The first trailer for the feature film version of beloved Broadway musical Cats dropped on Thursday, boasting a cast that includes Jennifer Hudson, Idris Elba, Taylor Swift, James Corden and, in the lead role, newcomer Francesca Hayward.
Hayward – named principal dancer in 2016 to the British Royal Ballet – plays Victoria, the shy white kitten, in director Tom Hooper’s adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical. Born near Nairobi to a Kenyan mother and British father, Hayward moved to England at the age of 2.
Twitter has already piled on the trailer, calling the CGI enhanced versions of the stars “nightmare fuel,” but some users thought that Hayward’s face had been altered and her coloring changed not just to look like a cat, but in order to obscure that she is black.
so how come you can clearly see this is taylor swift/the entire bottom half of her face is visible, but you wouldn’t know the black lead was black unless you knew her already pic.twitter.com/q8ULl6U6CJ— 🦝 (@tr4shbabey) July 19, 2019
Another user pointed out that the lead is called “white cat” and in the musical the cat is literally white, writing, “in the musical it is the one cat that is white and it would change the script and premise for the white cat to not be white?”
Francesca Hayward plays the lead role of the balletic white cat, in the musical it is the one cat that is white and it would change the script and premise for the white cat to not be white? However how great is it that we have a black lead playing a white role?— Heather McGowan (@heatherxmcgowan) July 19, 2019
But, as another points out, the movie makeup covers Hayward’s skin in a way that the others doesn’t, writing, “They could easily leave her human face black and have the cat fur white and she would still be recognisable as a white cat. They didn't have to bleach her face.”
They could easily leave her human face black and have the cat fur white and she would still be recognisable as a white cat. They didn't have to bleach her face.— Rosa (@Rosa_die_Rote) July 19, 2019
“They really have changed the structure of her face,” wrote another, “The nose looks the same, and the eyes are close, but the jawline and cheekbones are...off.”
They really have changed the structure of her face— New month, new name (@OddsonDamian) July 19, 2019
The nose looks the same, and the eyes are close, but the jawline and cheekbones are...off
That's some shady nonsense
How do the other poc in the cast compare?
I'm...afraid to watch the trailer
Many didn’t realize Hayward was a person of color at all based on the trailer, and stated as such in a pretty straightforward fashion.
she’s BLACK?!— nerdy and ✨fabulous✨ (@HooiWanV) July 19, 2019
Hooooooly whitewashing Batman!!!— ek 💫 (@whatkatie_did) July 19, 2019
And some people felt this was part of a bigger issue, with one writing, “There’s a weird trend of obscuring actors of color behind prosthetics and cgi that hide their skin.”
There’s a weird trend of obscuring actors of color behind prosthetics and cgi that hide their skin. Someone pointed that out to me and I can’t stop noticing it since then.— meh (@notsamgibson) July 19, 2019
For her part, Hayward seems to be thrilled with her role and the trailer, sharing it on her Instagram with the caption “A very feline Christmas awaits...”
Cats opens in theaters on Dec. 20.
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