“Untouchable.” “Grammy-worthy.” “Forward of their time.”
These are only a few methods Twitter and TikTok have described The Cheetah Ladies in latest weeks. The platforms have all of the sudden been saturated with clips from the beloved Disney Channel motion pictures, as followers are decided to provide the titular group their flowers, once more, 20 years after their debut.
The Cheetah Ladies movie trilogy boasts a serious legacy, with the franchise’s first movie reportedly reaching 84 million international viewers and subsequently propelling the eponymous lady group to worldwide fame. Launched in 2003, it was additionally Disney Channel’s first musical function movie, paving the best way for the success of movies similar to Excessive College Musical, Camp Rock, and Teen Seaside Film.
However in contrast to the extra commercially profitable franchises that adopted, The Cheetah Ladies has gained a web-based following that’s nonetheless invested within the group’s music—analytics counsel the group nonetheless garners over half one million Spotify listeners per day, regardless of splitting up in 2008.
The group’s ongoing revival stretches past music alone. The fandom focuses on visible aesthetics, efficiency pedigree, and the institution of “icon” standing—all of which the group excelled in. Followers on social media do every little thing from curate completely coordinated duplicate seems impressed by the group, to recreate that iconic “Strut” scene in Barcelona. On Twitter, memorable traces from the franchise have been recycled as response photos and movies. (I think about there’s nothing extra devastating than somebody dismissing you with Galleria’s iconic line, “Let’s bounce, ladies.”)
Why has The Cheetah Ladies held a decades-long grip on social media and a era of Disney Channel-loving children? Maintain onto your hats, individuals. I do know speaking about race is frightening, however we’re going to do it anyway.
An almost-universal expertise amongst non-white ladies who grew up in majority-white areas is being “Taylor.” No, not Swift—McKessie. When “enjoying” Excessive College Musical on the playground, we have been all the time assigned the position of Taylor McKessie, even once we desperately needed to be Sharpay Evans. Why? Our brown pores and skin, clearly. How dare we ask to play another person?!
This was all the time barely complicated to me, as a result of I knew I used to be South Asian, whereas Taylor was African-American. It wasn’t till I obtained older that I spotted that, to some individuals, we have been each merely “the opposite.”
However once we ladies would faux to be The Cheetah Ladies, I used to be all of the sudden offered with selections. I regarded like a lot of the characters, so I could possibly be whoever I needed. I used to be Galleria, belting my coronary heart out to lyrics like “my knight in shining armor is me.” I used to be Dorinda, dancing like no one was watching. I used to be Aqua, strutting across the playground, pretending I used to be in scenic Barcelona. I used to be lastly seen.
The Cheetah Ladies collection, based mostly on the books by Deborah Gregory, follows the journey of 4 New York youngsters who dream of superstardom. The forged for the Disney Channel adaption was led by Raven Symoné, who had not too long ago established herself as the primary Disney it-girl by starring as her namesake in That’s So Raven, the primary program on the channel to run greater than 65 episodes. Its large viewership allowed it to air 100 episodes over 4 seasons and spawn the primary Disney Channel spin-off with Cory In The Home. Symoné starred alongside 3LW members Adrienne Bailon and Kiely Williams, in addition to Sabrina Bryan, actual title Reba Sabrina Hinojosa.
Visually numerous, that includes 4 girls of various pores and skin tones, cultural backgrounds, and physique sorts, the group would unknowingly revolutionize youngsters’s tv for the higher.
Earlier than The Cheetah Ladies, there have been no live-action Disney Channel productions solely geared toward children of shade. By the late Nineties, the broadcaster had nearly mastered the components for a profitable authentic collection: an all-American, white-picket-fence sort of household, centered on the trials and tribulations of a young person as they navigate these awkward adolescent years. Exhibits like Even Stevens and Lizzie McGuire have been hits, prefacing a golden period of authentic collection that may dominate youth tradition.
