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Camila Cabello’s Cinderella Gets Almost Everything Wrong About Modernizing a Fairytale

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Amazon Studios’ Cinderella, starring Camila Cabello in the titular role, is everything wrong with how writers inject pop culture feminism into fairy tales.

Kay Cannon, who wrote and directed the film, has spoken about wanting to inject feminism into the story, but within that showed a frustrating lack of understanding of what exactly Cinderella means.

When discussing the film with Collider, she said the following:

Especially with Cinderella, which is just the most iconic underdog princess story of them all, it’s hard to fight against people who love that story. I was not one of them. I didn’t grow up being a fairy tale person. I think there was something inside me that was like, “It just seems like a bunch of ladies being mean to each other,” or a she’s just waiting to be saved kind of thing. I was more of an E.T. person. And there’s been so many wonderful, awesome movies that have already retold it. So, for me, it started as a writing gig, and then it became something else.

I do not want to dismiss the good intentions of Cannon’s attempt to modernize the story—Ella (Cabello) wanting to be a dressmaker, the princess being made first in line to the throne, a rich diversity of body types and skin colors presented in the film, and every moment Idina Menzel as  Wicked Step-mother Vivian is onscreen.

But where it falters is in the execution and dialogue so concerned with being sassy and snappy that it undercuts any sense of care. Every scene feels like 2016’s Beauty and the Beast “upgrades” to the story—making Belle an inventor, making her dress more practical, exploring tragic parent backstory—all done to pay lip service to progress, but ends up making worse characters.

Tallulah Greive plays Princess Gwen, who is presented as being the practical, smart female ruler, in contrast to her older brother. But she can’t be queen because she’s younger and a woman. Neither of these “problems” makes sense to me because there is a little thing called abdication.

Most of the time, the Prince Charming is the only heir, hence why he needs to continue to the bloodline. Having a younger sibling means options, and he could just abdicate his role as heir apparent to his younger sister, who would become queen. It is a very similar series of events that has us with the longest-reigning monarch in history being the Queen of England.

Also, female rulers are (a) not inherently more progressive and (b) not unique. I know, in the states, our inability to actually elect women to be president makes it seem rarer, like a shiny Pokémon, but it’s really not.

Not to mention we have modern adaptations like Ever After that, while imperfect, actually did show the prince in that film wanting to build a university, getting involved in politics, and actually caring about underprivileged society.

What does Ella want to be? A dressmaker. Prince Robert could easily say that, as King—or even going to his father—”I want women to be able to own businesses.” Instead, it becomes a contrived reason as to why Ella can’t just marry the Prince when he asks or when her stepmother says this could save them from poverty.

This leads us to the other thing: The film actually has nothing to say about the politics it brings up.

Ella’s step-mother, Vivian, wants Ella to marry a creepy guy named Thomas because he is successful enough that he can support her and the family. After the ball, Vivian shares a soft moment, telling Ella that she used to be a great self-taught piano player and got an opportunity to train at the finest school of music. She took it. When she came home, her husband called it “frivolous.” So, for her, part of why she has stopped Ella from pursuing dressmaking is that she genuinely doesn’t think Ella can do it.

Now, putting aside that I think Ella’s dresses look straight off the Charlotte Russe prom rack, what I find frustrating is that nothing Ella accomplishes in the film would be possible without the prince.

He takes an interest in her when she acts like a quirky YA protagonist and gets publicly called out for being awkward. So, he goes forward into the town in a “disguise” and ends up buying one of her dresses that she fails to sell herself. He is the one who tells her to come to the ball in order to advertise her gowns, and that is why she meets a royal benefactor.

None of this highlights Ella’s skills as a dressmaker or a businesswoman. So yes, she makes beautiful dresses, but she wouldn’t be able to provide for anyone. Also, marrying the prince wouldn’t have to mean she would have to stop making dresses.

She wouldn’t need money and could just make dresses for royalty for fun and the joy of doing it. Getting to do the thing you love, have full creative control, no boss, and not having to worry about making money because you are already comfortable? I don’t see the problem here, besides lip service to the idea of “choosing yourself.”

But why does this all bother me? On top of the really bad lip-syncing from the leads, terrible dialogue, and the fact that Camila Cabello just is not good at carrying the film, it really bugs me when feminism and empowerment are used as nothing more than marketing. Girl Boss Cinderella is not only boring, but fails to be a boss of any kind.

Cinderella is the story of a mistreated poor girl who wants one night of peace and ends up catching the eye of a prince, falls in love, and despite everything, gets to escape an abusive household. That is a great story in itself, so by choosing to adapt it and modernize it for audiences today, it deserves a little more thought and care than platitudes. We have enough great adaptations—and mediocre ones, as well—that make Cinderella 2021 a total waste of time.

(image: Amazon)

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Princess Weekes
Princess (she/her-bisexual) is a Brooklyn born Megan Fox truther, who loves Sailor Moon, mythology, and diversity within sci-fi/fantasy. Still lives in Brooklyn with her over 500 Pokémon that she has Eevee trained into a mighty army. Team Zutara forever.