Modern heroines

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If hearing the words “Disney Princess” reminds you of images of damsels in distress awaiting their Prince Charming, you ignore Cinderella’s determination to overcome the adversity she has faced, despite her predicament, or Moana’s daring quest for save his house and his people from an ecological disaster. As part of Disney’s Ultimate Princess Celebration, SHE pays homage to 14 real-life heroes and heroines who embody the spirit of beloved Disney Princesses, who continue to inspire people around the world, regardless of age. Read on to find out how Eva Longoria, Misty Copeland, Amanda Nguyen, and Padma Lakshmi incorporate the lessons of Jasmine, Belle, Mulan, and Tiana into their daily lives. And watch this space in the coming months for 10 more profiles of Courage and Kindness.


THE GENEROUS MULTIHYPHENATE

Eva longoria

Eva longoria

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“People think I’m an actor turned producer / director, but I’ve always been a producer / director who became an actor,” says Eva Longoria. Before long, this ambiguity will have disappeared with the release of Blazing hot, the Searchlight Pictures biopic from Frito-Lay director Richard Montañez, and the first credit from the Longoria feature film director. After that, Longoria will produce, direct and star in the Kerry Washington-directed comedy. 24-7 and action comedy Spa day.

Throughout her career, Longoria has been active in advocating for immigration and Latinx causes. Last winter, she helped deliver meals and water during the disastrous winter storm in Texas. “From a career perspective directing, producing and acting is what I do, but who I am is more important,” she says. “Affordable housing and health care, access to quality education – these things are a little more important than who watches my TV show. But in terms of feeling seen on screen, Longoria says the film Aladdin was a revelation. “I loved Jasmine,” she says of the fiery character, who was also Disney’s first colored princess. “She had black hair and dark skin. I was like, ‘She looks like me!’ ”
—Adrienne Gaffney

Stylized by Sarah Schussheim; hair by Amaran Asylum at Illumemanagement; makeup by Elan Bongiorno at Rouge Artists; produced by Aaron Zumback at Camp Productions.


THE GRACIOUS DANCER

Misty copeland

Misty Copeland stands en pointe atop a piano in an airy studio apartment wearing a pink, blue and gray dress with flower details

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Misty Copeland is back in the studio. After more than a year of distance learning, the principal of the American Ballet Theater – and perhaps the biggest name in American dance – is working hard on Flower, a dance short and “love letter” to Oakland, Calif., which discusses the history of the city’s redlining and gentrification. “This time has been a beautiful transition learning process for me,” says Armani crossroads ambassador for the break in her exhausting schedule.

Copeland, who became part of the Disney family when she starred in the 2018 film The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, says the Disney movies were her first introduction to dance as a child. In conversation (and during performance), the creative powerhouse embodies the grace and warmth of Frozen‘s Elsa, but growing up Copeland felt a strong bond with Belle de The beauty and the Beast. “I loved the way she moved around town, with such poise and grace, even though she wasn’t that wealthy, elitist princess,” she says. “I also loved The little Mermaid. Ariel and Belle were my two favorites – I was obsessed with them. – AG

Stylized by Sarah Zendejas; Jeff Francis’ hair for Living Proof; make-up by Victor Henao at B&A; produced by Fiona Lennon.


THE BRAVE SEEKER OF JUSTICE

Amanda Nguyen

amanda nguyen rests against a rock wearing a white ao da

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Amanda Nguyen has just passed a law. His thirty-seventh, in fact. After being raped in college, Nguyen started the organization Rise, which developed the Sexual Assault Survivors Bill of Rights, designed to simplify the reporting process. It has been adopted federally and in 30 states, as well as in Washington, DC. “It is entirely possible to create a change,” she says.

This year, in the face of an epidemic of racist violence, Rise has pivoted to include advocacy work for the AAPI community. Nguyen, who grew up loving Mulan, appreciates how the Disney Princesses and Queens show that bravery doesn’t have to be confined to a masculine presentation, “that you can be brave while still being vulnerable, that courage does not mean absence of fear”, she says. “I think Disney Princesses and Queens are so feminist.”

Even with all she’s accomplished, Nguyen, who interned for NASA, still has one big goal: space. She’s been talking about her dream of becoming an astronaut for a long time and hints that it may well come true. “I will just say that I am very excited for my future and still want to be an astronaut.” – AG

Stylized by Sarah Zendejas; Nicolas Eldin’s hair for Bumble and Bumble; makeup by Misuzu Miyake for Chanel Beauty; produced by Fiona Lennon.


THE FOODIE TENACIA

Padma lakshmi

Padma Lakshmi stands on a balcony overlooking New York City, wearing a gold sequined dress

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When Krishna, the daughter of Padma Lakshmi, was very young, the Excellent chef and Taste the nation the host told him food stories bringing families and cultures together. A version of these stories evolved into Tomatoes for Neela, Lakshmi’s first children’s book, released August 31 via Viking Books for Young Readers. Krishna is 11 now, “but children’s books take a long time!” Lakshmi laughed. “In our busy lives, one of the things we have lost, which I hope we have regained a bit [in quarantine]- it’s the art of just spending time together and passing on skills and knowledge and all those family stories.

Another story involving family and the food that Lakshmi and her daughter bond over is Disney’s The princess and the Frog. “We love Tiana because she is very steadfast and doesn’t expect an easy outcome,” Lakshmi says. “Much of success in life comes from talent, but more lasting success comes from diligence, hard work and the understanding that there is no set, fixed goal that you will achieve where you are. “did” it. I think this is truly a fairy tale. —Mélissa Giannini

Stylized by Sarah Zendejas; Reyna Garcia’s hair; makeup by Raul Otero at The Wall Group; produced by Fiona Lennon.

This article appeared in the September 2021 issue of ELLE.

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