Why Is Disney's First Black Princess Such A Challenge?

Illustration for article titled Why Is Disney's First Black Princess Such A Challenge?

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.

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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?

DISCUSSION

stoprobbers
stoprobbers

@mbprice: I completely see what you're saying. And I can see how that would be a problem. But what a shame if the Very First Black Princess's story turns out to be uninteresting, one-dimensional drivel because of fear of being politically incorrect. That's really all I'm saying.

@PhDork: I'm suggesting that major entertainment studios are so confused about what is and isn't acceptable, what will and will not piss people off (and there are TONS of people to potentially offend), that they will continue to change and change and change this plot until it's a bland, uninteresting story that says nothing about its Very First Black Princess and makes all the other characters so timid that nothing of interest happens.

My people have always been represented in Disney as hook-nosed, money-grubbing, lying, cheating, conspiring enemies. I'd love to get a decent representation of a Jew into Walt Disney's Nazi-supporting empire. But I also understand that a measure of political incorrectness may come with that in order to make the story interesting. And that's fine with me. If Disney is setting its Very First Black Princess in a historical period that is not as progressive as now, why should they have to tiptoe around the reality of the time to avoid offense? I just want them to give her a good, interesting story. That's all.

As for retrograde pap: In my opinion, Disney ran out of good ideas a long time ago. It's really been Pixar keeping them propped up.