“The Cheetah Girls: One World,” 13 Years Later

The movie is a classic problematic fave: it used India as a mere exotic backdrop, but still gave us some of our first Indian crushes in U.S. television.

Cheetah Girls
The Cheetah Girls: One World (2008) (Disney)

Natasha Roy


November 23, 2021

I was 10 years old when The Cheetah Girls: One World came out in 2008. As a pre-teen in the early 2000s, I had already loved the first two installments of the series, which follows a group of New York City teens trying to become pop stars. In the first movie, the Cheetah Girls enter a talent competition and toy with changing their image to become mainstream stars, ultimately opting to stay true to themselves. The second installment follows the Cheetah Girls to Barcelona, Spain, where they enter a music festival. This third movie, though, felt special, because the Cheetah Girls were heading to India. 

In the movie, the three protagonists — Chanel (Adrienne Houghton), Aqua (Kiely Williams), and Dorinda (Sabrina Bryan) — audition for what they believe to be a Hollywood movie and land the parts. The movie’s director, Vikram, clarifies what the girls misinterpreted — they’re starring in a Bollywood movie. The Cheetah Girls decide to give it a shot anyway, hoping for international stardom. They head to Mumbai, where their hopes for a relaxing escape — “it’s going to be great to get out of New York City for the summer, all the heat and the traffic,” the girls say on the plane ride over — are quickly dashed by a chaotic taxi ride in the middle of the heat and traffic of Mumbai. Guess cities aren’t that different after all.

My sister and I rewatched the movie during quarantine last year. For the most part, I enjoy watching it for the same reasons I did at age 10: the songs are catchy, the dance numbers are dramatic, and I really wanted to see the Cheetah Girls make it. But if nostalgia weren’t softening my gaze, I’d probably roll my eyes at the premise: a group of American girls traveling to India to star in a Bollywood movie to fulfill their “Cheetah destiny.”

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