Broadway’s First African-American Cinderella: Keke Palmer

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Actress and talk show host Keke Palmer is on a roll! The trailblazing star is taking her talent to Broadway, and breaking barriers along the way.

In June this year she became the youngest talk show host in history, at the age of 20, when she was given her own show ‘Just Keke’ on BET, where she tackles issues that are relevant to her generation. Keke is best known for her roles on shows and movies such as ‘True Jackson’, ‘Masters of Sex’, ‘Barbershop 2’ with Queen Latifah, and ‘Madea’s Family Reunion’.

She is a true representative of her generation, not allowing traditional gender or color lines to stop her success and inspire others along the way. This week it was announced she will play the first ever African-American version of Cinderella on Broadway, starting in September. This casting news makes a grand statement that there are plenty of roles on stage and screen which aren’t limited to a certain ethnicity. So why not have a black Cinderella on Broadway!

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In 1997, singer Brandy famously (and perhaps even controversially) played Cinderella in the TV movie of the same name, and the late Whitney Houston played the fairy godmother. This is something that Keke acknowledged in a press release about the announcement.

“I feel like the reason I’m able to do this is definitely because Brandy did it on TV,” Palmer said. “In me doing this, it shows everybody that everything is possible.”

The producers of “Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella” have always been colorblind about casting the show, which Actors Equity honored for excellence in diversity on Broadway last year.

“We’ve always just cast the best people for the parts. Sometimes they’re African-American, sometimes they’re Latino, sometimes Asian-American,” Goodman said. “It’s wonderful when it works out and we’ve finally found our Cinderella.”

Winning the role of Cinderella is the latest breakthrough for African-Americans on Broadway, joining Norm Lewis as the first black man to play the title role in “The Phantom of the Opera,” Nikki M. James playing Eponine in “Les Miserables,” James Monroe Iglehart as the manic Genie in “Aladdin” and Condola Rashad as Juliet opposite Orlando Bloom’s Romeo.

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Keke is only 20 but already she is know for two “firsts”. In our eyes that makes her a pretty darn good role model, because just looking at the rest of her career, she is adamant about spreading positivity and using her platform to set a good example for her generation. Back in April she spoke about body image in an interview and how she wants to set a good example.

“I always try to set a positive example for my generation and promote confidence,” she said. “I’m aiming to help girls deal with insecure feelings and teach them ways to feel better about themselves. If you focus more on the inside, you’ll feel just as great about the outside.”

It’s no wonder her rise is is steady.

Back to Broadway, it’s not just on stage where women and minorities are making history. If you’ve seen The Empowerment Project, an awesome documentary we have promoted quite a bit featuring pioneer women across America in a range of different industries, you will be familiar with the name Vy Higgensen. Vy is a powerhouse unto herself and is a woman you all need to know about.

She is the the founder of the Mama Foundation for the Arts in Harlem, NYC, but it doesn’t end there. She is the first woman to work in ad sales at Ebony Magazine, the first woman on prime time radio, and most importantly, is the Creator, Writer, Producer, and Director of the longest running off-Broadway show in American history: ‘Mama, I Want To Sing’ (30+ years and counting!).

So whatever barrier you think you are facing today, just bookmark this page as a reminder of what is possible: everything! If a young girl from Harvey, Illinois, a town with a 33 percent poverty rate in 2009—can star as Cinderella on Broadway and host her own talk show, then you can do whatever you can dream. Don’t limit yourself with the barriers that may currently exist in society, because you could be the very person to break those down.

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