12 Black women on what Brandy’s 'Cinderella' means to them

All the reasons the movie was #BlackGirlMagic.
Published February 11, 2021 10:22 a.m. EST
Disney Disney

Brandy's turn as Cinderella in the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical put a new twist on a classic fairytale with her casting as a Black woman in the iconic lead role.

At over 20 years old, the movie is still beloved by many (and finally going to be available for streaming!). Reflecting on the movie’s legacy, these 12 Black women share the cultural significance of the film, discussing the colourful casting, music and how Brandy pulled off the “impossible.”

1. Demilade Adebayo

I am a Brandy Rayana Norwood and Whitney Elizabeth Houston stan! I don't think there is a movie or television show with the two involved that I haven't watched.

Aside from my love of the two R&B songstresses, I don't think there's enough talk about how many heavy-hitters were involved in this movie. I'm a lowkey theatre geek, so Victor Garner, Whoopi Goldberg, Jason Alexander, and Bernadette Peters are like royalty to me. Natalie Desselle-Reid, may her soul rest In peace, is one of my 90's-00's actress legends. Every time I watch this version of Cinderella, I'm in awe at how talented each individual involved in this film is. Twenty-five years later, I am still captivated by the acting, singing, dancing, [and] costuming as if it's my first time watching the film. 

As an aspiring Black filmmaker, this movie is an excellent example of what films for us, by us look like and how even in our quest to center ourselves, Black women still have been able to include people outside of our community. A period piece with four Black women of different shades, body types, and ages who all act in integral roles is just not happening frequently in Hollywood, even in 2021. That kind of casting is intentional. Having Whitney Houston and Debra Martin Chase be the primary executive producers of this film is intentional. When I am writing my projects and thinking of how I want them to look and feel, when I think about who I want them to involve behind the camera, I often reference Cinderella for those very reasons.

2. Jewell Hill

I love this film because it has so much diversity! The king is white, the queen is Black and somehow the prince is Asian. That in itself is beautiful and colourful. Also, Brandy did what needed to be done to show that any girl can be a princess.

[The film] is important to me because as a young and dark skin child I didn't see too many leading [actresses] that looked like me. But Brandy showed me that it is possible for a dark skin woman to be the female lead in a movie and be a princess!

3. Erin Smith 

I was about five when [this] movie came out and it remained a favorite throughout my childhood. I remember watching it all the time with my aunt and we would sing along to the songs. It was one of the ways we bonded. I'm pretty sure back then I was just happy to see a princess that looked like me. It gave me the hopes that one day I could be a princess too! 

The first thing I think of when someone mentions the movie is always, "Impossible things are happening every day." It will always be a reminder to me. There is so much magic in the movie, from the singing to the costumes to the special effects. It's a moment to celebrate #BlackGirlMagic.

4. Cydney Rhines

Growing up I was a huge fan of Brandy and this movie was a beautiful experience: the nostalgia from the ballroom dance scene, to her powder blue dress sparkling like nighttime stars and of course, her braids! A princess who was a Black woman that had braids! A magical moment indeed.

This movie reminds me of how sweet my childhood was. I was glued to bringing this VHS tape with me every time I went to my Grand Grand’s (great grandmother) house. I love knowing that when I watch this movie now in my late twenties, I am reminded not only of the regal beauty that actors such as Brandy and Whoopi displayed, but I am reminded of that little girl who lived freely. This movie triggers only the best moments for me and reminds me to always, always dream big.

5. Paris Chanel

I have been a Brandy fan since I could talk. Everyone would always tell me that I looked like her and still until this day some people call me Moesha. I have listened to and owned every album, I had the Brandy doll, and I had Brandy posters in my room. 

Cinderella with Brandy and Whitney Houston was and still is the representation for the Black community in terms of royalty. We were not seeing many movies and shows with us playing these types of roles, especially during that time period. Watching Brandy sing gave me chills. I found myself twirling around the house pretending that I was at the ball with her. I can guarantee that I have watched Cindrella over 200 times in my lifetime. It is a true classic.

