In the classic version, known to millions of children around the world, Cinderella is a poor thing. She spends hours scrubbing the floor where her stepmother and her noisy sisters parade, dreaming of the day she will ride to her prince charming castle. And her dreams stop there—she’s not exactly the most ambitious of princesses.
Who helped perpetuate this version of the fairy tale was Disney, which instilled a feminist air in the live-action adaptation it made of its own animated film in 2015. But another version, which arrives on Amazon Prime Video, promises, now yes, turn the tale up and down.
The protagonist of “Cinderella”, directed by Kay Cannon, has no time to whine or sing love ballads while waiting for the prince. She is an artist, talented with brushes and scissors, and dreams of one day opening her own sewing studio. She is also not shaken by the criticisms of her stepmother — who from a Manichean villain to a conservative old woman, a reflection of the outdated and sexist times in which she lives.
“The only reason there is to tell a story like that again is to be able to show what life is like these days. I wanted to show what our country [os Estados Unidos] it’s —multicultural, diverse,” says Cannon via videoconferencing. This is her second film as director, and she scripted the films “The Perfect Choice,” which approximate “Cinderella” for their smug humor and pop musical numbers.
To give strength to the message, Cannon ran away from the white and very blond princess immortalized by Disney animation and cast Cuban singer Camila Cabello, of hits like “Havana” and “Señorita”, for the role. “When I read about her story, who came to the United States very young, with little money and lots of dreams, I thought she was Cinderella herself.”
But a Latina on paper is not even close to the greatest boldness committed by Cannon. She replaced the figure of the Fairy Godmother, once a nice little old lady, with Fab G, a black, gay and fabulous man.
The role was written with Billy Porter in mind. By accepting the invitation, the actor made sure that he would appear on stage with the same glamor and femininity that often escort him to events such as the 2019 Oscar, where he paraded in a black tuxedo that, when reaching his waist, was transformed into a dress voluminous and elegant.
“Cinderella” is, after all, a film that is much more concerned with subverting the fairy tale and taking a break from the outdated ideas it perpetuates than with its protagonist’s journey.
“It’s about time,” says Porter excitedly. “These fairy tales are often very problematic for non-white, queer people, even women. This version goes straight to this point, because it wants to be a ‘Cinderella’ of the modern era. It’s all very powerful and magical—and magic is genderless.”
Porter was relatively unknown to outsiders until, in 2013, he won the Tony for the equally disruptive musical “Kinky Boots”. Ryan Murphy, famous for kidnapping Broadway stars and taking them to his series, then set about giving him the role that would make him a top-ranking celebrity — the Pray Tell of “Pose,” which earned him an Emmy when dealing with the AIDS epidemic in the ballroom scene of the 1980s.
Asked if she was worried about the possibility that many parents would not let their children see their version of “Cinderella”, Kay Cannon admits that yes, she had doubts about how daring she should adapt. But after a series of test screenings in the film’s post-production, she realized that even conservative audiences were amused by the colorful character created for Billy Porter.
The actor is more direct. “I do not care. Whether or not to let your kids watch the movie doesn’t change anything, because they’ll find it anyway. The film is there for everyone to see, and there’s no way to stop them from getting in touch with this kind of thing,” he says, celebrating the entrepreneurial spirit of this new Cinderella and the realization of what he calls a personal dream.
That’s because when he was a gay teenager in Pittsburgh, USA, and was being raised by a fervently religious family, his greatest desire was to be the male version of Whitney Houston, his diva. The singer, in 1997, assumed the role of Fairy Godmother of another different “Cinderella”, with black and Asian protagonists, in 1997.
“When I got the part of Fab G I went around the house screaming that I got the character of Whitney Houston,” he says, laughing. “But of course I now add my personal touch of magic to the film.”