Honestly, that this gospel truth even needs to be explained is disappointing.
Because Disney is nothing if not Disney, the fact that the studio is moving forward with a plan to produce a live-action adaptation of its 1997 Hercules movie doesn’t come as a surprise in the least. Though people might not often talk about it with the same reverence that they have for Beauty and the Beast or The Little Mermaid, Hercules is a bona fide classic—partially because of its imaginative aesthetic spin on Greek mythology, but mainly because of the five goddesses who led you through the story with a series of songs that were as outstanding as they were decidedly surprising to hear in a story about Zeus’ son facing his trials.
While so much of Hercules cleaved to the demigod’s narrative roots, the Muses stood out because of how well their framing as an all-knowing girl group fit into their traditional characterization as the embodiments of the arts. More than that, though, each of the Muses—Calliope (Lillias White), Clio (Vaneese Y. Thomas), Melpomene (Cheryl Freeman), Terpsichore (LaChanze), and Thalia (Roz Ryan)—were depicted as and voiced by Black women whose collective talents turned gospel bangers into the soundtrack of fictional antiquity.
The Muses’ larger significance was something that might have been lost on non-Black theatergoers who don’t quite understand what it meant to see and hear elements of Black culture and Black people put front and center in a way that was intentionally reverential and not at all disparaging.
To put it quite simply: Characters like the Muses simply didn’t exist in Disney’s movies before Hercules. Though the studio had produced a number of other productions revolving around characters of color, they were almost always the focal points of stories that, on some level, felt like Disney attempting to make up for the fact that it spent decades pouring the vast majority of its energies into stories about white characters.
The Muses were some of Disney’s first characters who all read as an explicit celebration of Blackness without being sandboxed into Disney’s Black Movie Mold™, which makes them an important part of the larger animation landscape. It’s also precisely why the Muses in the live-action Hercules should also be portrayed by Black women.
Disney’s changed a number of details in the live-action remakes that it’s put out recently (Will Smith’s beatboxing Genie and Emma Watson’s engineering-minded Belle come to mind), and they’ve mostly worked because those characters were essentially presented as blank-ish slates in their original incarnations. But the Muses are so ensconsed in a specific kind of Blackness that to change that would feel like a unavoidable deviation from the canon.
The right thing to do here is easy to see, Disney. So do it.
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