Why Whitney Houston’s ‘Cinderella,’ Starring Brandy, Was Just So Good
Our first taste of the story was the classic animated Disney feature, which our kids now enjoy on Disney+, but that is far from the only version of the story, and, dare we say it, it’s far from the best version of the story.
While Cinderella on the big and small screen has always involved music, a movie with a live-action cast instead of animated mice has extra special magic to it. Rogers and Hammerstein’s version of the story honestly gives us chills.
Fun fact. Did you know that the only musical Rogers and Hammerstein wrote for TV was “Cinderella”? The original cast included Julie Andrews in the title role, and it premiered on CBS in 1957.
Fast forward to the 1990s, and you may remember another version of Cinderella which also aired on TV. The 1997 movie was produced by none other than Whitney Houston. Originally, Houston intended to play Cinderella, but by the time the movie was ready to be cast, she opted to play the Fairy Godmother instead.
A Disney executive wanted to cast a white actress in the role of Cinderella, but that was completely unacceptable for the producers who were determined to have Cinderella played by a black actress. According to executive producer Craig Zadan, “The whole point of this whole thing was to have a Black Cinderella.”
Thankfully, the producers didn’t give in to the studio executive’s suggestion to offer the role to Jewel. The only person the role was ever offered to was Brandy Norwood, and we can’t imagine it any other way.
While casting a black Cinderella was a pretty bold move for the time, it was not enough. The producers wanted the cast to be multi-ethnic, and they were very intentional about making that happen. For example, for the role of Christopher, the handsome prince, they auditioned everyone from Taye Diggs and Wayne Brady to Marc Anthony and Antonio Sabato, Jr. They finally knew they had found their prince when Paolo Montalban auditioned for the role.
The hardest role to cast was that of the evil step-mother. Many white actresses didn’t want to be seen as being mean to a black Cinderella. Bernadette Peters, who accepted the role, didn’t think of it that way. She explained, “We weren’t really playing ‘real’ people — it’s a fairy-tale, and I just wanted to play the role as best as I could, as cruelly as I could. I think that’s how we all approached it.”
If you’re looking for a multi-ethnic movie to watch with your kids, the 1997 version of “Cinderella” is a great choice.