The trailer for Amazon Prime’s new version of ‘Cinderella’ begins with a voiceover from Cinderella (Camila Cabello): “This is it, dresses by Ella”. This proclamation invites the audience to a new spin of the classic ‘Cinderella’ story, a version where Cinderella is portrayed as both more active and more modern. One could even call the new Cinderella a “girlboss”, especially after seeing her character’s goals of having her own fashion line, store and all, that all the other villagers make fun of her for. While this retelling along with other attempts to make Cinderella stronger has some positives, like featuring a strong female role model, in reality, these attempts only blame the victim and romanticize a capitalist idea of success.
The Criticism of Cinderella and Victim Blaming
Many have criticized the original ‘Cinderella’ story, especially the 1950 Disney version, for having a weak protagonist. Some say that Cinderella is not active enough in her own story, acting like a doormat, while others have said that Cinderella, like other Disney princesses, just waits around to be saved. These claims were made because the story and adaptations of ‘Cinderella’ follow Cinderella as she is forced to serve her abusive stepmother and stepsisters until the love of her life whisks her away. While the concept of needing to be saved by a romantic interest is a questionable staple in fairytales, the modern critique of Cinderella’s inactivity is also questionable in terms of blaming the victim.
Cinderella is a victim of abuse with each version showing the stepmother, Lady Tremaine, working her to the bone, verbally berating her, and even emotionally manipulating her. In Disney’s animated version of the tale, she often calls Cinderella a “fool” and even locks her in the closet while Prince Charming looks for her. In 1998’s ‘Ever After’, Daniell’s (Drew Barrymore) Stepmother (Anjelica Houston) compares her to a pebble in her shoe. Even in the trailer for Amazon Prime’s adaptation, the Stepmother (Idina Menzel) tells Cinderella that it is because of her that she isn’t on the street. Each version of ‘Cinderella’ showcases the abuse that Cinderella faces from her maternal figure thus making the critique that Cinderella is a weak character feel like blaming the victim for being complacent in their abuse.
Cinderella, being a victim of abuse, is trapped. Due to the stepmother either emotionally manipulating her or threatening her with homelessness, Cinderella has no choice but to take the abuse while dreaming of better days. Many audiences who are sadly in the same predicament as Cinderella can see themselves in her, being able to relate to her story while seeing their struggles on the screen. The criticism of Cinderella being a weak character blames Cinderella for not fighting back more against her abusers is an example of blaming the victim for being in the situation they are in. This criticism also ignores the acts of rebellion Cinderella does which is going to the ball. The ball to Cinderella represents a break, some peace, and fun away from her abuse, a moment of freedom.
The Glorification of Capitalistic Success
Amazon’s ‘Cinderella’, unlike many of the other adaptations, prioritizes success over romance. While this can be hinted at in other adaptations, like ‘Cinderella Story’ where Sam (Hillary Duff) wants to get accepted to Princeton to escape her abusive family, the focus is always on escape. Each Cinderella adaptation focuses on a form of rebellious escape, whether it be the ball or moving away from the wretched step-family. Amazon’s adaptation, however, uses the idea of owning a business as an escape, implying that Cinderella dreams of being successful enough to never even have to think about her step-family again. While this modern spin seems like forward-thinking at first, in reality, it just glorifies a capitalist idea of feminism and success.
The “girlboss” mentality, in theory, seems positive, focussing on women being as successful as their male counterparts, but what defines this success? Typically, the “girlboss” brand is defined by a corporate version of success, where women are successful in their careers thus being either CEOs, business owners, and literal bosses. These ideas of success along with the pressures that come with it often cause people to put their own mental health and pleasure on the sidelines, growing so obsessed with a capitalist idea of success that they become workaholics. This is seen throughout the trailer for ‘Cinderella’, from turning the royal ball into a networking event to even having Cinderella decide between marriage and her career. Cinderella went from wanting to go to the ball as a way to escape abuse and back-breaking work to wanting to go to the ball to do what every adult pretends to love: network.
