Emmy-award winner Billy Porter playing the Fairy Godmother in the upcoming live-action Cinderella has dark implications regarding race and sexual orientation.
Sony Pictures is developing its own live-action Cinderella. Cuban-American singer-songwriter Camila Cabello is debuting her acting career as the iconic heroine. “Frozen” star Idina Menzel has also joined the growing cast as the evil stepmother.
The news of the production left a mixture of emotions and questions. Based on the diversity of three of the confirmed cast, the film could be taking notes from the definitive Cinderella adaption starring ‘90s superstar Brandy and vocal legend Whitney Houston. If Sony plays their cards right, they could have a hit adaptation that resonates well with millennials and Gen Z audiences.
One nagging concern clouds over what seems like progress, though. Billy Porter being a cast as the Fairy Godmother looks great on paper. Porter is charismatic, larger-than-life and talented. As a fan, it is painful to be pessimistic about the casting. However, there is a long history of black characters being used to serve white characters and gay characters being used as background props.
A trope in cinema and literature called the Magical Mystical Negro is about supporting characters whose main function is to help the white characters; sometimes they have magical powers or are solely wise. Gay characters specifically in cinema have been villainized throughout multiple decades and then transformed into props for appearing woke.
For example, in the live-action 2017 Beauty and the Beast, the villain Gaston has a sidekick named Lefou. Disney used the character as a lazy marketing ploy to scream about how progressive they are. Lefou became the first openly gay character in Disney, which is not a compliment when considering Hollywood’s history of villainizing homosexuality.
When gay characters are not villains they are typecast as the gay best friend. A sideline character, similar to the Magical Mystical Negro, who are used to say words of wisdom or give their straight friend fashion advice.
Breaking down the role of Fairy Godmother, she magically appears, befriends Cinderella, says a few lines of wisdom, gives the protagonist a make-over and solves all problems with a magical wand similarly to an episode of “Queer Eye.”
Put Billy Porter in the role of Fairy Godmother, and it is a mashup between two problematic archetypes that are remnants of an ignorant past.
This might be a pessimistic reading, but the media has a huge responsibility when portraying marginalized groups. Placing a black gay character in a supporting role who serves a straight woman with Eurocentric features sends audiences tone-deaf messaging. It subconsciously validates the stereotypes that marginalized groups exist only to serve.
Sony would not dare to make a movie with a lead that is black and gay with magical powers because corporations like Sony still have outdated views and pander to the status quo. That premise sounds way more awesome than this latest iteration of Cinderella.