Black History Month: The Legacy of Brandy’s Cinderella (1997)

I know I am a bit late with this one as we are now done with Black History Month and starting Women’s History Month for March, but I’ve been writing this for a while and didn’t want it to go unpublished.

Of the twelve official Disney Princesses, only one is black: Tiana from 2009’s The Princess and the Frog. But twelve years before that, a made-for-TV musical really made history: with the 1997 version of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, young singer/actress Brandy became the first black disney princess. Her Cinderella was recently brought to Disney+ for streaming, allowing a new generation to appreciate this classic and its legacy. 

The story behind Cinderella is quite interesting, and you can read more about it in Kendra James’s 2017 oral history for Shondaland.  Whitney Houston had been wanting to do a diverse take on Cinderella, and it finally coalesced as part of the re-launch of ABC’s Wonderful World of Disney in the fall of 1997. The producers wanted to use a “color-blind casting” approach, resulting in a black Cinderella (Brandy) and Fairy Godmother (Houston) as well as a Filipino prince (Paolo Montalban) with a black mother (Whoopi Goldberg) and a white father (Victor Garber). Cinderella’s stepfamily also has black and white members. No mention of race is ever made, almost to the point of illogicality, as you can see women of many races trying on Cinderella’s glass slipper, which had clearly been originally worn by a black woman. However, the fantasy nature of the story makes it particularly easy to skim over this and suspend our disbelief.

This Cinderella succeeds on so many levels: it’s fun and funny and beautiful to look at, with songs that hit perfect emotional beats.  It is such a satisfying take on the Cinderella tale that I included it in my Top 5 Versions of Cinderella.  And of course, the representation for BIPOC was hugely important to a generation of little girls who could finally see themselves as a Disney princess, or in a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical.

Its legacy can be seen in many ways.  We will soon be seeing another black Disney princess, with Halle Bailey cast as Ariel in the upcoming live action remake of The Little Mermaid.  And another show now streaming owes it a debt as well: Shondaland’s Bridgerton, which cast black actors as members of Regency England aristocracy.

Lady Danbury and the Duke of Hastings in Bridgerton

As a fan of Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton series of romance novels, I’ve really enjoyed the Netflix adaptation, and I think the casting decisions are definitely a strength of it.  However, the discussion of race is slightly different than in Cinderella, mainly because there is one.  There is clearly still racism and oppression in this world; part of the plot hinges on the old Duke of Hastings’ desire to continue his line and maintain their place in society.   But I wasn’t sure if the show would address the issue head on until I watched the fourth episode, where Lady Danbury says, “We were two separate societies divided by color until a king fell in love with one of us.  Look at everything it is doing for us, allowing us to become.”

This is a reference to Queen Charlotte, played wonderfully in a greatly enhanced role by Golda Rosheuvel.  The real historical Queen Charlotte has been rumored over the years to have had African ancestry, and while there is really not much evidence of this, it makes a great starting point for a reimagining of Regency England as a more diverse society in a contemporary way.  There are some flaws with this approach to race, as detailed in this piece for the NYT by Salamishah Tillet, but while it is a bit shallow and puts the burden of racial issues on the black characters, it still results in a more representative show and allows some very talented actors to take on now-iconic roles that they might not have gotten in a more traditional casting method.

In general, Bridgerton is more in line with a contemporary approach to casting, called “color-conscious” as opposed to “color-blind.”  The goal of this approach is to acknowledge the historical racial biases and discrimination in the entertainment industry while still striving for representation of BIPOC in media.  Rather than ignore identity, color-consciousness celebrates it.  The poster child for this is the stage musical Hamilton, a play about the white founding fathers that went so far as to put out an open casting call for “non-white actors,” turning American history multicultural.  I think the success of Hamilton, and indeed Bridgerton, which is now Netflix’s biggest show ever, indicates the appeal of this strategy and I’m sure we will continue to see more of it in the future.

After all, as romance author Tessa Dare says, “If the world can agree on nothing else, at least 63 million households can celebrate the Duke of Hastings’ perfectly arched eyebrow.”

