As Raven-Symoné continues to see success with the spinoff of the Disney Channel sitcom “That’s So Raven,” a former co-star is speaking out on the “racism” she says she witnessed that could have drastically altered the popular show.
The series ran from 2003 to 2007, but the initial plan meant that the role of Raven Baxter, which Raven-Symoné portrayed on both “That’s So Raven” and the show’s spinoff, “Raven’s Home,” would have played out differently.
Anneliese van der Pol, who played Raven-Symoné’s best friend, Chelsea Daniels, in “That’s So Raven,” was recently interviewed on “The Vulnerable Podcast” with former child star Christy Carlson Romano, who played in Disney Channel’s “Even Stevens.”
Recalling her audition process, van der Pol said “That’s So Raven” wasn’t the original name for the show, and the initial plot didn’t revolve around Raven-Symoné, now a veteran in the industry, having established her talents at just four years old, and being a constant source of entertainment for over three decades, including for her role on “That’s So Raven.”
“When I went in to audition, the show was called ‘Absolutely Psychic,’” van der Pol said at the 5:30 mark of the interview. “It wasn’t called ‘That’s So Raven’ at all.”
Related: Raven-Symoné Reveals Why She Rejected the Idea to Play a Lesbian In ‘Raven’s Home’
The 38-year-old continued, “At the time, Raven wasn’t the lead. She was the sidekick. They were looking for a lead. I came in to audition for the lead. I think the character’s name was Molly.”
The audition for van der Pol did not land her the lead role. Instead, she said, thanks to Raven-Symoné’s comedic timing and popularity prior to the show, she secured an opportunity that would change the dynamic of the show.
“When they filmed they realized that Raven was the funniest one and had a following,” said van der Pol. “So they bumped her up to first position and then they started auditioning people again.”
After the second round of auditions, the Dutch-American actress successfully earned her role as Raven-Symoné’s ditsy sidekick.
As for initial show plans, van der Pol shared that “low level” racism was the reason why “The Cosby Show” actress wasn’t originally considered for the main character role.
“I think that was kind of, like racism at a low level, if that’s even a possibility,” she said. “They couldn’t really see, umm, a black girl leading a show … They saw her as a sidekick.”
In March 2023, Raven-Symoné spoke to Entertainment Weekly regarding the 20-year anniversary of “That’s So Raven,” and she confirmed that she became the show’s lead after impressing Disney executives. She also spoke out about her impact as the youngest Black female star to have a TV show named after her.
“I was like, cool, I got my own show,” the actress said. “It means so much now because I understand the [gravity] of what it means and the caliber of humans that I am in the pool with.”
“That’s So Raven” followed Raven Baxter, a fiery teenager maneuvering through puberty while living with her secret psychic abilities.
The show also followed her two best friends: Chelsea, portrayed by van der Pol, and Eddie Thomas, portrayed by Orlando Brown.
“That’s So Raven” also starred Rondell Sheridan as Raven’s father, Victor Baxter, T’Keyah Crystal Keymáh as her mom, Tanya Baxter, and Kyle Massey as her annoying little brother, Cory Baxter.
Since its release, the series has been nominated for two Primetime Emmy Awards and has released a spin-off titled “Raven’s Home.” Launched in 2017, the spinoff follows Baxter’s son, Booker, who inherited his mother’s ability to see the future, as he makes sense of his middle-school years and family life.
“Raven’s Home” is currently in its sixth season. It airs Sunday nights at 8 p.m. EST on the Disney Channel.