Growing up a Black girl in the 1990s and early 2000s meant coming of age in a world that hadn’t made #BlackGirlMagic and #CareFreeBlackGirl public movements yet. While shows like Sister Sister, Moesha, Taina, and others allowed me to see girls who looked like me on the small screen, representation lacked in the movies. There wasn’t a Black Disney Princess at the time and Addy, the American Girl doll I loved, harked back to slavery and the Civil War, moments in history I knew even then were not the totality of the Black experience. I was hard pressed to find TV shows and movies that reflected the hopes and dreams of myself and other little Black girls in “mainstream” fairytales.
That all changed one day at my Godmother’s house. It may have even been Christmas Day if I’m being exact. My family’s tradition was always to go to an Uncle’s house on Christmas Eve to celebrate his birthday, head to church Christmas morning (before opening presents I might add), come home, open gifts and play with them for a little while before heading to my Godmother’s house for Christmas dinner – a tradition that continues to this day. I must have been a bit older, maybe nine or ten because I could finally go into the den by myself and pick my own movie. Of course, my Godmother ended up choosing that particular Christmas Day and she put on Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella. I complained. I fancied myself grown and didn’t want to watch some kiddie movie about fairytales. She extolled me to give it a chance. “You’ll like it Gabby, just you wait and see.”Brandy, Cinderella and Lessons in Love as a little Black girl. Click To Tweet
She was right. I watched enthralled. You mean to tell me a girl who looks like me gets to get all dressed up, go to a ball and become a princess? She meets her prince, her charming prince, and he’s willing to travel all over the land with a slipper she left behind just to make sure he finds her again? Wow. Maybe fairytales and dreams can and do exist for girls like me. The beauty of the tale being further illuminated by Whitney Houston’s vocals. Impossible things were indeed happening everyday. I’d only ever seen Cinderella as white and animated. Here she was beautiful, Black, and with braids that looked just like the ones I often saw my older cousins wear. I could’ve been her. She could’ve been me.
It wasn’t just the pretty hair and dress or even that she found a prince. It was all three combined and how she grew into her own throughout the course of the film. Finally, I saw reflected on screen all the fantasies I acted out with the dolls in my dollhouse every evening. I could find “true love.” A prince could come for me. I could run away from home (I know you dreamt of it sometimes too as a little girl sis). I could be a princess. I’ve since of course wondered if I even want or hope for a prince in the long run and come to the conclusion that fairytales might be extremely damaging to young psyches, especially those of little girls, but that’s just me getting old and cynical. In that den, that Christmas Day, multiple conceptions of my world were changed. It’s not that I didn’t see Black women in love or with their “princes” in my everyday life. I did. My parents and those of my friends were married. I grew up with a deep understanding of what Black love looks like. But for some reason, it took seeing Brandy’s dreams come true on screen, to make me believe mine could too.
That was fourteen years ago and the movie recently turned twenty-two. It’s continued to be something I come back to whenever I need to be reminded that magic is possible for girls like me – magic in life and magic in love. That Black girls and women are deserving of princess stories where they aren’t out of their body (hello Princess and the Frog) for the majority of the film. That I can meet a prince, a charming prince, and live happily every after (whatever that means) with him if I choose to. But most importantly, that even if the prince never shows up, I can love myself by leaving behind a life that doesn’t serve me like Cinderella was in the process of doing when her prince found her. Roger’s and Hammerstein’s Cinderella taught me that believing in the magic in me and showing up for myself matters most – that’s what princesses are made of. The prince, maybe is just a nice touch.