then actually makes changes in the law. The pair have a wonderful back and forth, constantly challenging each other in arguably the most well-developed and dynamic relationship of these adaptations.
However, this version has the worst representation. The only apparent POC is the leader of the gypsies (although this term is considered pejorative, I use it because this is the name used to refer to the group in the film). The gypsies in the film are raiders of the lowest social class and are used as a tool to show how much the prince has changed when he invites them to the ball. Moreover, this actor is Argentinian representing Romani people — a blatant example of treating ethnic minority groups as interchangeable.
Ever After features a more nuanced take on the Cinderella fairytale but lacks diversity, making it last on this list.
Sam (Hilary Duff) has the classic Cinderella backstory, but she’s also a high school senior with dreams of going to Princeton. Her “prince” is a secret online admirer who’s actually the most popular jock in school.
This movie has such bad humor and a boring plot that it’s a bit hard to get through. And the use of POC as supporters to the white protagonists makes it worse. There’s a classic “mean girls” squad, complete with a token Black girl. Austin’s two best friends (who are very annoying) are Latino. And Rhonda, the most prominent Black character, is Sam’s fairy godmother figure who takes care of her like a mother (almost like a Mammy) and prioritizes Sam above all else.
Beloved for its simplicity, outstanding leads, and overall beauty, Disney’s Cinderella (2015) stays the truest to the original Disney animated film. This is the most intimate of the Cinderella adaptations. It focuses on Ella’s journey through loss and her admirable courage and kindness. Lily James is perfectly cast, embodying Ella’s compassion and grace. Richard Madden oozes charm as the prince (making any viewer fall in love with him). Unlike other actors, James and Madden have undeniable chemistry from the moment their characters meet. They make you believe they have fallen deeply in love with one another after just two meetings. The ballroom dance scene is an instant classic; Lily James is a vision in the iconic dress. Cate Blanchett also makes a visually striking and delightfully evil stepmother.
Unfortunately, while this film ranks higher for quality, it ranks lower for diversity. There is barely any diversity among the cast. The singular Black character with a speaking role is the Prince’s captain of the guard and his confidante — the Black Best Friend. He has no desires of his own but to support the prince’s desires. Only one other POC in the movie has a speaking role for just a few moments, and it’s the Spanish princess Chelina who the prince passes over for Ella.
Cinderella (2015) may be classic Disney magic, but that also means it’s a classic white centered story.
Mary (Selena Gomez) is a high school senior who toils for her materialistic stepfamily. At the school’s masquerade, she and pop idol Joey Parker (Drew Seeley) dance, and he falls for her.
This movie is filled with corny humor and some scenes that induce second-hand embarrassment, but it holds up, aided by dance used as the love language between JP and Mary.
The film has some diversity (Gomez is a white Latina). The two most prominent POC characters are in the same supporting role: Black Best Friend. Mary’s best friend Tammy acts as her fairy godmother, and JP’s best friend Dustin is his manager and confidante. A group of Asian cleaners also shows up to help, acting as comedic relief in a scene that feels vaguely racist.
In this newest adaptation from Amazon, Camila Cabello stars as the titular character who wants not to dance with the prince, but to run her own business selling handmade dresses.
Although this adaptation ranks high in diversity, it ranks lower for quality. The film includes much casual diversity, but its girlbossification falls flat on its face. Every single woman in this movie is a “girlboss” in some form, from Cinderella herself to the evil stepmother (now complete with a sad backstory). Cinderella (2021) makes no effort to hide its pandering to white feminism. Cabello, like Gomez, is a white Latina. POC are again relegated to supporting roles. (Noticing a pattern yet?) The white royals have their very own HBCU marching band, complete with a Black “town crier” who was clearly based on Hamilton’s rap style of singing. The diverse gospel choir only exists to sing back-up to the white prince whenever he’s feeling emotional. Billy Porter is tragically underutilized, only appearing in one scene when the marketing pushed him as a central figure. Hollywood continues to use magical Black characters as props to support the white protagonist.
This Cinderella may have more diversity than the others, but it features shallow portrayals of underrepresented groups and only uses them to further its white feminist narrative.
Perhaps the only successful example of colorblind casting in film history, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella is the number one Cinderella adaptation for diversity. From its stars’ fantastic performances to the timeless music, to the positive representation, this film has it all! While the humor is corny, some costumes and sets garish, and the visual effects poor, the movie holds up. Brandy stars as the titular character in one of the few times a Black woman is a protagonist, and one who is treated with such respect. Brandy’s Cinderella is lonely but imaginative, oppressed yet confident. Cinderella gets some amazing songs, and Brandy’s clear, beautiful shines in each one. She and the prince share multiple songs, all of which are superb. Paolo Montalban is also a wonderful singer (and a dreamboat). Not only do the pair’s voices perfectly harmonize, but they have amazing chemistry, particularly visible during “Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful?” Like the 2015 version’s leads, these two make love at first sight believable.
The diversity of this film is amazing. People of color populate the film, from the commoners to the royals. The queen is a Black woman and while she begins as controlling, she accepts her son’s wishes and supports him. The prince is Filipino! The fairy godmother is Black, played by late icon Whitney Houston. One of the stepsisters is Black, too.
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella is absolutely fantastic in every aspect and wins this list by a mile. You can watch it now on DisneyPlus.