I know. This movie was released two months ago in October 2016, and I am just now giving my review on it. I have my reasons.
For those who don’t know, American Girl is a widely popular doll brand that is known for its historical line of dolls and books, contemporary lines of dolls and books, and baby dolls for toddlers. The historical line is the oldest line in the brand. It has been around since the mid-1980s and it continues to impress upon the minds of little girls even to this day. Parents also love the dolls for their educational value.
Prior to Melody’s movie, four other historical American Girl characters have had movie adaptations produced by WB, HBO Films, and New Line Cinema. The original four movies (made for Samantha, Felicity, Molly, and Kit) were full-length, feature films. Melody’s movie and Maryellen’s movie are short films.
I loved the original four movies a lot. They really brought the characters to life. Of course, American Girl no longer has the budget for those kinds of films anymore, especially since they began focusing more on making new dolls (which is good enough for me).
Now, their movies are made by Amazon and are mostly released through Amazon Prime.
Set in Detroit during the Civil Rights Movement, “An American Girl Story – Melody 1963: Love Has to Win” examines the joyful life and troubled times of an irrepressible 10-year-old African-American girl whose vivid imagination and creativity reinforce her optimism. When shocking national events threaten her sense of security, Melody must find inner strength to restore her hope for a better world.
Before I begin, I just want to inform new readers that I’ve always been a HUGE American Girl fan since the 1990s. I love toys and I love history. Combine the two, and you have one of my favorite doll franchises. I also want to remind readers that, as an African American, I am very happy that Melody was released. I loved her book series and the doll with her accessories…Just amazing.
But because I’m an American Girl fan and an African American at the same time, I can honestly say….I couldn’t really LOVE this movie. I don’t hate the movie, I just…don’t love it like I was expecting to.
Go ahead and chew me up. Call me self-hating, coon, liar, whatever. But before you decide to stop reading right here, just read me out.
One of the reasons I took so long to write this review was because I honestly wanted people to decide for themselves what they think of Melody’s movie. It was American Girl’s first movie dedicated to an American Girl doll of ‘color’, and I wanted people to mostly think positively. I didn’t want to shatter any dreams or feelings with my thoughts. I want Melody to be as successful as possible because I hope American Girl will continue to make more dolls of color in the future. I bought the movie on Prime because I wanted to encourage American Girl to make more movies with girls of color in lead roles.
I also waited to write this review because I saw how many people actually liked the movie (mostly people who never read Melody’s book series) and I knew they would just chew me up and spit me out for saying anything negative about this movie.
Last, I just really couldn’t find the right words to express how I was feeling. I tried to love this movie. I tried to force it, just because she was a girl of color and because I related to the message. But the American Girl fan in me just couldn’t attach herself to it.
The only reason I decided to share my opinion was because a fan emailed me and asked me.
*The following article may contain some spoilers.
It’s not that this movie was garbage. Far beyond that. In fact, it had its pros. Let me just run down the list of pros I saw.
Out of most of the other American Girl movies, Melody’s movie was one of the few that actually talked about a serious issue. The only other American Girls that presented issues that relate to our modern world were Kit (we were in the midst of the recession at the time) and Chrissa (bullying is still very serious). And Melody’s story was much deeper than all of those stories combined because real events were intertwined in the movie (particularly the Birmingham Church bombing).
Melody’s movie was designed to relate to issues young black children are facing today, and honestly, without the 1960s period outfits and references, I could see her being a girl in 2016/2017.
As an African American, I was happy that African American history was being represented by a movie, an American Girl movie at that. American Girl is a popular brand and it means a lot for such a brand to bring attention to girls of color and their struggle for equality.
The movie downsized the events that happened in the books, making the message clearer.
Marsai Martin was the actress that played Melody. She brought a lot of fire to Melody’s character (fire that wasn’t really felt in the books). Marsai is an intelligent and bright child herself, and I think she really shined in the movie. She had all the attitude, strength, and intelligence that I loved and that I feel all girls of color share. She had spunk.
Melody’s movie has brought a lot of attention to the doll itself. Even though Melody has been out since August, a lot of people didn’t hear about her until after the release of the movie. There were many people on facebook inquiring about Melody after this movie was released. Hopefully, this will help Melody sell better than Black dolls prior. If Melody sells well at the end of this year and in 2017, American Girl may consider making more Black dolls in the future. This will shut the mouths of all the people who claim “black dolls don’t sell”.
The movie was educational for all races. For black children, it helped them connect today’s events to past events. This helps them see history as something that’s interesting and a major part of their modern lives.
Children of other races could learn to understand black people better through this story, through a beloved American Girl character.
Unfortunately, there were quite a few things that disturbed me about this movie. Please, don’t take offense. It’s just my opinion. I really felt there were things that would’ve made the movie better, but you readers are welcome to disagree.
I felt everyone did a pretty good job with their acting. My problem was the lack of key characters from Melody’s stories.
Without Melody’s REAL family (and not that small family in the movie), her life felt empty. In comparison to older American Girl movies, her cast was the most butchered and horribly downsized. This made Melody’s family life seem lonely rather than bustling and close-knit, like in her books.
