Brandy reminisces about her role as the first Black Cinderella
Brandy Norwood, more popularly known as Brandy, recently opened up to People magazine about playing the role of the first Black Cinderella in the 1997 musical movie Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella’ nearly 24 years after its original release. The Walt Disney Television’s iconic 90’s movie is getting a re-release by Disney+.
“It’s enchanting, it’s magical, it is an amazing cast — people that [viewers] probably know, and the music will change your life. And I feel like everybody that sees it will come away inspired, will come away happy and joyful. And I just hope that for everyone, because right now we need it more,” Brandy told People magazine.
Brandy on the ‘colour-blind’ casting of the production
The musical aired on ABC for the first time in 1997 to almost 60 million viewers and Brandy was cast in the role of Cinderella, making her the first Black woman to play the role.
The most interesting part about this production of the classic Cinderella tale was the colour-blind casting. The movie also included Whitney Houston as Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother, Whoopi Goldberg as Queen Constantina, Victor Garber as King Maximillian, Bernadette Peters as Stepmother, Paolo Montalbán as the Prince, and Jason Alexander as Lionel, the King’s counsel.
In an interview with Vulture, Brandy commented on this ‘colour-blind casting’, when asked about what it meant to her to be able to portray a Black Cinderella.
She said, “I couldn’t grasp it all because I was so young. I didn’t really understand how revolutionary this was going to be, how big of an impact it was going to be. I knew that it was special, but I didn’t really know how special. When I was able to see it all come together and see the finished product of it, I was like, ‘Wow, this is different.’ This is something I had never seen. It inspired me. It was as if I wasn’t even watching me as Cinderella.”
Brandy talks about Cinderella’s braided hair
Brandy also commented on Cinderella’s character having her hair in braids throughout the movie.
She told Vulture, “You know, I had been wearing braids throughout my entire career when I was younger. So that was just my thing. I just absolutely love braids. You can still see they’re still in my hair today. That was what I felt would be so much cooler — if Cinderella also had braids, you know? Because, yes, there’s the first Black princess. That’s amazing. Unbelievable. But what if we just take it all the way back to the motherland.”
“And just go head-on and put the braids right in. I actually wanted the braids all the way down to the middle of my back, but they were like, “It’s too long.” I love that they allowed me to have braids. It was so beautiful. It represents who I am, who Black women are. It speaks to our culture,” she added.
In an interview with Elle, she talked about how she got her braids at 15.
“I think braids are so beautiful. It just speaks to the culture. I got a perm when I was about 15 and the perm damaged my hair. That’s how I was able to get the braids—they were a protective style. It’s a beautiful expression, it’s an art, and it takes so much time for the braid artists who are doing my hair. The art they express is unbelievable,” she said
“I want to wear them for the rest of my life. Now, people are wearing them even more than I’ve seen in such a long time. That’s such a great thing. The twist, the lock—everybody is starting to really get into the braid culture, and it IS a culture,” she continued.
She also confessed that being the first Black Princess with braids was ‘unbelievable’ and that it made her happy to be ‘able to experience that’, according to Elle.
Brandy’s experience working with Whitney Houston on the set of Cinderella
Brandy also talked about her experience working with legendary singer and icon Whitney Houston on the set of ‘Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella’. The musician tragically passed away in 2012 at the age of 48.
“It was a collaborative thing, and what I loved about working with her is that I was allowed to contribute, I was allowed to be myself. And then I was allowed to get all the pointers from her that I could soak in,” the 42-year-old told People magazine.
“We had some beautiful, funny moments that I can remember forever. She’s really my angel, and I’m just so appreciative to her for this opportunity,” she added.
She also recalled her experiences working with Whitney Houston to Vulture.
Talking about the kind of wisdom she took away from the legend, she said, “Well, Whitney’s whole thing with me was to just be myself. She loved that I could be myself and she didn’t want that part of me to change. Her being a legend and having been through so much in life and experiences in this industry, she wanted me to stay on the path of being who I am and true to myself. That was what she preached all the time to me up until she passed away. So I keep that and I try to live by that every day. That’s what I teach my daughter as well.”
Working with Whitney Houston in Cinderella was also a humbling experience as Brandy told Vulture. “Oh, she didn’t really act like a boss lady like that. She didn’t have that kind of energy. Her energy was very down to earth, loving. Her spirit was humble.”
“And you know, I honestly think that even though she was executive producer and she had a vision, she kind of let her partner Debra Chase and Craig [Zadan] and Neil [Meron] and them have that kind of vibe. She was just Fairy Godmother doing her acting and singing with all of us. I’m pretty sure she was, of course, doing her thing behind the scenes. I just didn’t see it,” said Brandy.
According to a Shondaland oral history of the production which came out in 2017, although Whitney Houston was originally cast in the role of Cinderella, she decided to give away her role to Brandy who was a teenage rising star at the time.
Brandy told People, “I remember her saying that, ‘Girl, I’m 33. I’m not going to be playing that Cinderella. I’ll be a fairy godmother.’ I said, ‘If you promise to be my fairy godmother, I would love to play Cinderella.'”
The experience of working with such top-cats was mind-blowing for Brandy and she referred to them as her “childhood idols”.
“Bernadette Peters, this is the idol who stole Annie, Miss Hannigan. You know what I mean? I just loved Bernadette Peters, and loved Whoopi Goldberg and everything that she did, from ‘Sister Act to Sister Act 2’, everything, ‘Color Purple’, everything. I was like, ‘Oh my God, these are the people that I … And I’m right here with them?’ ” she told People.
“It was mind-blowing, even though I had been around different celebrities before, but these particular ones touched me in different ways that I never would have thought that I would have worked with them. And it was just magical,” she continued.
‘Rodger’s & Hammerstein’s Cinderella’ will be part of the collection “Celebrate Black Stories” alongside, ‘Soul’, ‘Black Is King’, ‘Black Panther’, ‘Hidden Figures’, and others on Disney+ which will be released on Friday at 12 midnight.