Youngsters of shade tended to play a small half on this components, usually relegated to supporting roles. The channel’s movie roster was comparable. Disney Channel did function some ethnic minorities as main characters, although typically in these productions that centered totally round problems with race discrimination and white tolerance. Films like The Shade of Friendship, the story of an unlikely friendship between a Black American and a white South African in the course of the apartheid, have been praised for the “actual world” classes they taught their youthful viewers.
With some exceptions, just like the not too long ago rebooted, fan-favorite cartoon The Proud Household, the overarching message was clear: If Disney Channel was going to “do” racial range, it could be to show its viewers—predominantly the white ones—a lesson.
Enter The Cheetah Ladies, a movie centered on the unbreakable bond between 4 Black and brown youngsters as they pursue superstardom. It went towards the grain of the established components in each means, and but, 20 years later, it stays one of many channel’s best successes.
The ethnic make-up of the forged has been a speaking level for the reason that authentic premiere, generally as a degree of ridicule. A 2003 evaluation lowered the film to a “culturally numerous morality lesson disguised as a musical fantasy.” This narrative adopted the group by means of to the franchise’s ultimate installment; a New York Occasions journalist described the premiere of The Cheetah Ladies 3: One World as “much less like [a] typical Hollywood forged get together than some type of United Nations session.”
Right now, nonetheless, the variety of The Cheetah Ladies makes up a big portion of the group’s well-liked enchantment and longevity. The ensemble’s energetic efficiency was, on the time, a novelty that helped fill a big hole in youngsters’s leisure. It was a a lot overdue inclusion of Black and brown ladies in cinema as advanced characters, liberated from the merciless lens of racial evaluation for the leisure of white audiences.
It’s vital to notice that the flexibility to resist the check of time isn’t simply rooted in the truth that the group was racially numerous. It’s extra depending on the truth that every member’s variations have been current and celebrated, not with out defining the characters themselves.
This nuance is probably finest evidenced within the portrayal of Chanel (Bailon) within the second movie. Chanel’s Hispanic heritage was an apparent distinction from the norm, each in her medium-brown pores and skin tone and her capacity to change between Spanish and English with ease. She acted as a translator for the others as they navigated Barcelona, correcting Aqua’s incorrect pronunciation of the Sagrada Familia (sorry, Sagrrrrrrrada Familia – roll these ‘R’s, individuals).
Chanel was, merely, Hispanic, and at no level did she shrink back from this reality. Her id was by no means exaggerated for comedic impact, and it didn’t current an inherent impediment she must overcome. This was an easy, but vital, portrayal, which taught a era of younger ladies to normalize their variations too. This was a universe the place ladies from minority ethnic backgrounds might thrive with out query.
It’s this tasteful sort of inclusion that made the group a secure house for marginalized youngsters, and it’s this sense of security that enables the franchise to thrive. For ladies of shade, The Cheetah Ladies are one of many few sources of true, pure nostalgia.
That, maybe most of all, is why the group is ready to expertise a social media takeover in 2023. Up to date leisure and popular culture is outlined by nostalgia. This isn’t restricted to these watered-down reboots of your favourite childhood reveals; it additionally manifests because the revival of Y2K trend and the reemergence of late-’90s R&B within the mainstream. It’s a craving for the youthful model of ourselves, and rediscovering these first inklings of our identities.
When on-screen portrayals of youngsters of shade are scarce, girls of shade are left with out anybody to straight relate to. In an period the place nostalgic leisure reigns supreme, we’re left at midnight.
And with this in thoughts, the latest explosion of The Cheetah Ladies content material on social media makes a lot sense. We’ve discovered solace in what was one of many solely youngsters’s franchises of the early-2000s that offered a nuanced and correct illustration of Black and brown girlhood. The group and its actors personified a sense of uninterrupted, unapologetic pleasure for these ladies who couldn’t discover themselves on display screen elsewhere, and so they nonetheless encourage a way of delight of their long-serving followers..
It’s this unparalleled sense of inclusion throughout the group that makes the franchise treasured. Symoné, Bailon, Williams, and Bryan confirmed a era of women the values of self-love, self-empowerment, and self-belief. For that, we’ll all the time be grateful to The Cheetah Ladies—and singing their hits.