To add, by getting rid of most of the IMPORTANT characters, they left out potential black actors and actresses. Instead, more than half of the cast was WHITE. Not only was this totally opposite Melody’s story (which could’ve boasted an all-black cast), it was completely disappointing that black people still couldn’t get a chance to shine in this movie. There are few black actors and actresses getting screen time as it is. It’s especially rare in children’s films.
Maybe they added different races because they wanted to relate to more races of people, but I felt that using Melody’s real story would’ve related to more people. Melody’s life was similar to how most people lived in the 1960s and all of those 1960s references would’ve been appealing. Why switch it up so much?
They probably wanted to highlight the racism experienced in the 1960s, which was rightfully highlighted, sure. But I feel that racism was tackled well enough in Melody’s story, from an authentic and realistic perspective, and with mostly black people involved, for them to adapt it.
I’m not saying it’s bad to have white people in the movie, and maybe I should be grateful the lead characters were black. But wouldn’t it have been amazing if most of the cast was black? With Melody’s real family highlighted? Maybe that’s just my opinion.
Lately, it’s all about pushing agendas and less about telling the story.
Yes, I know that in American Girl movies prior, some characters were removed from the story. But the key characters were always present or at least mentioned. The family life could be “felt”. Melody’s family in the movie just didn’t feel like her family.
This is something that really bothered me. As an American Girl fan, and not just an African American, this bothered me a lot.
NONE, and I mean NONE, of the characters really seemed like they came from Melody’s stories. In fact, they all felt like totally new characters from a completely different story. Even Melody really wasn’t Melody.
In the older American Girl movies, all of the characters had the same personalities and interests as the characters in the books. It truly seemed like they brought the characters to life. The movies just weren’t teaching history; they were also telling a story.
Melody in the movie was NOTHING like the girl I grew to know and love in the books. Some people may have liked her better in the movie, but I didn’t. It’s not that Marsai didn’t do a good job with what she was handed, the problem was what she was handed.
Melody has been described as a sweet and hopeful girl. In the books, she was sweet, thoughtful, and caring. In this story, she seemed feistier. In the movie, she was a bit of a know-it-all. Melody wasn’t really a know-it-all kind of character in the books. I think they combined Melody with her sister Lila (who was in the STEM program in the book series, loved to read, and was super intelligent).
Melody was interested in singing (which they got right), but she also loved gardening. In fact, she was gifted with planting. In the movie, they made her more interested in sewing and space (giving her Maryellen’s interests). Gardening was a key part of her character, more than singing in the church choir, and they completely removed it. This was the first time I hardly recognized an American Girl in her own movie. The only thing “Melody” about the character was her outfits. I guess that’s all the doll company cared about when they allowed this movie to be produced.
Another thing that bothered me was the omission of Melody’s siblings. Having Melody’s siblings would’ve taught kids more about the 1960s. I understand that this was a short film, but somehow, in Maryellen’s short film (a movie for the strawberry blonde character from the 1950s) they managed to bring most of Maryellen’s siblings into her story. Why not in Melody’s? The Baby Boom was still in full swing in the 1960s. It would’ve made sense for Melody to have more siblings.
Dwayne and Yvonne did much more to add to Melody’s life than did Maryellen’s siblings, and yet Melody’s family was omitted.
I felt cheated because I played this “quiz” on Americangirl.com that told me songs from the book would be in the movie. These songs were “written” and “composed” by Melody’s brother in the book series, so I thought he would be in the movie. I didn’t really hear all the songs in the movie, but even if I had, I would’ve been more upset. Dwayne influenced Melody’s music interests so much, it just didn’t feel right to keep him out. He would’ve showed the new generation how black people influenced modern-day music through his affiliations with Motown. He could have represented that part of history that is unknown to the new generation, but a part of history that influences them even today.
Yvonne was a particularly empowering young woman. Her role in the book series was really interesting. First off, she was the first in her family to wear her hair all-natural (an afro). She was a real civil rights activist (not just a participant). She went to college, she risked her life to educate people in the south, and she marched on Washington with thousands of people just to hear Martin Luther King give his most famous speech. I was torn to bits when there wasn’t anyone in the movie to represent her.
Yes, I know American Girl is on a budget. They can’t make their movies too long, with too many people. But I would’ve rather had Yvonne than any of those brats in Melody’s (fake) classroom. Again, how was Maryellen able to get away with having most of her siblings, but Melody’s movie had to succumb to the budget?
Finally, I want to talk about Melody’s mom. I’m happy that she was a hard-working African American woman and that her role revealed the struggle African Americans experienced in the USA. However, I found Melody’s mother to be more empowering and more authentic in the book series than in the movie. In the book series, Melody’s mother wasn’t a struggling seamstress working for racist white people. She was an educated, black teacher, teaching at an all-black school. Melody’s mother graduated from Tuskegee. The movie sort of combined Addy’s mom with Melody’s (maybe to make up for the fact that American Girl, LLC has overlooked Addy as a potential for a good movie all of these years). I was not pleased with this.
