Monday, May 19, 2014

A Great Suggestion For the OUAT Writers (AKA The Call To Use Different Fairy Tale Characters From 'Round the World)

With the season end reveal of Elsa coming to Storybrooke for Season 4 of Once Upon A Time, speculation is rife with regard to story lines, additional Frozen world character additions, plot twists and, as you can imagine, concerns about changing an already much-beloved character. Clearly, from the brief finale teaser, Elsa will be fair skinned (ie caucasian) but there are a lot of people, many already concerned with Disney's lack of POC representation, that see the same in OUAT, and that the addition of Elsa just exacerbates that.

(I'll get to why I am posting images of all these cultural variants of Cinderella in just a sec. Bare with me.) 

The "discussion" throughout social media has birthed a petition, calling for Tiana (from Disney's The Frog Princess) to be added to the cast and canon but not just as "fodder" like it seems most other POC characters have been used in OUAT.
The lack of POC people in the ABC show Once Upon a Time is rather depressing. They are either villains, dead or forgotten. The character Mulan has disappeared and Rapunzel, who was added to the royal line up, had one episode and she wasn’t even the focus. For three seasons, the fans have waited patiently for at least one POC who doesn’t get shafted. So to the writers and creators, would you please give us Tiana? All we are asking is for a POC character that gets to go on a journey and not be forgotten.  

The fact that the POC issue is coming up so regularly these days says a lot to me: not just about the lack of representation by arguably the most influential company using fairy tales in the world, but also that people are tired of the same regurgitation of stories. Red Riding Hood has been told multiple times the world over in a myriad of ways, yet Western retellings of Red Riding Hood tend to default to the girl in the red hood in the wood with a wolf.

Carissa Shuman, of The Celebrity Cafe, however, came up with a solution that I want to applaud, (despite the fact that it's highly unlikely this suggestion will be implemented):
Should Horowitz and Kitsis decide to include more POC, they could possible draw from fairy tales of other cultures which are sometimes stand-alone stories, and sometimes variations of their European counterparts. Their focus has been predominantly on Disney princesses, which does include Mulan and Tiana. However, they have also included or alluded to other popular stories such as Hansel and Gretel. If they were to refer to some other stories, they may want to use Leola from Melodye Benson Rosales’ Leola and the Honeybears, which is an African-American version of Goldilocks, who although not a princess is a well-known fairy tale character. 
Another option could be to incorporate “relatives” of Red or Ella by using a variation of their story. For example, Lon Po Po is a Chinese version of Little Red Riding Hood written by Ed Young. There are also several versions of Cinderella. The idea of rags to riches is a common theme, and the Chinese have told it in Yeh-Shen by Ai-Ling Louie. Robert D. San Souci told it in his story entitled Cendrillon, a Caribbean Cinderella, and Rafe Martin told it in The Rough-Face Girl which stars a disfigured Algonquin girl.

The whole things about OUAT being basically a Disney property and using Disney versions of fairy tales makes sense, from a production point of view (and an intellectual property point of view). That excuse doesn't apply for when they go outside the canon though. For them to use, for example, Red Riding Hood and Hansel and Gretel, which Disney do not have popular versions of, says that they're willing to step outside the Disney canon if they think it's worth they're while (read, ratings).

With regard to the fact that Horowitz and Kitsis are extremely unlikely to consider using cultural variations of stories, what I would like to see is: They decide, yes, they'll bring Tiana on board and yes, they'll bow to popular demand and offer Oscar Winner Lupita Nyong'o the role. She says "yes, on one condition". They say "anything!" and she demands that they bring some fairy tales from her cultural background to the show...

I can dream.


  1. What a terrific idea that will probably never happen. I always thought it would be a neat idea if in one of those fairy tale mash-up shows/comics, if there were some kind of "Sisterhood of the Slipper" which was a secret organization entirely made up of Cinderella analogues.

  2. I was delighted to see all these forgotten books from my childhood. I must get my hands on them now for my own son! Thank you!

    I haven't started watching Once Upon a Time yet, but something about its explicit use of Disney characters turns me off. Although, is it owned by ABC Family? That would make sense.

    1. OUAT is ABC which is Disney. Does it feel a bit like Koschei? Hiding the soul inside a needle, within an egg, inside a duck, inside a hare, within an iron chest, buried under an oak tree, on an island? ;)