Entertainment, Film and Music

Keke Palmer: A darker shade of Cinderella

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A few lone voices on social media were not happy to see Keke Palmer being chosen to star as Cinderella on the New York Broadway show, back in August 2014. ‘But Cinderella is the story of a white girl’ they insist, justifying their dislike.

Though Keke is not the first black girl to play Cinderella – Brandy played the role for the 2007 TV production, co-produced by Whitney Houston, she is the first one to star in a Broadway production of the famous fairy tale.

Keke is not phased by some negative public opinion, readily saying that she is the first black Broadway Cinderella and being hugely thrilled to be given the opportunity. She had visions of herself one day doing a Broadway show, so when she got the part, she called it ‘crazy’ in the best possible sense of the word. What is refreshing to hear her say is that the best part of it is never knowing who will be the audience every night; fame and fortune are not mentioned once!

But then, Keke has been on the acting scene for years, staring as a child actor with big names like Queen Latifah and later with Samuel L. Jackson, so fame has been her companion for a while now. Her list of credits is just as impressive, securing roles in Barbershop 2, Akeela and the Bees and  Madea’s Family Reunion to name only a very few.
Keke’s young age (born in 1993) belies a maturity that people twice her age often fail to display. In the world of show business where so much superficiality is practically accepted as the norm, Keke has voiced her wisdom years ago, as a young girl going through a lot of ‘growing pains’ as she calls it, and expressing those pains very publically on social media, where she has 1.5 million Twitter followers. This could have backfired badly, as revealing too much of herself could have damaged her image and credibility, but instead, Keke attracted a huge following of young people who felt their plight and troubles were understood thanks to Keke candidly acknowledging her own.
In a previous interview, Keke explained why she was not shying of interacting with her followers, “nothing is ever above a message. If you have a message to tell and to get across, use every situation you can to get that message across. I can teach you something, and you can teach me something, and we can learn how to take what we can use in our own lives, and what we can’t we can just put it to the side. But if you don’t allow yourself to understand, or to embrace that fear of the unknown and learning something new or something different, you’re gonna be stunted — you’re never gonna grow to a higher level.”

It was in a way a natural progression for Keke to want to have her own talk show, Just Keke, in order to give a voice to young people of her generation, whom she says fail to have  a platform not only to express themselves, but also to be heard and their issues taken seriously. Keke admits to always have been a ‘talker and seeker of truth’. She also says that she has always been interested in the idea of ‘having inner peace and in spreading love — I’ve always been a lover.’
It is no wonder that Keke wants to break a few stereotypes that still stick to people of colour. A black Cinderella is certainly a step in the right direction, but there is more to breaking stereotypes than landing a traditionally ‘white’ character role on Broadway.  In a Yahoo TV interview, she talks about dreads being her ‘dream hair’, but does not feel that it would be appropriate yet for her to sport them now. She says that locks have still such a ‘stereotype attached to them within the acting world.’  “Hopefully” she says, “I get to the point where I can stop those types of stereotypes. Braids are different. Brandy broke them in. Braids can be seen on camera, but these days they really do like the ‘regular’ straight hair.”

So here is one stereotype that Keke, despite her deep desire to break it, does not dare yet, for fear of it having repercussions on her career and image. Of course her successful career is not worth jeopardising over some hair style, but she is touching on a rampant and insidious plague that is affecting many people of colour, and which is the inability by all of us across the board, whites and blacks, to accept ourselves and others exactly the way we are, and embracing the full gamut of diversity.
Just like a non-white Cinderella is displeasing to some because we cannot break away from century old conditioning that the girl has to have milky white skin, in a similar fashion, we still decree that black people ‘s hair have to be managed a certain way to be acceptable to the show business masses.
Keke, being aware of this conditioning, will no doubt break it down fully in due course, and the sooner the better, as such stereotypes perpetuate a false myth that black people can only excel if they conform to certain ‘perceived’ acceptable norms.

Well, a black Cinderella is certainly not a norm, and the casting directors of the Broadway show  have done a good thing to throw the norm to the wind. They could have gone even one step further and ask Keke to sport some dreadlocks. Now that would have been a true double first on Broadway, one that would have shown the black acting community that just the way they are by nature is absolutely and totally acceptable.

But for now a first black Cinderella will have to do, and as Keke playing the role, it is a very beautiful Cinderella indeed!

Isabelle Gravenstein
Editor, Promota Africa magazine

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