Bridgerton's Duke of Hastings' spoon boasts own Instagram page – leaving  fans OBSESSED | HELLO!
Yes, that eyebrow.

Fan Art Friday: Sorry About the Mess

Welcome back to our Star Wars coloring book club, where Kiri from Star Wars Anonymous and I color the same image every month to compare and contrast.  It’s been quite a while since we’ve done one because life sorta got in the way, but we are excited to be back with a mandala featuring everyone’s favorite Rodian, the bounty hunter Greedo.

I immediately had a rough start with this one because the green I initially chose for Greedo was too light and I had to go back and blend in a darker shade to make it look decent. But after that I got back into the swing of things. The color scheme here is mainly inspired by Greedo and his clothing, which kinda gives it a 70s vibe. Kiri also has a lot of say about Greedo’s clothing; you can check out her fashion critique and lovely coloring image on her blog.

It seems pretty fitting to start up again with this theme, considering that the first time I “met” Kiri was when she commented on a post of mine about Han shooting first in the cantina.

It was fun getting back into coloring this month! This one wasn’t my favorite but I’m happy with how it came out. We’ll be doing these every other month for now and I’m happy to take requests of themes you’d like to see us do haha.

Welcome, 2021!

How wonderful to be looking forward to another new year here on my blog. Aside from all else going on in the world, last year was not the best year for my blog as it got shunted aside in favor of some more important things going on in my life.

In 2020, Jedi by Knight got over 11,000 views from more than 8,000 visitors representing 118 countries around the world. I posted 70 times, though most of those were my weekly Lens-Artist photo challenges.

The most-viewed post I wrote last year was Engineering a squirrel obstacle course: Practical deterrent, entertainment, or science? regarding Mark Rober’s popular YouTube video. This was a super fun post to write, allowing me to use my zoology background to add even more scientific analysis to the squirrels, and I’m so glad everyone liked it. Phat Gus is still the best.

Phat Gus is my spirit animal

I hope to continue to do some blogging this year, though I warn you that my posting may be rather erratic. I had been doing a lot of my writing during my kid’s nap time on the weekends, but my toddler has stopped napping and my baby hasn’t worked out a set nap schedule yet. Plus, if either of them is asleep, I’m often asleep, too! But I am hoping to post at least once or twice a month.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

Here are some things you can hopefully look forward to here at Jedi by Knight in 2021:

  • The return of Fan Art Friday, where Kiri and I both color the same picture from the Star Wars coloring book, often with very different results
  • More doodles from my school notebook margins, as I found a big stack of them when we were moving
  • A few more book reviews; there were a couple books I read last year that I made notes on but never found time to write the full post
  • Weekly Lens-Artist photo challenges will continue as much as possible, though the content will change. Since I am typically posting from my phone now, I will be sharing mostly photos from my daily life taken on my phone instead of images from my travels.
  • What would you guys like to see me write more about? Writing? Books? Star Wars? Nerdy parenting?

I have also come around to the WordPress block editor. It may be a kind of Stockholm Syndrome, but it seems to be working for me, especially when blogging with the WP app on my phone. Which is great, because I’m currently doing almost everything one-handed while holding a baby, and also the WP website is kind of crap right now.

Happy 2021 everybody! What are you looking forward to this year?

2020 Reading Review

Another year, more great books read! I’ve been pretty remiss with my book reviews in the latter half of the year, so hopefully you’ll see some of those coming up soon as I catch up. But in the meantime, let’s take a look back at what I read in 2020.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

This year I read 171 books, which I think might be a record for me. Most of them (~125) were Regency romances, which I consider the literary equivalent of candy and are very quick reads. That leaves nearly 50 books of other various genres, including fantasy, sci-fi, YA, nonfiction, and contemporary romance. I reviewed about a dozen books on my blog this year; you can check out these reviews under the Book Reviews category. Here are some of the standouts that helped relieve my stress this year.

