Someone, give Disney’s head of diversity and inclusion a Nobel Prize, keys to the Cinderella Castle – something, because this reboot of the classic is BLACK AF!
While there were some liberties taken with this new live action version that I feel were unnecessary, this new take on my number one favorite Disney animated film of all time (sorry, Lion King) was overwhelmingly refreshing, even if not realistic for its setting.
For those not so familiar with this timeless tale, here’s some background.
The animated version of Lady and the Tramp was originally released in 1955- a time when “White was right” and the civil rights movement was coming into its infancy. While in the animated version, you don’t really see much of ‘Darling’ and ‘Jim-Dear’ as the focal point is the dogs, of course, but there’s no question that everyone depicted on two feet is White; not an indictment as much as a sign of the times. Given the details, one could surmise the story is set in the 1910s-1920s, and we all know the role that Black people played in those days…. likely not the lead supporting characters of a story who live in a fancy Victorian style house, that’s for sure!
Fast-forward to 2019, ‘Darling’ and ‘Jim-Dear’ are a well to do interracial couple living in one of those grand antebellum style homes in the center of New Orleans’ Garden District in the same time period- white picket fences and all.
Now hol’ up… I can feel some of the eye rolls at that last part which is a whole other piece to delve into, but for the time being, it’s a win.Especially, when you look at the entirely Black ensemble, save for the person who played the pet store owner, that Disney cast for this remake. I, for one, was almost brought to happy tears, even if there’s no way this could’ve ever been based in reality. Disney is the maker of fairytales, after all, and I’m ok with that.
I would be remised if did not mention previous efforts by Disney to be more representative of Black talent and the presence of Black people in society that doesn’t involve the token or stereotypical roles that Black actors are often cast, in majority White films.
In this alternate universe that Disney has created, we aren’t ‘Black’ People- we’re just people. It’s disarming- almost to the point of, how am I supposed to feel watching this movie featuring a cast that looks like me without some underlying anger Inducing, racially divisive theme or Madea?! Or, “Wait, you mean Black people can have cocker spaniels too?”It’s vexing. It’s a beautiful realization and a tragedy that there still exists this thought that something must be wrong here. It hits at the core of what it means to be a person of color in this land- that you’ve never fully been considered a ‘person’ or human being- an especially devastating notion to come to terms with in this day and age, particularly for some of our fellow ‘high-minded’ negros who flirted with the idea that the era of President Obama ushered in some post-racial Kumbaya society, I digress.
We have come a long way since Disney first introduced Princess Tiana in 20**. (I’m glad someone over there realized that Black people can be- and are- royalty too). We now have a live action Lion King, voiced by a cast of mostly Black actors, a remake of Dumbo where a mixed girl who is literally the spitting image of Thandie Newton is one of the lead characters alongside Colin Ferrel who is mourning the loss of his Black wife in what’s supposed to be 1917! And, last but certainly not least, the highly anticipated live action remake of The Little Mermaid where Queen Latifah will play Ursula and I cannot wait!
I know- reimagined fairytale classics are not going to save the country, much less the world, from the systematic racism, insipid prejudice, cruel and unusual punishment, dehumanizing treatment, and everything else that Black People in America and People of Color period, experience on a daily basis. But, just think of how powerful these images will be for our kids and future generations who, unlike us, will be the first to grow up with these characters featuring their own likeness. Whether intentional or not, with its alternate universe that it created, Disney is showing our young people that they can be and do anything- that they belong because they are being thoroughly represented in film- not in Black film as Black actors playing Black people- rather in film as actors playing people…. because that’s what we are. We do not need a qualifier to realize our greatness and I am heartened that Disney appears to be cognizant of that.
Now, if we could only get the Pope to mandate the replacement of all images of our Lord and Savior to that of Black Jesus and Black Baby Jesus, we might be in business.