Yara Shahidi is challenged to be Tinker Bell for the 21st century

Young Yara Shahidi gained international prominence in the great Black-ish, but it is like Tinker Bell in Peter Pan and Wendy that she will be eternalized for several generations. It’s not such an easy task, she is the first black actress to play the iconic character that has already been played on screen by Julia Roberts, Keira Knightley, and Ludivine Sagnier among others.

The inclusion and updating of Tinker Bell in the story is a more than welcome move, after all, she is extremely important in the narrative and has already been shown in all sorts of ways: jealous, passionate, mischievous, and… incomprehensible! In 1953 (as in 2023), because she only speaks the ‘fairy language’, we didn’t hear her even once! It yields a long thesis on machismo, but it is another agenda. At the moment, it is worth remembering that it was the dear Tinker Bell, even more so than Wendy, who found the shortcut to the hearts of fans, becoming one of the most recognized symbols of Disney.

In the original work by J.M. Barrie, from 1904, and in the 1911 play, she was described as “an ordinary fairy”, who repaired pots and kettles for her companions. As mentioned, her speech, being in another language, sounded like little bells to human ears, hence her name. Only those fluent in the fairy language, like Peter Pan, can understand it.

Still attached to the stereotypical view of the female profile at the time, she is described as temperamental, sometimes moody, jealous, vindictive, and curious – not necessarily in that order – being especially helpful and kind to Peter. To justify the duality of her personality, Barrie claims that it’s due to her “size” (equal to a finger) as a limiting factor. Like, because she’s so small, she can’t have more than one feeling at the same time. Like, when anger consumes her, there’s no physical space for her compassion to balance her heart, pushing her to rash decisions. Thankfully, in animation and movies, her tragic fate was left out (she dies a year after Wendy and the brothers leave Neverland and even Peter forgets about her).

The cartoon’s androgynous and sexy look put our Tinker Bell in a box. Beautiful, with a mini-skirt, accentuated hips and pixie cut hair, she was a blonde because legend has it that she was inspired by Marilyn Monroe, but she was a combination of three women. The face of Ginni Mack, the body of Kathryn Beaumont, who also served as a model for Alice, and the legs (adult and well shaped) of dancer Margaret Kerry, at the time named as “the most beautiful legs in the world” in Hollywood. In other words, Tinker Bell’s creation – blonde and blue-eyed – is a sea of ​​stereotypes that excluded cultures that were not represented in the story or that were misrepresented. So, 70 years later, having Yara in the cast signals a necessary inclusion.

Yara Sayeh Shahidi, daughter of an American mother and an Iranian father, was born in 2000, in Minneapolis, and nine years later she made her film debut, alongside none other than Eddie Murphy. He was also in Salt, with Angelina Jolie, before she was successful as Zoey Johnson, in Black-ish. Graduated in Interdisciplinary Sociology and African American Studies, at Harvard, Yara has always mixed art with activism, and circulated among the great artists, literally, from the cradle, because her father, Afshin Shahidi, was one of the main photographers of the singer Prince, and she is the cousin of rapper Nas.

Having a talented young woman like Yara is a new energy for Tinker Bell and a long way from when she was just a light crossing the stage. The actress didn’t even blink an eye to accept the challenge and be the face of an icon for new generations. For her, Julia Roberts was the most striking Tinker Bell precisely because it was so different from the 1953 design.

The reaction to the actress’s choice was met with criticism by a more conservative wing, and, to maintain her mental health, Yara stayed away from social media, and is grateful for the support she had from the entire production in the process. She understands that she is at the forefront of a movement that goes beyond “exchanging ethnicities”, but rather having stories that reflect current times. Tinker Bell may speak in the unintelligible fairy language, but the unspoken message that Peter Pan and Wendy make a perfect vehicle for is heard, loud and clear.


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