Amazon’s new Cinderella is radical. Bad as it is, it dares to eliminate even the fantasy basis of traditional ethics, goodness, and scruples. First, this ruthlessly woke Cinderella checklists a Latina heroine (Camila Cabello) and a British prince (Nicholas Galitzine). The casting choices purposely avoid traditional, Anglo-Saxon whiteness, which Hollywood now considers “supremacist” — as if Latin America and Great Britain did not have their old class and race issues.
This retelling of the 18th-century Charles Perrault tale flaunts its modernization most spectacularly (insultingly) through the gender-fluid fairy-godmother character (Billy Porter) who grants Cinderella’s wishes. Porter paraphrases the new Tiffany jewelry-store ads: “This is not your mother’s” Cinderella, mother.
Amazon’s radicalism is to be expected — but not to be shrugged off, although many will by automatically dismissing it as a sub-Disney version. Still, it’s worth noting precisely how low the Amazon remake sinks. Simply bashing its ineptitude would be predictable, especially after Disney’s insipid 2017 live-action Beauty and the Beast, whose ghastly style director-writer Kay Cannon emulates.
The rags-to-riches story is reimagined through faddish politics, going against the idealistic values formerly associated with the “Cinderella” tale. Cannon is never so clever and culturally challenging as Anne Fontaine, in her remodeling of the “Snow White” fairy tale in White as Snow; she merely refutes Perrault’s touching romanticism.
Cabella’s Cinderella longs for a career as a fashion designer (a too-soon rip-off of Cruella) rather than consecration and fulfillment through marriage to the handsome prince. Her personal feminist cause opposes what Bruno Bettelheim in The Uses of Enchantment recognized as the “moral education” that once made the fairy tale instructive and enduring. Morality is now replaced by ambition and trite notions of sexual and social “justice.”
No wonder this film is so unmoving. Cannon’s hackwork bears no relation to Bettelheim’s idea that “each fairy tale is a magic mirror that reflects some aspects of our inner world, and of the steps required by our evolution from immaturity to maturity.” Fact is, Cannon downplays “inner world” desires in favor of political-world self-righteousness. This turns the fairy tale facetious. It believes only in social justice — not “magic,” which was another way of saying spiritual affect. Instead, Cinderella’s “glass ceiling” aspirations suggest social revolution rather than the perfect copulation metaphor of the glass slipper.
In this way, Cannon’s updating is truly juvenile. Watching how she directs the jukebox-musical numbers (overcrowding and ruining Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” and Des’ree’s “You Gotta Be” with banal, regimented choral choreography) reminded me that Cannon was similarly visually crude in Blockers, an infelicitous movie about the threat of adolescent sexuality, which maybe was the worst film of 2015.
Cinderella doesn’t earn Cannon that distinction this year (stay tuned). Aside from Cabella’s flavorless striving pop couturier (Cabella herself is a bland pop star compared with Disney’s quasi-exotic Selena Gomez), the film’s most striking failure is Billy Porter’s high-fashion, high-collared ghetto sprite. Porter in his work always flaunts the transvestite and transsexual issues that now preoccupy woke Hollywood. His drag queen is, as they say, “extra,” yet the queer showcase lacks conviction when Porter introduces himself as “fabulous,” leaving out the word “fairy.” Such politically correct defiance is also obtuse.
Our deepest childhood, moral recognition of things is not transformed by Amazon-Disney fiat, but merely renovated according to PC terms: Cinderella’s Stepmother (Idina Menzel) and Stepsisters (Maddie Baillio and Charlotte Spencer) are no longer mean but quite kindly — as if the feminist filmmakers refuse to recognize the Jen Psaki she-devils among their ranks.
It all comes down to a pitifully unconvincing Cinderella made for microaggression sensitivities — those who choose to no longer behave ethically because they have lost their moral foundation. Plus, the quasi-medieval costumes are hideous inducements to wealth and privilege, like AOC’s “Tax the Rich” gown at the Met gala ball, in which a cultural gatekeeper and would-be heroine poses as the Cinderella of the insane.