The Curtain Calls for You to Think: Doing it Right9 December 2020
I don’t think any of us can say that we aren’t aware of the trend that is the “remake”. We have Rebecca on Netflix, The Boys in the Band from my previous piece, the fan favourite Disney’s Mulan retold, and a new version of the Little Mermaid is in the works. I’m not going to say that the movie industry is running out of ideas, because new ideas, plots and films are constantly being released; personally, I just feel less excited. Broadway, theatre in general, has that je ne sais quoi aura about them. Saying that I can’t lie and say that musicals and plays being released aren’t reimaginings of movies or revivals, I think I just feel more excited about them.
Yet, it seems like every remake or revival has some sort of issue with it – controversy, lack of research or care and it tarnishes the product. How do you get it right? We saw Hamilton retell the story of a very white America with almost an all POC cast and was received by thunderous applause. Across the big wide pond, another musical was acclaimed in greatness for the retelling of history — SIX the musical, a show about the six wives of Henry VIII; told by a girl group made up by those six wives. When binging trailers, interviews, sneak peek performances and listening to the soundtrack, I couldn’t help but notice that the actresses weren’t all white. It had me wondering, was there controversy? And if not, why is that? My consensus to the answer is that it lies in intent for production.
SIX is a musical written to give agency to the women who history has silenced and made two-dimensional. It is a product of the HERstory movement — a feminist approach in humanizing the women he married, mothers to his children. It pays homage to the greatness of these figures in English history. Rejection, divorce and being an object of the male gaze for the sole purpose of a blood heir are things I think a lot of women can relate and empathise with. I think that the creative team could’ve easily said we need six white women to depict these figures of history and no questions would be asked. Instead, they opted for colourblind casting, which results in encompassing the diversity of modern Britain; I dig it. The intent lay in telling an already told narrative, something that has been retold many a time.
For comparison, let’s take Mulan. An all-Asian cast was something to cherish and applaud and then Disney went ahead and ruined it for some. Their execution did not match their intent. Disney promised a more accurate retelling of the legend of Hua Mulan. So how was it that to tell a Chinese story the creative team had not one Asian person at the helm? To me, this seemed counterintuitive to what they intended to do. If they set out to “right a wrong” and depict a beloved story accurately, it means to encompass the brain behind it as well. While SIX aimed to tell the story of silenced women, it encompassed all women. Mulan sat fresh in the discussion of a white Hollywood; so, if their intention was to give voice and recognition to an Asian narrative, they failed. They did the bare superficial minimum.
Doing retold narratives justice, through theatre, tv or film, all comes down to intention. Why is the story being retold? Is it for artistic fun, purely for money, or is there a want to be part of the social conversation? If you plan on being part of that conversation, Disney, I’m looking at you, take a chapter out of SIX’s book because they nailed it. A pop girl group, made up of dethroned silenced queens, reclaiming their voices — definitely a bandwagon I can jump on.