I have a niece who is half African American, and from a very early age was given a black doll to play with. My sister recognized that growing up in a small town in BC where seeing a black person was like spotting a four leaf clover, my niece would need some recognition eventually of her own skin colour, in absence of her African American birth father and being surrounded by us whities. Fast forward a couple years later when, on a trip into Vancouver, my niece from her stroller, pointed to little black girl and said “Look Mommy, she’s just like me”. Despite her being given that doll from birth, not one word of her having a different skin colour had been uttered, and she figured it out all by herself.
Disney’s latest film “The Princess and the Frog” stands for a couple of things. Firstly, it’s hand drawn, back to the basics, and hallelujah, I feel like people my age are damn excited about a Lion Aladdin and the Beast Mermaid Disney film that isn’t about some form of computer animated inanimate objects; maybe it’s just me making myself feel better about getting older. GO PUMBA!
Secondly, this is the first Disney cartoon ever to feature a black princess. Wait, what year is it? Yes that’s right. Ever. Despite Disney’s obvious attempt at racial Princess equality with films like Aladdin, Mulan, and Pocahontas, the racial issue plaguing the States since the early 17th century (count your fingers and your toes people), has been swept under Mickey’s rug until 2009. Not once has Disney given any little African American girl an animated roll model, a plush toy, an action figure with a tiara, to look up to and think “She’s just like me”.
Now before I sound like I’m harping too much on the mouse’s attempt at penance (yes it clearly still makes me angry it took this long), I must make even clearer that I beauty queen clap their effort. Unfortunately through all this attemptive equality though, they’ve made an enemy with AOL’s Black Voices for not making things nearly black enough in the film, or maybe too black which you’ll read in a minute. Apparently the prince’s “hair and features are decidedly non-black. This has left many in the community shaking their head in befuddlement and even rage.” Also, grieving the setting of the movie, Black Voices has said that “Disney should be ashamed” for setting the film at the site of “one of the most devastating tragedies to beset a black community.” That’s right. The movie’s set in New Orleans. Other unsettling qualities of this film to Black Voices include the concept of the villain in the film being a stereotypical voodoo witch doctor.
Let me break it down the best way I know how here and I can rebuttle all of these points at once, because really, we’re dealing with the same issue in every point. What IS black enough?
A) Now I haven’t seen the prince’s skin colour in the trailer, but is he not allowed to maybe be half white, or a less black black person? Are you only black if you’re a certain shade of black? Can we allow some room for interracial coupling here? B) Are we not allowed to use New Orleans, a city rich with African American history and culture because of a recently devastating hurricane that has not much to do with the time period this film is set in? Wouldn’t we be hard done by to find any place in America where “devastating tragedies” HAVEN’T befell African Americans? C) And as far as the voodoo witch doctor? Aren’t you kind of complaining about something being TOO black in this case, voodoo originating from Haiti, West Africa, Trinidad, Jamaica and eventually finding a home in the States in Louisiana? This is a religion native to African people. I mean, which is it? Too black, or not black enough?
I’ve watched character’s on television that are direct derivatives of gay stereotypes on television for YEARS and applauded every effort to get MY culture a voice in mass media. In remote areas where certain peoples have no direct contact with gay people of any kind, I can’t say that television and movies haven’t helped open people’s mind to the concept of our so called “alternative lifestyle” and perhaps forwarded the process of all this marriage equality happening in our lifetime.
And I realize that I’m not black (*looks down*), and can’t step into the shoes of someone who is and recognize how they feel about their history and their repression, but I can relate two fold. One, as someone with a biracial person in their family, who would hear her tell stories of how she got picked on for being a few pigments and a thousand curls away from being the same as the other girls, and how every so often there would be one girl in the group who would stand up and tell her she was different to her face. And two, as someone who is part of a minority and has recognized and felt injustice their entire lives for not quite being like the other boys when I was younger, and wishing I had had something on the big screen to look up to, animated or not, that would make me think “Mommy, he’s just like me”.
Information is power, and kids SHOULD learn where and why and who they are and how they got there. But maybe it’s not about adult baggage on AOL now because Disney didn’t use the right pencil crayon when they coloured their prince. Maybe it’s more about the innocence of youth. Maybe it’s about a glimmer of hope my niece didn’t have when she used to look up in the theatre. Maybe it’s about a new generation who can now look up to a President AND a Princess and dream a big dream a little easier because Mickey tried to put one oversized yellow shoe in front of the other down a path that could be, and hopefully is, pleasantly contagious.
Submitted by: Nic O.
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