Disney's been working on a "black princess" movie for a while now. In March of last year, the company announced that production had begun on the film, a fairy tale to be called The Frog Princess featuring Maddy, a black chambermaid working for a spoiled white Southern debutante. A voodoo priestess fairy godmother helps Maddy win the heart of a white prince, after he rescues her from the clutches of a voodoo magician. Clichéd? Stereotypical? Yeah, that's what many people thought. So even though the film was slated for a 2009 release, Disney went back to the drawing board. According to a report by Arifa Akbar in today's Independent:
Disney's original storyboard is believed to have been torn up after criticism that the lead character was a clichéd subservient role with echoes of slavery, and whose name sounded too much like "Mammy" – a unwelcome reminder of America's Deep South before the civil rights movement swept away segregation.
It's not bad enough that Disney's princesses are often unemployed runaways desperate for a man: The first black heroine works for a white woman?
Well, the new revised film is called The Princess And The Frog and the character is named Tiana. She's 19 and she lives in New Orleans during the Jazz Age. A spokesperson from Disney swears: "All other characters and aspects of the story will be treated with the greatest respect and sensitivity." (But, notes Akbar, will it be as sensitive from this song lyric from 1993's Aladdin? "I come from a land, from a faraway place, where the caravan camels roam, where they cut off your ear if they don't like your face; it's barbaric, but hey, it's home.")
Disney is a billion-dollar business which makes a huge impact, globally, and especially with little girls. Therefore they have a huge responsibility: To make a black princess impressionable kids can look up to. Obviously the best characters are ones who start with nothing and overcome adversity — hence all the orphans (Bambi, Aladdin, Cinderella) and motherless children (The Little Mermaid, Nemo, Aurora from Sleeping Beauty). But how is it that Nickelodeon can figure out how to create an engaging minority-oriented TV show (Dora The Explorer) and Disney — a company founded in 1923, with a history of questionable characters (the crows in Dumbo; Uncle Remus in Song Of the South) — can't draft a politically-correct film about black people? (While we're at it, watch this video called "Racism In Disney.") Anyway, Tiana's story is sure to get what Disney does best: A happy ending.
Disney's 'Subservient' Black Princess Animates Film Critics [Independent]
Related: Disney First: Black Princess In Animated Film [MSNBC]
Racism In Disney [YouTube]
Earlier: What's The Allure Of Everything Disney?
Who's To Blame When Your Fairy Tale Doesn't Come True?