Originally, when I started thinking about what to write for this piece, I was gonna dedicate it to three Black women who have single-handedly gotten me through quarantine.
I was gonna talk about how much joy I got from seeing Megan Thee Stallion throw it in a circle on Instagram, how much joy I got from watching concert clips of Mary J. Blige hitting her signature dancery, and how much joy I got from seeing Yung BBQ pop, lock and drop it in the middle of the street in broad daylight.
But then word came out that Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, starring Brandy and Whitney Houston, would be headed to Disney Plus soon. And after that announcement, that’s when I knew I had to switch gears. You see, Brandy’s Cinderella is one of those movies that had a profound impact on the way I saw myself as a young, Black girl. When I saw her on my screen sporting long box braids, beautifully brown skin, a perfect smile and voice that could light up a room, it solidified and affirmed something in me that I carry around with me even to this day.
Up until that movie came out, I had never seen a “real-life” Black princess before. I had never seen someone who so closely resembled me be heralded as royalty, worthy of admiration and love. I remember dancing around my room, mimicking Brandy’s every move, singing out her sweet tunes at the top of my lungs. Later down the line, I received the Brandy Norwood doll. And man, was I the happiest girl in the world. I took it with me everywhere because I didn’t want to let it out of my sight. Whenever friends came over, she was the first thing I wanted to show them. When I slept over at a relative’s house, she had to come with me. That doll meant that much to me. She wasn’t rocking the light-blue dress from the movie, but it was still Brandy—the closest and only physical reminder of the beauty I had witnessed on my TV.
Years later when I ran for Miss Arkansas USA, I remember looking through rows and rows of pageant dresses, saying no to almost every last one of them. Why? Because they didn’t have it; they didn’t have “the Brandy factor.” They didn’t make me feel like Cinderella. And until I found one that did, the search for my perfect dress would have to continue. Fortunately, I eventually found the dress. It wasn’t blue but it had the Brandy factor. Unfortunately, though, it wasn’t enough to secure my shot at being the first Black Miss Arkansas USA. But it didn’t matter. Because I was confident in my performance, confident in my dress and confident in myself. When I sauntered off the stage on that cold night October, I knew I had won at life. And that beat any consolation prize a jury could ever give me.
So to Brandy, our Black Cinderella—my Black Cinderella: I want to dedicate this to you. Thank you for answering Whitney’s call. Thank you for saying yes and inspiring a generation of Black girls to believe in their own innate royalty. And thank you for truly being the sweet invention of a little Black girl’s dream.