Amazon’s Cinderella is far from a perfect movie, but it definitely gets bonus points for being the most modern thinking Cinderella remake so far.
Going into Cinderella, I just wanted to watch another movie musical. Little did I know that it would be the most refreshing remake of this story that I have watched so far. Rather than function as gimmicks, the changes in this adaptation serve a purpose: to address societal issues while giving modern answers; empowering both everyone to be themselves. Through watching the film, I felt quite a lot of emotional baggage unpacked—which is exactly what movies are for. So, let’s get into it. [WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD]
While the most important change is giving the titular heroine her own dreams outside of love, as well as choosing herself over the prince; I love how the movie explored the other characters, too. For one, the prince is not a nameless one-dimensional archetype of either “perfect guy” or “smug prince.” They gave him a backstory and for once, delved into how he felt about the pressures of marriage and ruling the kingdom. Even Cinderella’s stepmother, Prince Robert’s family, and several supporting characters have their chance to grow and shine.
In particular, the movie does a good balance of showing people’s lived experiences (such as discrimination, societal pressure, and more) while offering realistic ways to solve them. Let’s go by character.
Some may feel annoyed by the prospect of girl-bossifying Cinderella or perhaps give Ella a “not like other girls” syndrome. Instead, the film pleasantly surprises by showing that all forms of womanhood are valid: girls with dreams and girls who want love are celebrated in equal measure because Ella is both! Her character is hardworking and driven, but also sweet and caring. She runs towards her business goals as she should by day and dances with the prince at night.
The discrimination that Ella faces is a very real representation of the glass ceiling, as society always has opinions on what women should and should not do. The stepmother and townspeople shame Ella for her desire to run a business, much like how women are told they should do women’s work instead. Even in today’s “modern times,” career women face shame for putting their own goals first over marrying young and having a family.
Watching this film in 2021 exposes how absurd sexism is. It’s such a head-scratcher to me why a woman cannot run a dress shop when women are the ones who wear dresses. A townsman even tells Ella that no one will buy anything from her. Why is it that women are discouraged from opportunities just because of their gender? In some countries, girls cannot even receive formal schooling and women cannot work. Her song, I Want, channels this feeling well, talking about how it feels like a “Million to One” chance and a “shot in the dark” to succeed as a woman in a male-dominated field.
Is Ella a feminist character? Yes, even in her time period. She represents women in under-represented fields and opens the door for other girls to open shops as well! Being a maker of dresses, she supports other women by making garments for them to wear. She even teaches her stepsisters about self-acceptance. In a time where appearance was everything for young women of marriageable age, Ella tells one of her stepsisters, “It doesn’t matter what I think or what anyone else thinks, but how you feel when you look at yourself in the mirror.”
This is the first Cinderella remake where her endgame is not with the guy at the end. And it feels a touch more modern than some Cinderella stories set in the 21st Century. It’s also a welcome change that she rejects Prince Robert to choose herself and her dreams even though she likes him. Even better, she and the prince do not get married at the end of the film. After all, they just met, so Disney logic doesn’t apply here. Instead of a wedding, her happy ending is the realization of her dreams and self-acceptance—with a supportive boyfriend to boot.
She even forgives her cruel stepmother when she didn’t have to. After her stepmother shared her story, Ella empathized with her struggles and realized that Vivian was a product of her time. All the women even get a song to express their frustration after the daily discrimination they feel (such as the King telling Queen Beatrice that no one asked for her opinion, or Cinderella being mocked for wanting to open a business by the townspeople and her own stepmother). Even the townswomen and palace handmaidens got to rock out in the number because every woman has experienced gender-based discrimination, as well as losing opportunities because they do not have male privilege.
Camila Cabello’s Ella is definitely a heroine, not just by being good and kind, but by taking action on her dreams, inspiring others, showing forgiveness, and knowing her priorities in life. She is also one in real life, expressing in her Cinderella interview that “to get to the opportunity to help other women feel empowered is extremely meaningful to me.”
SUPPORTING FEMALE CAST
Princess Gwen is absolutely brilliant. She had so many ideas on energy sustainability, poverty reduction, and ruling a kingdom. Through her, we see how girls who have so much genius but are overlooked for leadership positions because of their gender. Proving herself worthy to ascend as queen, she illustrated how the traditional and modern femininity can absolutely be combined. Yes, girls and women can truly be anything—from strong leaders to adorable princesses and even both.
Minnie Driver’s Queen Beatrice slays, and is a literal and figurative queen. Not only is she given absolute zingers of lines such as “What is this fresh hell?” and a sarcastic “Hmm… yes,” she is also the woman responsible for the main villain of the story’s change of heart: the king. Meanwhile, Idina Menzel gets absolute bops, singing a rousing rendition of Material Girl, as well as an original song about how difficult it is to be a woman called Dream Girl. She sings this after Ella refuses to marry the prince, and all the townswomen and supporting female cast join in.
It’s not just the women who get a modern touch in the movie. In every Cinderella remake, the characters always ask “Who will marry the prince?” But no one ever asks, “How is the prince?” Think about it: aside from the pressure of being next in line for the throne, he also has to choose a bride in one night. Two monumental life-changing decisions ahead of him, and all the king (his father) tells him is to stop being a child and man up.
Every guy can relate to being told to “man up” and accept the mantle of traditional masculinity: exerting one’s power and dominance, never showing emotion, being pressured to get with a girl (and being shamed for not being sexual enough or being too sexual), to constantly prove one’s manliness and more. But in the 21st Century, not every man wants to adopt this kind of masculinity. Instead, Prince Robert chooses himself and forges his own path in life—not the one that was written for him. It is hinted that he would rather hunt than be a king, so perhaps that’s what he does on his post-movie travels with Cinderella.
MEN DON’T HAVE TO CONFORM TO ONE IMAGE
The movie also exposes that traditional masculinity is largely performative and full of rules and behavior policing, such as putting on a deep “king voice” and looking down on others. Rather than forcing all men to abide by the strict rules of manliness, people should just let men live.
The world needs men with feelings, guys who write songs about love, boys who love to dress up, and everything in between. Just like there is no one way to be a girl or a woman, there is no one way to be a boy or a man as well— as demonstrated by Billy Porter’s gender stereotype-smashing performance as the Fab G. If Mulan can take on a soldier’s mantle, then a guy can play the Fairy Godmother.
Even the prince’s friends have some personality. On their search for Ella (with the glass slipper), Prince Robert and his merry band of bros are on the verge of giving up when his friend gives a heartfelt and inspirational speech about love. It was a touching and unexpected moment that shows how the scriptwriters really cared to show as many kinds of men in this film as possible instead of just relying on stereotypes.
Despite being given ample opportunities, the movie does not pull an “all men suck” route. Confiding in Ella during the ball, the prince even expressed deep admiration for the way his father rode into war wearing a suit of armor and how he wanted to be like that. With Prince Robert, the King, Fab G, and even the Prince’s love-stricken friend; the movie shows that there is room for all kinds of masculinity in the world. As mentioned earlier, yes, the Prince is given personality and songs. Not just the obligatory love duet with the heroine, but his own solos.
A MODERN DEPICTION OF GENDER
It wasn’t the perfect movie, but it is definitely the most modern thinking Cinderella remake. Despite being set in medieval times, it didn’t portray its women as simple folk with simple ambitions. It gave Cinderella more to strive for outside marrying the prince. It also doesn’t fall into the trap to portray all the men as idiots who can’t think for themselves. The film actually sheds a light on the all too real struggles for men to conform to a certain image when in reality, they want to be someone else. While Cinderella may not groundbreaking in quality, it’s commendable how it tried to modernize gender roles.
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