Upholding Disney’s long legacy of presenting great stories for kids and families, Disney Channel built itself into an entertainment powerhouse for generations of youth, thanks in no small part to the engaging stories in the Disney Channel Original Movie (DCOM) franchise. Each DCOM shares the guiding principle of reflecting kids’ real lives and Disney’s core values of trust, quality, optimism, self-expression, creativity, and imagination. They also exemplify Disney Channel’s commitment to creating programming that mirrors the diverse world in which we live and to presenting stories and characters that encourage young viewers to embrace and accept their uniqueness, express themselves, live their dreams, and celebrate their families.
For its upcoming DCOM Let It Shine, the 90th title in the franchise, the creative team took the classic Cyrano de Bergerac love-triangle story and re-imagined it as a musical set in the world of hip-hop, rap, and gospel music.
“Rap music has become the poetry of today for our young viewers,” Gary Marsh, president and chief creative officer, Disney Channels Worldwide, says. “It only made sense that when we re-imagined ‘Cyrano de Bergerac,’ we’d do it as ‘Cyrano de Bergerap.’ While the story, tone, and world are purely contemporary, the messages inside—overcoming your fears, accepting who you are, and fighting for who you want to be—are classic Disney Channel.”
In the story, Cyrus DeBarge—played by Tyler James Williams (Everybody Hates Chris)—is the musical director at his father’s church in Atlanta, Georgia, and he’s been having some challenges convincing his preacher father that hip-hop is not the devil’s music. Cyrus’ struggles continue when, through a freestyle rap competition at the local teen club, he tells his childhood friend and longtime crush, recording artist Roxanne Andrews (played by Coco Jones), how he really feels about her. When it’s all said and done, his best friend, Kris McDuffy (Trevor Jackson), is mistakenly named the author of the rap song and winner of the contest. As Roxanne begins to fall for Kris, it’s up to the true poet Cyrus to overcome self-doubt, seize the opportunity to reveal both his talent and his feelings, and pursue his dreams. Courtney B. Vance (Revenge) and Dawnn Lewis (A Different World) play Cyrus’ parents.
According to Steven Vincent, vice president, Music and Soundtracks, Disney ABC Media Networks, the movie demanded authentic hip-hop music that would also reflect Disney Channel’s core values. Steven and his team sought the contribution of hip-hop heavyweights, including writer and producer Toby Gad, who has worked with Beyoncé and Fergie, and noted producer, writer, and rap star David Banner, who has worked with Ludacris and many others. He also turned to longtime collaborators Tim James and Antonina Armato, whose songs have been featured in High School Musical and Camp Rock, as well as sung by Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez & the Scene.
“I think we succeeded in creating hip-hop tracks that feel legitimate yet also have warmth and positivity,” Steven says. “We’ve taken a large step forward with this movie; kids will feel like the music is genuine and relatable, and mom and dad will feel good when they hear their kids sing along.”
The soundtrack, debuting June 12 on Walt Disney Records, features Coco Jones, Tyler James Williams, and Brandon Mychal Smith and showcases soulful ballads, funky jams, and epic rap battles. Radio Disney has already sampled one track, “Don’t Run Away,” which is climbing the Top 30 charts based on listener requests. Radio Disney will premiere the full soundtrack on June 9 and will have cast members in studio leading up to the Disney Channel premiere on June 15.
According to Michael Healy, senior vice president, Original Movies, Disney Channels Worldwide, centering the movie on a specific community of black characters who live in the South is a significant part of Disney Channel’s inclusive storytelling strategy and key to connecting with viewers of all backgrounds. And although Let It Shine‘s location and characters are focused on a certain region and demographic, the movie’s pro-social themes are ones that kids will gravitate to, no matter their heritage or upbringing.
“Part of what we try to accomplish with our programming is to open our audiences’ hearts, minds, and ears,” Michael says. “In presenting the movie to focus groups, we found that kids appreciate the conflicts portrayed, such as the struggle between father and son or the battle between one’s heart and mind, because these are universal themes.”
According to Michael, the talented ensemble cast shines through, connecting with the audience in deep and meaningful ways throughout the movie. Charismatic and funny, Tyler, Trevor, and Coco deliver heartfelt performances that will inspire. Coco, perhaps more than any other cast member, affirms that she, too, was moved by the movie because of the striking similarities it bears to her own life. Viewers will remember the 14-year-old songstress from the 2010 season of Radio Disney’s N.B.T. (Next Big Thing). She didn’t win the music competition, but the experience ultimately led Coco to a starring role in Let It Shine, which she insists never would have happened had she not had confidence in her abilities. She recently signed an exclusive recording and publishing contract with Hollywood Records.
“The message of Let It Shine is finding the courage to overcome the trials of your life,” Coco reflects. “Anybody who watches this movie is going to walk away knowing to believe in themselves.”
By D23′s Ryan Jackson