(Courtesy: Paris Chanel)

6. Fairley Lloyd

I remember watching Brandy in Cinderella on TV as a kid. I was probably about five or six and well into my Disney Princess obsession. My mom was the one who pointed out the film to me, not only because she knew I loved princess stories, but because it was the first time we'd seen a Black Cinderella on screen.

I recently rewatched it on YouTube and it was like seeing the film in a new light. As I've grown up, I've gotten a greater appreciation for Cinderella's story. The assumption that she was a "weak" woman who needed a man to save him is far from the truth. Cinderella was abused and unloved most of her life, yet she remained kind and hopeful throughout it all. To have a Black woman represent such a resilient fairytale character, the movie takes on a new meaning for me.

I'm so glad I got to see the movie growing up and that I've grown to appreciate it. Representation is so important, and to me, as a little Black girl, seeing a Black woman play one of my favorite fairy tale characters was truly a magical experience.

7. Demetra Robinson

I’ve been mesmerized by Brandy’s voice ever since I pressed play on her self-titled debut album. It was truly magical watching Brandy’s version of Cinderella on television at 10 years old. Just thinking about that first time I watched still gives me chills! I wanted to be a princess like her. It [was likely] the exact reason I fell in love with musicals. The icing on the cake was Cinderella’s fairy godmother, our beloved Whitney. Those two together [was] powerful. 

Seeing all of the different cultures made me fall in love with the movie even more. There were a lot of familiar faces as well. I was a fan of Whoopi and it was exciting to see her as the queen. A Black queen, with a white king and Filipino-American Prince. I had never seen anything like this before. I didn’t realize until I got older how important those visuals were. [Also] the set and costumes were everything! The gowns, the suits, all of the vibrant colors, I loved it.

8. Ta-Tiana Smith Furman

I love this version of Cinderella because it was Black girl magic personified. As a young viewer, I’d get a great sense of pride seeing a fairy godmother that looked like my sister, a queen that looked like my aunt, and even a prince that looked like my neighbour.

I didn’t know back then that seeing a cast so diverse was such a progressive move.Their families were colorful, beautiful, diverse, just like mine. 

This movie was the first time I’d ever seen Black royalty. This was way before the Princess Tianas & Meghan Markles. [This] Cinderella is a Black princess with box braids. I’m thankful to whomever cast Brandy in that role because they really shook the table and allowed so many Black girls to be seen as princesses too.

9. Emily Tamfo

To see a whole movie centered around this beautiful girl being chased after by a wonderful prince, was eye opening for me. It gave me a sense of  wonder to see a girl who looks like me, who has the same complexion as me, who has hair like me, be the focus of desire. 

From a music perspective, Whitney Houston was and will always be the queen of everything. I grew up studying music and so as a singer, Whitney Houston is the be all and end all of a vocalist. To see her and a movie with Brandy was a generational collision of everything that a music lover would ever want in a movie. I still sing the song “Impossible” to myself all the time.

10. Bridget Anderson

I don’t particularly remember seeing Cinderella with Brandy when it premiered on ABC, [but] I do remember the moment of walking into my local Walmart and seeing the cardboard cutout of Brandy in her famous blue gown and box braids. I begged for the VHS tape and my mom agreed to it after seeing that Whitney Houston starred in it. 

I’ve seen this film over 100 times. I loved how diverse the cast was. My mom is Filipino and my dad is Black so, I would pretend that I was Cinderella and the Prince’s child when I played dress up. I loved the movie so much that I even got my hair done in the same exact way for my kindergarten graduation. To say I was obsessed is an understatement. It was the epitome of my entire childhood and Brandy will always hold a special place in my heart.

(Courtesy: Bridget Anderson)

11. Abby Eastman

I remember being in awe of this film. [My] mom is white and [my] dad is Black, so watching that and seeing someone who wasn't white as a princess was insane. Seeing [the king and queen] as an interracial couple and not like batting an eye because it made sense was so special and so great. And [my sister and I] also had Brandy Barbie dolls, so that was even cooler.

12. Hannah Eastman

I remember being super in love with how beautiful Whitney Houston was and Brandy was in her bag, getting what she deserved. Seeing this girl with braids get all dressed up for a ball was so cool to [watch] when I was little.

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