Hans Christian Andersen, Denmark’s most famous author, wrote fairy tales with universal themes that could be appreciated at both a child and adult level. Several months ago, we took our son to see a marionette show here in New York City, presenting three of Andersen’s most famous fairy tales. My son is half Danish (1/2 Latino), so we were extra excited to show him the works of an author who shared his dad’s home country.
This particular adaptation of Andersen’s fairy tales set all three of the tales outside of Denmark. One story was set in China, one in Africa (not country-specific) and one in New York City. The characters in New York City were all animals, some with Puerto Rican accents. The stories were beautifully told and my son enjoyed them. I enjoyed them too! As we were leaving the theater, though, I started feeling more conflicted and even disappointed.
The Swan is the national animal of Denmark, but this Ugly Duckling was set in Central Park. Denmark has more castles than cars (wild exaggeration) but The Princess and the Pea was set in Africa. Why weren’t any of the three tales set in Denmark, with it’s beautiful lakes, castles and swans?
In an effort to create a work where more children could see themselves, something got lost. Is it not part of a multicultural experience to see Danish fairy tales with universal themes, set in Denmark? But here’s the thing – my son was in no way negatively affected, and it would do him no good for me to bring up anything about my disappointment. He saw a story about an emperor and thieves, a prince and princess and some entertaining, talking animals.
Representation is about offering options that reflect our diversity. We want to see ourselves in the stories we read, hear, and see performed. Often times, classic or popular stories have been adapted as new versions with Asian, Black or Latin American characters, but this is not the same as seeing stories ABOUT Asian, Black and Latin experiences. For me, I would rather see more diverse choices, truly about the diverse groups in our communities, than see one culture, any culture, written out of its own stories.
❓Would you like to see a survey on this topic? Please let me know in the comments!