As a young child growing up in the early 2000s, there were only a few things my mother had to provide for me to be satisfied. In no correct order, my daily needs included food, water, a roof over my head, and a movie being played on our television. I have vivid memories of coming home from kindergarten, sitting down with a bowl of ramen, and watching The Emperor’s New Groove. I remember on every road trip that my family and I took that The Incredibles had to be watched at least once. Lastly, I’ll never forget that it used to be a yearly tradition to watch Shrek on Christmas Eve. As a toddler, this movie was amongst my favorites. The plot that is set in a magical world was something a little kid can only dream of. However, after watching Shrek the Musical, I’ve realized this fantasy is not too far off from reality.
Shrek the Musical was directed by Michael John Warren. It drew inspiration from David Lindsay-Abaire, William Steig, and Ted Elliot’s books and movies. Lastly, the musical came to life through the prominent performances of Brian D’Arcy James, Sutton Foster, Christopher Sieber, and many others. The musical does not stray away from the same plot I grew up watching as a child. Shrek is a green ogre that has lived almost his entire life on his own in a swamp. He carries a massive reputation of being a horrible beast that all should avoid. However, deep inside, he is just like every other individual that resides in this fantasy land. Being an adolescent, it is very easy to overlook the themes presented in the musical. Your common person may view the lesson from all this as “don’t judge a book by its cover”. Though this may be true, I believe there is deeper meaning within. If the musical was played out in the 21st century, Shrek could be seen as a black individual living in America. The same struggles, stereotypes, and discrimination that Shrek faces is extremely similar to those that African Americans go through in present day.
Shrek’s childhood was vastly different from almost every other character presented in the musical. At the early age of 7, his parents were forced to kick him out their house as is tradition of the ogres. In a sentimental moment such as this, you would think that the last words exchanged between parents and child would be wholesome. However, when describing the world ahead of him, his father and mother sang in sync, “And every dream comes true, But not for you.” Shrek being an ogre limits him from achieving the things that a regular person could accomplish. Society was not built to accommodate creatures such as an ogre. Instead, they are outlawed from living within regular civilization. I find Shrek’s parents last words similar to the “talk” a black child may receive from their parents. From personal experience, I remember being around the age of Shrek as a child and my mom having to sit me down in our kitchen. There, she expressed that I am not like the majority of my grade school class. Because of my skin color, I am naturally treated differently by peers. She stated that it’ll most likely be like this for the rest of my existence. Shrek and the African American race is similar as we are both treated differently due to something we cannot control: our appearance.
What naturally comes when you look different from the majority of society is stereotypes. Without truly knowing an individual’s heart, the public decides a whole people group acts the same. Most of the time, the described behavior is reported in a negative manner. For example, in the musical, even the fairytale creatures were terrified of Shrek solely based off of the reputation an ogre has received from the rest of society. Because it is taught that an ogre is big, scary, and tough, the fairytale creatures believed that Shrek is the only individual capable of standing up to Lord Farquaad. Matter of fact, in the musical number that shortly follows this scene, the group of creatures described him as their “only hope.” The fairytale beings would not have so much confidence in Shrek if the stereotypes of ogres did not exist. If a person actually took the time to get to know the ogre, they would realize that Shrek is truly tender at his core. Just like Shrek has been given a terrible reputation, so have African Americans in the United States. For example, it is a well-known stereotype of black people to be naturally violent and aggressive. If you take a look at history, African Americans do not give off any indications of hurting people for no apparent reason. However, the people in power gave our race this notoriety for no other reason than to be hateful. An entire people group cannot possibly act the same. In an existing race, every individual has a different character from somebody else.
At the end of the musical, Shrek becomes one of the most favored people in all of Duloc. Everything that he thought he could never achieve became a reality for him. He’s found a home surrounded by a community, he’s made friends, and he’s found true love. All of these possibilities stemmed from characters such as Donkey and Princess Fiona truly getting to know the heart of Shrek. African Americans still struggle today to overcome the social stigma placed on us. Just like Shrek did in the beginning of his fairytale, we face discrimination for the color of our skin. However, hardly any of us are inherently evil people. I’m looking forward to the day where any people of color can exist in America and be judged by their character rather than their outward appearance.