These changes, while attempting to make Cinderella appeal to modern audiences, also changes the themes of the original story. Cinderella was always a hard worker, always cleaning and trying to appreciate the simple joys that come with it, and one could argue that the theme of the original was that hard work pays off along with taking a needed break is beneficial. The new ‘Cinderella’, however, has turned the ball into work so that all Cinderella does is work, whether that be for her step-family or for her fashion line. Even when Cinderella can get a break with Prince Robert (Nicholas Galitzine), she worries about how it will affect her career. The film doesn’t seem like it will condone Cinderella for this mentality but instead uses it as a way to show her dedication to the audience. The character of Cinderella went from someone who needed to take a break from all her work to a character who needs to work harder, truly glorifying the workaholic “girlboss” mentality.
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The Positives of Cinderella Revamps
While the changes present in the new ‘Cinderella’ trailer glorify a capitalist idea of being a “girlboss” thus promoting characteristics of work-oholicism, there are positives that can be seen with this new iteration of Cinderella. Showing Cinderella as a fashion designer is a positive portrayal of young female artists that young girls can look up to and could even inspire them to pursue art as well. Having Cinderella have a clearer escape plan from her step-family, trying to be able to afford to leave, is also a good way to show that she is trying to escape through the only means she knows how. Many modern adaptations have found clever ways to update the story to appeal to the modern audience.
Many Cinderella adaptations have found positive ways to revamp the Cinderella tale to not only appeal to a modern audience but to showcase a strong female lead. 2004’s ‘A Cinderella Story’ cleverly used the college of Princeton as Sam’s “Prince” to escape her hometown and stepmother (a perfectly casted Jennifer Coolidge). This update showcases the original’s themes that hard work pays off since Sam gets accepted to her dream college thanks to her hard work and gets to unwind at the prom (the film’s version of the royal ball). 1997’s ‘Cinderella’ updates the tale by showcasing a racially diverse cast, even having Cinderella played by Brandy, making her one of the first black princesses on screen. This update lets black girls see themselves as a princess since we all know how white movie princesses can be.
Some adaptations have not been as successful in trying to update the Grimm’s fairy tale though, often including changes that just undermine the story’s actual intent. Disney’s 2015 ‘Cinderella’ attempts to make Cinderella more independent by having her ride horses and visit the village, even having friends who live in the village. While this change was meant to make Cinderella seem stronger it only ruins the film’s attempts at making Cinderella feel trapped in her situation. When Cinderella is confined to the home of her step-family it makes her seem more trapped, making her visit to the ball seem even more like an act of freedom since she is not used to the feeling of independence and freedom. Amazon Prime’s iteration of ‘Cinderella’ also has her going into the village on her own which doesn’t exactly undermine the story’s ideas of being trapped because it seems as though Cinderella is also bullied by the village like she is at home.
While it is too early to assume too much about Amazon Prime’s ‘Cinderella’, directed by Kay Cannon, it is easy to see from the trailer that Cinderella is meant to be a role model. She is meant to be seen as an aspirational “girlboss” who gets things done through hard work and dedication. While this seems positive at first, it is much more complicated since the criticisms that Cinderella used to be a weak character are rooted in the ideas of victim-blaming. It is also more complicated since the modern iteration of Cinderella being a “girlboss” only promotes a capitalist view of what it means to be a successful woman, which is sadly being a workaholic who is consumed by career success. While we must wait until the film comes out, one must wonder if the new ‘Cinderella’ is just another Hollywood attempt to follow a capitalist view of what it means to be a strong woman.
‘Cinderella’ will be available to stream on September 3, 2021 on Amazon Prime Video
Written and Directed by: Kay Cannon
Cast: Camila Cabello, Idina Menzel, Minnie Driver, Nicholas Galitzine, Billy Porter, Pierce Brosnan
By Brianna Benozich
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Brianna Benozich is a writer for The Hollywood Insider and a stand up comedian. With a background in screenwriting, she believes that every good story relies on character, story, and themes. Brianna believes that these components, especially with comedies, can start necessary conversations and even open the minds of the audience. She strives to bring attention to underrepresented and overshadowed films and television series which align with the core values of Hollywood Insider’s mission to provide meaningful and compelling stories.