With ‘Sneakerella,’ even Disney has jumped into the sneakerhead game
OPINION: Disney flips its classic ‘Cinderella’ into a modern-day sneaker-culture flick that also includes a rapping John Salley.
Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.
When the history books get around to telling the story of the early 2020s and the pandemic, I fear they’re going to leave out one of the era’s most culturally significant developments: Everybody became a sneakerhead.
Seriously, when the pandemic started, retail therapy kicked in for many people, and a lot of it moved in the direction of the sneaker game. Those of us who used to be able to hit on Nike’s SNKRs app with relative ease suddenly found ourselves short on the infamous “Got ‘Em” notifications. And while the pandemic slowed down the supply-chain something or other for a lot of items, shoe companies were still selling their shoes even if the big releases and drops were delayed. I tip-toed into a million different Clubhouse (remember that place?) convos where new entrants into the sneaker game were looking for tips on how to secure kicks and what platforms were best for buying shoes on the resale market. Marketplaces like StockX, GOAT and eBay all of a sudden were full of people trying to get Jordans, Yeezys and any manner of shoes in between.
Even Hollywood got in on the deal. In September 2020, a solid six months into the pandemic (though likely recorded well before the pandemic started), Netflix dropped a six-episode series called Sneakerheads. It starred Andrew Bachelor, aka King Bach, and Allen Maldonado and was about a quest for some mythic shoes…and it was terrible. During a time when it seemed like even grandmothers and grandfathers were tip-toeing in their (new) Jordans all over, a show about the culture that had taken hold ended up being a complete dud.
As the world kind of ebbs and flows in and out of “outside,” the shoe game seems to be in the strongest position ever. Sure, there are lots of behind-the-scenes lawsuits and battles in the culture happening (Nike vs. StockX, Nike vs. John Geiger, etc.), but the collaboration and release game seems like it’s in the best shape it’s ever been in. Aside from drops native to the shoe companies, collaborative partners from Joe Freshgoods to Concepts to JJJound to Union to Salahe Bembury and even Beyoncé’s Ivy Park are everywhere now. If you are into the culture even minimally, you have a lane. Crocs…the shoes that have been clowned relentlessly by folks near and far are doing crazy things with amazing designers. It’s a good (and expensive) time to be a sneakerhead.
Well, Disney seems to have recognized this as well. I have little kids; the number of Disney movies that we watch in my house is astounding. I also grew up in a Disney house. Because I grew up overseas and before cable was a thing, my parents copped an insane number of VHS tapes and many of them were Disney movies. Not only is Disney dropping gems like Coco, Moana and Encanto, they regularly drop live-action musicals like the Descendants trilogy, Zombies, Let It Shine, etc. If you have preteen kids, you’ve probably seen all of them. Disney really kills the movie game.
Such brings us to Disney’s latest drop (you see what I did there?) Sneakerella, a movie that—as the name suggests—mixes Cinderella with a story about sneakers. Set in Astoria, Queens, N.Y., El (Chosen Jacobs) is a kid whose mother passed from cancer who isn’t-really-that-evil-just-overwhelmed stepfather (Bryan Terrell Clark), who runs a shoe store that he wants to get rid of because it’s too costly and it was his wife’s dream. El loves sneakers and designs them almost in tribute to his mother. Well, El bails on taking care of the store one day and meets the daughter, Kira (Lexi Underwood), of Darius King (John Salley), former basketball gawd and shoe mogul. They have a magical day of sneakers and love and magic, and they don’t exchange info. I’m skipping around a bit as to not blow the whole plot, but let’s just say a social media frenzy to find one another happens, a ball happens, some blown opportunities but a hell of a recovery occurs and then John Salley raps horrendously. It also amazingly includes two “evil” stepbrothers whose entire raison d’etre is to get back to New Jersey. Let that sink in. It’s all quite enjoyable. In fact, if they excluded some of the supremely cringe-worthy music (it’s surprisingly bad in this movie; if there’s any knock on it, that’s it), the movie would be aces across the board.
Actually, let’s just do this: Disney, I’m surprised at how ungood the songs are in this movie. Regardless of how good or bad a film’s plot is, I feel I can always count on the music to be amazing. Right now, I’m watching Descendants and the music straight up jams. All of the movies have truly amazing musical numbers; some I couldn’t shake from my consciousness even if I wanted to. Oddly, Sneakerella has not one single song that jams. The opening number surprised me in its…thinness. Which surprised me; I’ve been rocking with Disney, Black-family centered movies since 2012’s Let It Shine because that movie includes some straight-up bops (and includes a cast of Tyler James Williams, pre-Bel-Air Coco Jones, Courtney B. Vance, Dawnn Lewis, Trevor Jackson, Algee Smith and a very young Chloe and Halle Bailey). I’m just saying, I’m surprised by the music in this joint. I’m also surprised they didn’t make John Salley do more takes of his rapping since his timing seemed way off. But go awf.
It’s fun to see my kids watch a film about sneakers made for them; my oldest son told my wife he was a sneakerhead after watching the movie. He isn’t wrong; he stays trying to run my pockets for some kicks. I enjoyed the movie enough to watch it more than once. Does Sneakerella add much to the culture of sneakers? Who knows. But it’s fun to watch a movie with my kids that I have an investment in as a sneakerhead.
So can I kick it? Yes…I can.
I’ll see myself out.
Panama Jackson is a columnist at theGrio. He writes very Black things and drinks very brown liquors, and is pretty fly for a light guy. His biggest accomplishment to date coincides with his Blackest accomplishment to date in that he received a phone call from Oprah Winfrey after she read one of his pieces (biggest) but he didn’t answer the phone because the caller ID said “Unknown” (Blackest).
Make sure you check out the Dear Culture podcast every Thursday on theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, where I’ll be hosting some of the Blackest conversations known to humankind. You might not leave the convo with an afro, but you’ll definitely be looking for your Afro Sheen! Listen to Dear Culture on TheGrio’s app; download here.