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A husband and wife reimagine fairy tales with Black children in mind

A new vision of Goldilocks, sipping tea
CROWNED
A new vision of Goldilocks, sipping tea

This is Goldilocks like you've never seen her.

Bathed in a golden light, she looks out from a photo resembling a fashion magazine spread with a commanding stare, surrounded by massive teddy bears. Instead of yellow curly hair, she wears thick, afro-textured, honey blonde locs.

This is the Goldilocks of CROWNED: Magical Folk and Fairy Tales from the Diaspora by husband and wife photographers Kahran and Regis Bethencourt. The two have reimagined familiar stories with photographs of Black children and, occasionally, new plot points, in an elaborate book of 141 photos.

It's the sequel to 2021's GLORY: Magical Visions of Black Beauty.

The book is broken down into three categories: Classic fairy tales, African and African American Folktales and original stories. The couple intentionally casts Black children of different ages, skin tones and hair textures in traditionally white roles, like Cinderella.

Cinderella becomes Asha in this retelling.
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CROWNED
Cinderella becomes Asha in this retelling.

In the retelling of Cinderella, "Asha the Little Cinder Girl," Asha wears an extravagant blue gown with purple tulle shooting from the bottom as Jamal, her Prince Charming, slides on a white high-top sneaker instead of a glass slipper.

Perhaps the most striking element in the picture is Asha's hair, a structure of carefully placed black braids and white pearls piled high on top of her head.

"I think it's important for, specifically, Black and brown kids to be able to see themselves reflected in the stories that they read growing up," Kahran said.

The Bethencourts began their photography careers in Atlanta in 2009. For a while, they worked in the children's fashion industry, capturing headshots for adolescent actors and shooting campaigns for kids' brands. But they noticed a specific and unsettling pattern among Black children in the industry.

Poisoned Apple, from the book CROWNED, which casts Black children as the central characters in fairy and folk tales.
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CROWNED
Poisoned Apple, from the book CROWNED, which casts Black children as the central characters in fairy and folk tales.

"We realized that a lot of the kids that had natural Afro hair would come in to get their headshots and the parents would have their hair straightened because they thought that's what they needed to do to get their kids into the industry," Kahran said.

"We thought, 'Gosh, wow! At an early age we're teaching our kids that they're not acceptable, that their looks are not good enough.'"

The two began doing personal projects where Black children were encouraged to wear their natural hair in fashionable settings. Staying connected to the industry helped them build enough clientele to create their own photography company, CreativeSoul.

Candyland, from the book Crowned, which retells familiar stories with Black children.
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CROWNED
Candyland, from the book Crowned, which retells familiar stories with Black children.

CROWNED is a visual representation of the CreativeSoul original mission: celebrate and embrace natural Black beauty. But the book also showcases Regis and Kahran's ability to imagine and translate new worlds.

"Goldi: The Girl with the Golden Locks" was the favorite story for Regis to retell because the original story "didn't really have a lesson at the end."

"It pretty much was a story about a privileged girl going in and just eating everything and just leaving and going back home," he said. "No lesson learned."

In CROWNED, Goldi is still a privileged girl, but she is welcomed into the bears' home. The bears don't have much, but they have each other and a once-haughty Goldi leaves the house with three new friends and an appreciation for nurturing her relationships.

Changing the ending "was so cool for me because I feel like we're actually changing history," Regis said.

Treasures from the sea nestle in the little mermaid's rosy hair as she strikes a royal pose.
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CROWNED
Treasures from the sea nestle in the little mermaid's rosy hair as she strikes a royal pose.

The book was released May 23, three days before the live action film The Little Mermaid premiered with Halle Bailey, a Black woman with natural locs, as Ariel, a princess and the main character.

Like the live-action adaption of The Little Mermaid, the Bethencourts' version is setting the standard for Black representation in traditionally white spaces.

The husband and wife duo dress Aliyah, the little mermaid, in silver jewels and colorful pearls from head-to-toe. As she floats under the sea, she plays in her big red flowing hair filled with loose braids, shells, leaves and bright red tulle.

Aliyah holds her head high in every shot like the most confident, royal figures. She stares off into the distance and also directly at the camera, as if to say this story was always her own.

Lisa Lambert edited this digital story. contributed to this story

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Destinee Adams
Destinee Adams (she/her) is a temporary news assistant for Morning Edition and Up First. In May 2022, a month before joining Morning Edition, she earned a bachelor's degree in Multimedia Journalism at Oklahoma State University. During her undergraduate career, she interned at the Stillwater News Press (Okla.) and participated in NPR's Next Generation Radio. In 2020, she wrote about George Floyd's impact on Black Americans, and in the following years she covered transgender identity and unpopular Black history in the South. Adams was born and raised in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
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