I feel that Melody’s mother was over-dramatized in the movie. The book series was more authentic. Maybe it felt more authentic because the panel that worked on the books lived and understood that time period. Maybe it felt more authentic because my own grandmother and her friends had gone to school and became teachers in the 1960s. When I read it in Melody’s stories, I immediately connected with Melody’s mother. But the movie was dramatically trying to show us a racist society. While they did that, they took away Mrs. Ellison’s strengths. Even though the 1960s was a harsh time for African Americans, many were educated by then, many were successful, and many lived comfortably, especially in the North.
I would’ve liked to see Cousin Tish’s salon brought in the movie and I’m still crossing my fingers for the playset in the future.
I also wanted to see Big Momma, one of the most important figures in Melody’s life. She is the one that taught Melody how to sing!
Melody’s friends barely appeared in the movie, and when they did, they were mean little brats. They weren’t supportive like they were in the books.
So much was missing from the movie because the key characters that shaped Melody’s life in the books were not there.
In the older American Girl movies, the stories were flipped, butchered, and changed around. Scenes were added and scenes were taken out. However, the heart and inspiration was clearly evident. Key important events were not taken out.
For example, Molly’s struggle with her hair was taken out of Molly: An American Girl on the Homefront. However, Molly getting the role as Miss Victory, the most important part of her Changes for Molly book, was in the movie.
There are more examples I could name, but the point is most of the older movies brought the important events from the book series to life.
The new Melody movie was so focused on pushing agendas and highlighting modern-day issues, it failed to actually tell Melody’s stories. Melody was used as a tool to tell an entirely different story unrelated to the released American Girl. And that’s fine. But I watched the movie looking for one of my favorite characters to come to life on screen. I was disappointed when I found I was being introduced to a completely different story with a completely different character in Melody’s wardrobe.
First issue, none of the events in the movie happened in the book. Melody never went to an all-white school in the book series. She attended an all-black school. Her school provided encouragement and support to the students, especially when it came to combating racism. In the books, when the church bombing happened, her teacher talked to the students to console them. Melody’s friends were there for her when she was frightened by the events.
Melody’s reaction to the bombing was different, too. In the movie, she was angry and bold. She posted clippings about events in her all-white school. In the book series, it hit her much deeper. It struck fear in her. It made her afraid to walk in her own church. That felt more realistic, considering she was 9 years old. These different reactions revealed that the two girls were actually TWO DIFFERENT characters. They didn’t react the same to situations, they didn’t have the same personalities. To me, they are two different “Melodys”.
I know the new story relates better to modern black girls. But I feel that they cheated Melody and spent less money on her movie than movies prior. I feel that her stories were butchered the most out of any of the other American Girl characters. And because of that, I don’t feel Melody’s story was really told.
Authenticity and Realism
While some modern day African Americans may find the movie to be more realistic, especially in relation to today’s events and some major occurrences in the past, I found the book series to tackle the Civil Rights Era in a more authentic and realistic fashion overall.
Considering the book series was meant to be told from the perspective of the average 9 year old, living in Detroit in the NORTH during the 1960s, the book series relates more to the real African American story. In the book series, there were many cases of racism in stores, when trying to buy property, or when trying to fix up black neighborhoods. But most black people lived in all-black neighborhoods in nice brick houses. Most children attended all-black schools. Most black families were close-knit. Families were large because of the Baby Boom. The book series had a naturalness to it that felt more authentic.
The movie was definitely what happens when “Hollywood” gets hold of something. With Hollywood taking hold of Melody’s story, everything became more dramatic. Racism and oppression became key themes, but strength, optimism, community, and hope were not added as themes as they were in the books. Especially not the community involvement.
I wish that theme had been brought out because I don’t feel enough African Americans are encouraged to get involved in their own communities. Some have given up hope that they can do anything to make a difference. I really hoped that there would be emphasis on community involvement and I was let down there.
Maybe these things don’t bother most viewers and American Girl fans, and I wouldn’t say it made me hate the movie. But I definitely felt disappointed and didn’t really have the same overwhelming happy feeling so many other people had after watching it. It was decent for a kids’ movie, but it just didn’t live up to former American Girl movies.
After this, I barely wanted to watch Maryellen’s movie. I was afraid it would also be butchered, and if it wasn’t, I would be mad that Maryellen’s movie was closer to her true series and Melody’s wasn’t. So far, I’m not a fan of the move to Amazon Prime. The movies are short, I don’t like paying for Prime just to watch these movies, and I would rather have a hard copy, like I did with other American Girl movies.
Anyway, sorry to be negative about this. I still love Melody and I still support American Girl bringing attention to dolls of color in the future. I’m just not a huge fan of this movie. I don’t think this movie really catered to the fan base and mostly catered to newcomers to the brand.
Leave me a comment and let me know what you think about the movie. Do you think I’m being too petty about it? I am one of those people that can’t read the book series and fully enjoy loose adaptations. 😄 Do you agree with me? Are there any points you appreciated about the movie? Anything you disliked? Please share.
If you haven’t read the books and don’t plan on reading them, I think this movie would be good to watch. If you’ve already read Melody’s series, tread with caution and remember that this movie is a pretty loose adaptation.