Disney

Why Cinderella Is a Gay Icon

From the animated film to the "Impossible"-y high bar set by Brandy and Whitney, the heroine has been putting the "fairy" in fairy tale for 70 years.

Can We Talk About…? is a weekly series that is standing with the divas on the right side of herstory.

Seventy years ago this week, on March 4, 1950, Disney released across a repressed United States the tale of a young gal getting turned out by her gay besties so she could slay at a ball, setting a new standard of queer for the modern fairy tale.

Don’t act surprised when I say these garment-making mice were kweens.

Sure, 1937’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves had a polyamorous seven-way marriage, but the entire tale of Cinderella is gay canon. You’ve got this kid, misunderstood and abused by her family, who, through the help of a fairy, finds love and life at a party, only to lose her shit and fuck up the rest of her night. That’s literally every weekend in WeHo.

And really and truly, what’s gayer than a makeover except a makeover performed by a member of your magical chosen family?

Cindy’s fairy godmother is giving off serious Spinster Lesbian Aunt vibes, though she clearly had a background in designing for drag queens because this ball look is epic:

A petticoat and a peplum? Opera gloves? A goddamn choker! And it’s in a contrasting black to draw the eye but not distract from the bold shoulder and that classy-ass updo.

That dress set my young queer heart all aflutter. But unlike with other Disney flicks, I just could never get on board with the villain, Cinderella’s nevertheless iconic evil stepmother.

Maybe if she had supernatural powers and a cape—or at the very least a better wig—I might have felt more of a connection to her. However, later adaptations of Cinderella, drawing heavily from the 1950 Disney film, found newer and gayer ways to depict this maternal nightmare.

For instance, 1998’s Ever After gave us none other than the woman who brought Morticia Addams to glamorously ghoulish life, Anjelica Huston, serving withering side-eyes for the gods.

Then, 2015’s live-action remake went one step further and had Cate Blanchett, no stranger to camping it up in drag, auditioning for and winning Season 7 of RuPaul’s Drag Race.

Huston and Blanchett are just two of the many queer and queer-adjacent icons that have circled around Cinderella over the past seven decades—starting in 1957 with Julie Andrews in the Rodgers and Hammerstein made-for-television musical.
 

That original broadcast was such a success it was adapted for the stage and revived again on air in 1965, and in glorious Technicolor, with Lesley Ann Warren.
 

But the ultimate Cinderella adaptation came in 1997, when the gay gods shone down upon us and gifted the world with Whitney Houston as the fairy godmother to Brandy’s Cinderella in an inspired, groundbreaking bit of casting that included Bernadette Peters as the evil stepmother and Whoopi Goldberg as the queen.
 

While Whitney and Brandy’s version of “Impossible” is, for my currency, the gold standard, the behind-the-scenes recording of that signature tune is more entertaining than anything Disney’s come out with in the past decade—particularly when a visibly exasperated Whitney asks the younger singer, referring to her vocal range, why she’s “down there” only for the camera to immediately whip away (at about 3:45):
 

God, I miss that woman. Until very recently, Whitney was the only fairy godmother I was willing to acknowledge…

But then news broke this week of Dame Billy Porter playing a gender-nonconforming fairy godmutha in an upcoming musical remake of Cinderella slated for a 2021 release. I could think of no one better for the role, though the rest of the production gives me pause.

On the one hand, we’ve got Broadway baby Idina Menzel as the wicked stepmother and national treasure John Mulaney as one of the mice/footmen. But then there’s the title role of Cinderella, played by Camila Cabello, about whom I will say only this: She’s no Brandy. Cabello is also, apparently, contributing music to the film, which brings me to another cause for concern: We’re not doing Rodgers and Hammerstein?

Not adding a great deal of confidence to this whole scenario is the fact that James Corden of Cats fame will serve as both a producer on the film and one of the footmice. Corden is also credited with the story, no doubt to the chagrin of Charles Perrault or the ancient Greeks.

Still, on the bright side, Kay Cannon, who wrote and directed the wonderful Blockers, is helming the ship. So while this latest adaptation of Cinderella might leave you pining for the incredibly high, incredibly gay bar set before it, leading you to ask—

—at least a new generation of baby queers will have this tale of fairies to inspire them for decades to come.

Lester Fabian Brathwaite is an LA-based writer, editor, bon vivant, and all-around sassbag. He's formerly Senior Editor of Out Magazine and is currently hungry. Insta: @lefabrat