Yara Shahidi says Black and brown people 'can see themselves' in new 'Peter Pan'

Jonah Valdez, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

Yara Shahidi, Disney's new Tinker Bell, has been busy in recent days speaking out against the racist backlash to her casting in "Peter Pan & Wendy."

But the "black-ish" and "Grown-ish" star also has taken the time to celebrate the significance of her new role in the latest "Peter Pan" retelling, and what it means for Black and brown people who are watching from home.

When the trailer first dropped in February, many online criticized the casting of Shahidi, who has a Black mother and Iranian father. Since the first onscreen depiction of Tinker Bell in the 1924 silent film "Peter Pan," the fairy has exclusively been played by white actors in more than a dozen versions since.

Amid the backlash, Shahidi credited Disney and "Peter Pan" director David Lowery with wanting to tell a new story.

"They wanted to bring some new fun to this classic but also give us the fairy tale we deserve," Shahidi told the publication Byrdie in an interview published Tuesday. "It's evident they're not just popping Black and Brown folks in the cast for the sake of updating the story. Instead, it's about creating a story that so many more people can see themselves in after we've been left out for so long."

Her comments echoed her previous statements addressing the racism aimed at her and Halle Bailey, who stars as Ariel in Disney's live-action version of "The Little Mermaid."

"I think oftentimes people think of diversity and inclusion as threatening or jeopardizing the quality of the story," Shahidi told the Hollywood Reporter last week, "instead of seeing how beautifully they can be interwoven together to create something that impacts even more people, that lets even more people into stories that we love."


She added, "What's been beautiful is seeing the response to both of our characters and seeing how many people feel included in this fairy tale, while also maintaining the magic that we love in the first place."

The Tinker Bell role is also a full-circle moment for Shahidi, who recently shared that she used to model for Disney as a child, showing "the Black version of a character" to help sell costumes in Disney stores.

"And so to think that now I'm just Tinker Bell is really exciting," Shahidi told the Associated Press last week at the premiere of Apple TV+'s new series "Extrapolations." "And to see the response when they announced the Barbie doll today, the amount of people who are like, 'Oh my goodness, I get to see a fairy that looks like me,' I think validates the fact that we all deserve a large fantasy life."

"Peter Pan & Wendy" premieres April 28 on Disney+.


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