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Lifestyle

Adwoa Aboah and Erin Kellyman on the Playful, Inclusive Spirit of Disney’s Willow

The new Disney+ series Willow serves as a sequel to the 1988 fantasy film helmed by George Lucas, but one key difference? This time, the hero’s journey has widened considerably, both in terms of scope and inclusion. A number of main and supporting characters are people of color, while a sapphic relationship sits at the heart of the sweeping narrative. As model-cum-actor Adwoa Aboah, who stars in the series, tells Vogue: “Why wouldn’t this fantasy world include all different types of people?” 

For Erin Kellyman, who plays Jade, a freckled multiracial castle warrior who falls for a future empress, the naturalistic diversity of Willow came as a welcomed addition to the series. “We’re just being in our roles,” says Kellyman, who grew up in the British Midlands and previously appeared in Disney’s Solo: A Star Wars Story. “It’s not overly highlighted. I think people of color can play roles where it’s not necessarily about them being POC. It’s just about them as characters and people.”

The heartfelt relationship between Kit, the future empress, and Jade has been heralded by critics as “the first true franchise on Disney Plus to really center a queer story.” (Disney has often faced claims of “queerbaiting” from audiences for offering only fleeting or coded LGBTQ+ narratives, when such narratives are included at all.) But for Kellyman, who identifies as queer, the real draw to the breakthrough role was how multidimensional and well-written Jade was as a character. Kellyman says she read the show’s script, “fell in love with [Jade] instantly, and jumped on board.” 

As the adventure progresses, Jade and a band of unlikely allies embark on a mission to rescue  Kit from danger. Halfway through, Jade crosses paths with a long-lost sister, played by Aboah. After a brief tussle involving daggers, the two quickly reconnect and rekindle their familial connection. Kellyman says the on-screen pairing was a full-circle moment. A formative moment from her childhood was coming across a campaign photo of Aboah—who has modeled for countless luxury brands and covered various editions of Vogue—at the airport, marking one of the first times she saw someone on a billboard who looked like her. 

“I remember going to the airport with my mom, and we were really late for our plane, so we were stressed and running,” Kelly recalls. “I remember seeing Adwoa on this screen and suddenly becoming really frozen and still. I told my mom, ‘Wow, she looks like me.’ And my mom and I just stood there for ages looking at Adwoa’s face on this really massive screen. To see someone who was mixed-race and had freckles and red hair? I just never saw that. Ever.” 

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