As a child, one of the most magical musicals ever for me was Roger’s and Hammerstein’s Cinderella. No, not the 1965 version. The 1997 version. The one that was soundly attacked for its “unrealistic” depiction of family. Ha. Let me say that again: “unrealistic” depiction of family. In a fantasy story. Where a magical fairy waves her wand to turn a pumpkin into a coach.
If you have any doubt that the negative reviews were race-based, take a look at the IMDB page reviews. Many of the reviewers say something along these lines: “There’s no way a white dad and a black mom would produce an Asian son.” If there is one thing I need to emphasize with this blog on writing speculative fiction and race, it’s this: you do not know everything. There are so many diverse family units out there, of every color. There are SO many nontraditional families in this country. This is not unrealistic.
It’s also not “political correctness” to include a mixed family in your novel/movie/short story/whatever. It’s real life–just maybe not yours. My dad was light skinned and my mom was dark skinned. When I was out with my dad, people did not always “get” that we were family. Same with my mom. So, you can understand why seeing a movie with interracial families would resonate with me. I don’t read the casting decisions as a yes, race doesn’t matter there is only one race the Human Race statement. I read it as a yes, race matters, but let’s represent some real family dynamics that are more complex than what we’re accustomed to seeing in musicals. If you don’t “get” it, that isn’t the fault of the cast and crew, just as it isn’t my fault people didn’t “get” my family dynamic.
So many fantasy stories depict one race or another race. But what this says to me, as an interracial person, is that there is still a stigma about being biracial. Also, that it is not acceptable to come from a blended or adopted family. We need more subversive fantasy and sci-fi (and musicals!) because it sends a message. It says, “Look, you are not weird if you are Asian and your parents are black, or you are white and your parents are black, or every single one of you happens to be a different color. None of that is weird if there is love in your house.”
I’m fortunate my kids get to grow up with that version of Cinderella in their heads. They’re growing up with the 2014 version of Annie, too. I want them to see race, not deny it. To see blended family. To appreciate the complexities of the real world, even in fantasy stories. To find characters and family dynamics they can resonate with and find a place in.
It’s not political correctness that drives me to introduce them to these stories. I only want them to know, based on my experiences and many, many others, that it’s possible (and no, I don’t mean in a flouncy fairy-tale sort of way).