Here's why a South Asian Rapunzel is actually more accurate than you realise

Avantika Vandanapu has been the recent target of hateful comments and racist remarks

Mahnoor Vazir April 24, 2024

Every time a live-action remake of a Disney movie is rumoured to be in the works, fans race to social media to declare their dream cast, or ‘fancast’. This time it was Disney’s Tangled. Beloved by children and adults around the world, people had their preferences for who would play Rapunzel. The majority, however, did not expect it to be a South Asian woman.

The Mean Girls: The Musical star Avantika Vandanapu has been the recent target of hateful comments and racist remarks on social media when a rumour emerged that she had been seen filming for the much-speculated live-action remake. Most of the comments alluded to the idea that an Indian woman playing the character would ‘ruin their childhood.’

The vicious cycle of racist backlash from people over the idea of women of colour playing their favourite Disney princess simply because it wouldn’t be ‘accurate’ seems to be nowhere near the end of its rotation. We most recently witnessed this with Halle Bailey and her casting as Ariel in The Little Mermaid. One would have thought the haters learnt their lesson after witnessing her phenomenal performance on the big screen. Yet here we are again, repeating history.

The lack of diverse representation in media is a well-talked-about topic. The centre of the discussion has always been that a woman of colour playing a beloved character that was originally white, challenges the idea that the look of the animated version has to dictate what the actor cast in the live-action version must look like. Never mind the fact that a South Asian Rapunzel makes a lot more sense than many realise.

South Asians are known to have genetically longer, healthier hair and we take pride in it. We also developed the tradition of oiling hair to keep it healthy, with our mothers teaching us and hoping we pass it on. Rapunzel’s hair is so important to her story, and she takes care of it with pride, just like a South Asian woman does. Avantika herself has received countless compliments on her beautifully long tresses. Studies from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have also proven that South Asian hair has a higher density than Caucasian hair, which makes it stronger. That seems ideal if you have a man using it like a rope to climb up a tower.

Apart from these obvious biological reasons, it should be noted that a huge part of South Asian girlhood is feeling trapped in our houses or by our families which is captured by the story of Rapunzel. Young girls relate to the story of breaking away from exceptionally strict parental figures and forging a path to independence.

Another actor who expressed her desire to play Rapunzel is the lead actress of Netflix’s Never Have I Ever. Maitreyi Ramakrishnan identifies as Tamil, and perfectly encapsulated why she believes a South Asian actor must play this role in an interview with CBS. “I’ve been saying this, and I’ve been seeing other people saying this. I think Rapunzel should be a South Asian girl. Because hear me out, no one knows what it feels like to be trapped in your room, not able to go out because your mother is telling you no, without giving you an actual proper reason like brown girls do. It’s true. That would be like a dream role for me.” Unfortunately, she wasn’t spared any of the racist backlash that plagued her social media either.

At the end of the day, the race of the actor who plays Rapunzel does not impact the story in any way and changing it would not alter the plot. Regardless, the way the public has dealt with the idea of a South Asian woman – or any woman of colour – playing the role of Rapunzel is an embarrassment to the racial progress we claim we have made.

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