Even with the purest intentions, using a predominantly Black cast to sell sneaker culture plays into Black stereotypes.
It’s finally Black History Month, a time to remember, celebrate and look forward to everything Black history and culture brings to the world. Unfortunately, somebody always has to ruin the parade.
This time, the culprit is Disney’s upcoming movie “Sneakerella,” which was revealed during Disney+ Day on Nov. 12, 2021. Originally slated to release on Feb. 18, the film was pushed back to May 13 and now only has a release date of sometime this year.
Even though “Sneakerella” hasn’t been released yet, I can already tell that it’s a tone-deaf travesty. Now is as good a time as ever to examine why the shoe this movie wants to fill will never fit.
“Sneakerella” follows El (Chosen Jacobs), an aspiring shoe designer who’s stuck in his unsupportive stepfather’s shoe store. El falls head over heels in love with Kira King (Lexi Underwood), daughter of basketball star and sneaker tycoon Darius King (John Salley). Seeing that the Kings are hosting a charity gala, El plans to show the world his talent while hopefully getting the girl in the process.
As innocent as “Sneakerella” may seem, the trailer was met with overwhelmingly negative media reception because of how it depicts Black people.
Here’s the thing: adapting the Cinderella story to fit the world of sneaker culture isn’t a bad idea in itself. It’s actually genius. Even with the purest intentions, however, using a predominantly Black cast to sell sneaker culture plays into Black stereotypes. It doesn’t help that the writers and director behind the project are white.
A message for the “Sneakerella” creative team: this isn’t what Black people want.
All staples of Black and television culture have one thing in common: a compelling story. Whether it’s “Martin,” “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” “The Proud Family,” “That’s So Raven” or countless other Black-centric stories, authentic relationships are the core of their appeal.
At some point, these shows make you experience the entire range of emotions. They may have a predominantly Black cast, particular stereotypes or caricatures of a Black person, but at no point is it ever the focus.
“Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse” is my favorite example. The main protagonist, Miles Morales, deals with a complex coming-of-age story in which he rises to the occasion and becomes a capable Spider-Man before the fabric of time is ripped apart, all while juggling family drama and school. Oh, and Miles Morales is Black. His race serves as a matter of fact rather than the entire selling point.
One part of “Sneakerella” that deserves praise is its tone of whimsical fantasy. Besides playing into stereotypes, the second biggest problem that Black media falls victim to is being painfully stuck on our pain and history.
If you take a look at streaming services this month, there’s probably a section titled “Celebrating Black Voices.” The movies under this category all have to deal with painful stories of Black people. Yes, this is our history – and sadly, even our reality – to this day. However, would it hurt to actually showcase great works by Black creators that aren’t about pain and suffering?
“I want to see our people in more fantasy shows, maybe some [young adult shows], action spy movies, romance, period dramas, please,” Fiona Nova, host of G4TV, said. “Black people are more than their trauma, and we don’t have to constantly be reminded of it.”
As a Black person myself, I recognize the potential Black media has to change the world. Look no further than the dances and slang that get stolen from us to see that impact. When it comes to TV and film, though, there’s much to be desired. If one thing is certain, we’re bigger than our pain, bigger than mediocrity and we’re definitely bigger than stereotypes and caricatures.