Disney’s first black princess

// 21 March 2007

Frog PrincessDisney is to produce its first animation featuring a black princess, as reported on CNN. Called The Frog Princess, the movie will be set in “Jazz-age New Orleans”.

John Lasseter, chief creative officer for Disney and the Disney-owned unit Pixar Animation Studios, said the movie would return to the classic hand-drawn animation process, instead of using computer animation that has become the industry standard. He called the film “an American fairy tale.”

“The film’s New Orleans setting and strong princess character give the film lots of excitement and texture,” Walt Disney Studios Chairman Dick Cook said.

While, of course, it’s great to see a firm like Disney taking this step, while bemoaning the fact it’s taken them until 2007 to do so, this film is far from problem free.

First of all, this is set in New Orleans. As AfterEllen points out, why there?

Sure enough, one of the characters in The Frog Princess is “an elderly, 200-year-old Voodoo priestess/fairy god-mother.”

Nevermind that (I’m guessing) the majority of black people in New Orleans don’t practice voodoo – white people just can’t get this idea out of their heads. It exoticizes black folks and makes them seem more like the “other,” and less like your neighbor down the street.

Add to this a recent quote in a feature on princess-mania among young American girls from Disney spokesman Gary Forster:

“We believe it is an innate desire in the vast majority of young girls to play out the fantasy of being a princess… They like to dress up, they like to role-play. It’s just a genetic desire to like pink, to like the castle, to turn their dads into the prince.”

Yep, Disney thinks girls have a genetic propensity towards the colour pink. Need I say more?

But on the other hand, if princess power is the way it’s going to be, then at least the princesses should be a bit more diverse than the usual Disney fair. Afrobella has a compelling argument:

I know that there are inherent feminist issues with Disney princesses in general, their submissive nature and “Someday My Prince Will Come” passivity is a longstanding tradition. But despite the typically broad outline of the princess persona, Maddy is great news for the next generation of afrobellas.

Having a Disney Princess with an afro puff means great things for moms who have had to explain to their little curly haired angels that their hair is just as pretty as Becky’s or Emily’s.

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