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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at CU Boulder chapter.

When rumors of Avantika Vandanapu playing Rapunzel in a live-action “Tangled” initially surfaced, I was thrilled. I adored her performance as Karen in “Mean Girls” (2024). Her bubbly personality and warm voice fit Rapunzel’s character, so the rumors made complete sense to me. I began rooting for Vandanapu to get cast in the role, despite the more conventional actresses and the live-action not being confirmed yet.

I was disappointed to discover the controversy this potential casting had caused. Many people in TikTok comment sections directed hate toward Vandanapu, complaining that she looks nothing like Rapunzel and that her rendition of the role would ruin the movie entirely. The further I scrolled through the comments, the sadder I felt. What’s wrong with a woman of color playing Rapunzel, especially when the blonde hair is an easy fix?

The negativity surrounding Vandanapu as the iconic princess reminded me of the backlash Halle Bailey and Leah Jeffries received for being cast as Ariel in the live-action remake of “The Little Mermaid” and Annabeth in the TV series “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” respectively. Both characters are originally light-skinned with red and blonde hair. Displeased fans criticized Disney for ruining the characters when in reality, casting two black women didn’t change the characters at all. Both media stayed mostly true to the original stories because Ariel and Annabeth’s races/physical appearances had no significant impact on the plot.

Similarly, casting Vandanapu as Rapunzel wouldn’t change the beloved story. Rapunzel’s German heritage has little to do with the plot or her character. Her only crucial physical trait is her long blonde hair, which could easily be given to any actress using hair dye and/or a wig. Some upset fans argue that with women of color “stealing” traditionally white roles, why not cast Sydney Sweeney as Tiana or Dove Cameron as Mulan? The truth of the matter is that it’s simply not the same. Tiana and Mulan’s races are the basis for their stories, unlike Rapunzel or Ariel.

Others argue that instead of Vandanapu playing Rapunzel, Disney should create a South Asian princess that Vandanapu can accurately portray. Although I would love to see this happen, it’s very unlikely. It also suggests that WOC should be limited to playing roles in their own cultures. I fully agree with needing more representation in the media and telling stories from every culture; however, WOC should be allowed to play other, broader roles. Diversity in media only works if minorities are given the opportunity to play all kinds of parts.

The Disney WOC hate may not always be full-blown racism, but many comments certainly come off as microaggressions. Microaggressions are actions that negatively target a marginalized group or individual. It’s a form of discrimination that can be intentional or accidental. For example, the hate towards Jeffries for not having Annabeth’s blonde hair is a microaggression. Annabeth’s blonde hair isn’t a huge part of her character, but people are choosing a small thing to attack to disguise the fact they’re troubled over a person of color getting cast. The sole reason for Annabeth’s blonde hair was for her character to overcome the “dumb blonde” stereotype by proving her intelligence. However, black people are surrounded even more by the “dumb” stereotype and it adds a new, deep meaning for Jeffries to overcome Annabeth’s challenges.

Another microaggressive argument is that Disney’s casting of WOC is forced inclusivity. This implies that WOC aren’t capable of playing certain roles, even though color-blind casting is often used and they’re found to be the best fit for the character. Even when the author/creator of the source material is directly involved in the casting process, people get upset by their decisions. People of color are perfectly capable of playing any role and should be treated equally.

Vandanapu’s charm and young ingénue energy would make her an amazing Rapunzel in my opinion. It would be fun to see how small aspects of South Asian culture are incorporated into the story, like clothing and art. Over the years, there have been many versions of Rapunzel, starting with the original folk tale. I would love a retelling with Vandanapu in it, but we’ll have to wait and see how everything plays out.

Diverse actors in Disney have sparked nuanced conversations, but I encourage everyone to be mindful of their opinions. There’s a thin line between criticism and racism and it’s important not to cross it.

Tanvi Sabharwal

CU Boulder '27

Tanvi Sabharwal is a contributing writer at the Her Campus Chapter at the University of Colorado Boulder. As a contributing writer, she pitches and writes two articles per month. Outside of Her Campus, Tanvi is a freshman at CU Boulder. She is majoring in Journalism and considering a minor in Film. She's hoping to build up her writing career since she's always been fond of English classes and telling stories. She's interested in all kinds of writing, from creative to academic. In her personal life, Tanvi enjoys reading, hanging out with friends, and watching TV shows/movies. Her favorite book is If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio and her comfort show is The Good Place. She also likes going to concerts, thrift shopping, and baking. She adores live music and generally going to fun places "for the plot". Tanvi is excited to grow as a writer and explore Boulder more!