Classic YA fantasy: Song of the Lioness quartet and The Trouble With Kings

I haven’t been reading all that much current YA fantasy, but I did find some time to delve into some classics. Sherwood Smith is one of my favorite lesser-known YA fantasy authors, and after falling in love with Crown Duel a few years back, I’ve been reading through her oeuvre. The Trouble With Kings comes close to rivaling Crown Duel for my favorite! I read it twice back-to-back haha. And I can’t believe I never got around to reading any Tamora Pierce growing up, so I decided to remedy that by checking out her famous Song of the Lioness series featuring young female knight Alanna of Trebond. I was blown away by Alanna’s growth over the series, plus the adventure and magic were fun, too.

Fantasy Series: Peace Talks & Battle Ground (Dresden Files)

After a six year hiatus, we got not one but two entries in the Dresden Files series from Jim Butcher this year. (This is because they are basically two parts of the same story.) Skin Game was a tough act to follow, but this duology is appropriately epic and also may possibly break your heart. I was less crazy about Peace Talks, which probably won’t be one I will ever re-read. It was too much set up, and Harry was not acting like a detective at all. The pacing then really picks up in Battle Ground, which is great but gives an uneven feeling to the whole thing. My biggest complaint over all was the prominence of Lara Raith, whom I don’t care for as a character (to be fair, I never liked Susan either). I can’t wait to see where the series goes next and how it will all eventually wrap up.

Author discovery: Intisar Khanani

36443368. sy475

Who doesn’t love an indie author success story? Intisar Khanani had kinda been on the edges of my radar for years thanks to her Sunbolt series, but this year her Goose Girl retelling Thorn got picked up by a publisher and rereleased. I’ve now read all three of her novel-length works, and I can’t wait for more! I love her prose, characters, and magic/fantasy concepts. If you like YA fantasy, definitely check out her stuff!

Contemporary romance: Chemistry Lessons

38125061. sy475

So I’ve been reading historical romances for a few years when I need something light, and this year I branched out into contemporary romance a bit (I am open for suggestions for my next read…). One series I particularly enjoyed was Chemistry Lessons by Susannah Nix, which features a bunch of nerdy girls with STEM jobs. Each book can be read as a standalone, but characters cross over between books, too. These are not the pinnacle of literature or anything, but I had a lot of fun with all the geek pop culture references. My favorite is Advanced Physical Chemistry (#3), featuring a redheaded engineer; it won a 2019 RITA award.

Nonfiction: Cribsheet and In Order to Live

I had a great year for nonfiction reading, including Ta-Nehisi Coates’s amazing Between the World and Me. In terms of memoirs, I was really struck by In Order to Live by Yeonmi Park, the story of her exodus from North Korea. It was pretty harrowing but her tone is extremely inspirational and I learned a lot; I’m looking forward to reading and learning more about North Korea.

With the arrival of my second child, I really recommend Cribsheet by Emily Oster for all new parents. It is an excellent data-driven guide to parenting decisions, very scientific yet very approachable. It is a fun read, not at all dry, and will help you to stress less about parenting in the early years.

Pandemic Reading: World Without End

5064. sy475

Having enjoyed Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett so much last year, I began the follow-up World Without End, which takes place in the same town a few centuries later during the time of the Black Death. Then, a global pandemic hit and I had to take a break from reading it because it just became way too real. I did eventually get through it and enjoyed it; it was fascinating to see the parallels (and differences) between that plague and the current COVID pandemic. Mostly, I wanted to smack all the monks who thought they were so smart but had no concept of germs and sanitation and condescended to the nuns who wanted to wear masks and wash their hands.

As far as reading goals, last year I said:

For 2020, I want to focus on getting back to reading physical books instead of being on my phone and Kindle all the time, as well as reading all the books that are already on my shelves.

Well, I don’t know how successful I was in that, so let’s just say we throw everything out the window for 2020. Maybe we’ll call it an ongoing goal haha.

In that vein, I’m not making any reading goals for 2021. I’m going to read whatever I want to! I mean, in general I want to keep reading a lot of books that are diverse in terms of genre, author, and content, but I trust my taste in reading to take care of that without any formal goals.

What were your favorite books from 2020? Are you making any reading goals for 2021?