The Princess and the Racist?


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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    • Kyle

      people get so worked up about stereotypes.

      EVERY cultural group is going to get its panties in a twist if a film or show is made about them.

      just like hordes of up tight gays got up in arms about how jack on will & grace painted gay people in a stereotypical light, some people will get up in arms about the latest Disney princess.

      You CAN’T make everyone happy all the time. you just can’t.

      good article – i think everyone just needs to take a step back and relax.

    • Jesse B

      Interesting article – it I hadn’t heard about the movie or the controversy. It’s strange how Disney has never had black characters in their movies (well… human black characters, think Jungle Book). As an aside, in these movies “gays” have long been represented as Villans who bend gender stereotypes or who fall outside the heteronormative family framework (Jaffar, Scar, Gaston all the witches, etc, etc), which is something to look out for with the bad guy in this flick.

    • Allan

      First – I think that this is a brilliant article! Good job. Great writing. 🙂

      I’m in complete agreement with your point about this AOL group making a fuss about the film portraying African Americans as “not black enough”. What is that? How many African Americans would take huge offensive to that? A lot. Halle Barry comes to mind immediately – I’ve heard her speak to this point before.

      Minority groups need not pick on other members of their group for being “too this” or “too that”. We’re all marginalized and should be supporting each other. No one is too black or not black enough. Everyone is a person who, through their minority status, has probably been picked on and has to deal with hate.
      I think you couldn’t be more correct when you say that this film might take a good step in helping children of this particular minority dream a little bigger. Seeing someone like yourself (that is being portrayed in a positive light) in a big, public way can do wonders – not only for children, but for adults too. It gives a power that maybe wasn’t there before. In our society, being media-ized means having power.

      I hope that this film gives many young people that feeling of power. Good for Disney for (even though they are way late) taking the step in the right direction. Boo on people who are trying to stomp on this.

    • Brian

      As a HUGE fan of Disney Classics, I am so incredibly thrilled to have a return to the classic style and loved every bit of this article. I think there are always going to be those people that you just can’t please. As far as the film being set in New Orleans, I think it’s ridiculous for people to think that the city is off limits to Disney. As far as I know, the reason they picked New Orleans is that they wanted to celebrate Jazz music, which we all know has cultural roots in New Orleans. I think it’s great that Disney is honoring this musical style and I can’t wait to hear the soundtrack!

    • Jennifer

      A couple of things: I do agree that New Orleans would be just fine for any fairy tale. I do not agree about the whole “too black or not black enough” part of your argument. Some black people are getting upset about the Princess not having black facial features or natural hair because it seems that if they were going to have a black princess, why not give her black features. I think that sounds reasonable. Remember, she is not a mixed princess, she is being marketed as a black princess. Secondly, I disagree with your take on the voodoo religion. Many arguments about the voodoo in this movie that I have read are saying that they are portraying a religion as just magic. People of the voodoo religion do not think of their religion as “magic”. Just like people of the Christian religion do not think of their religion as magic. If Disney were to portray a Baptist or Catholic preacher/father as magic, I am sure many Christians would be up in arms about it also. Third, the Prince – I do not think so many people would be upset about the prince if there had been a black prince before him. But there isn’t. The fact that Disney didn’t want to make the prince noticeably black – again with the facial features, hair, everything – even a little bit, is upsetting to people because black little boys need a prince to look up to also, right?

      I think that there would not be so many people up in arms about this movie if Disney hadn’t marketed it from the get-go as a black princess. I’m sure if they would have said she was mixed, which would explain her facial features, there would not have been so many people upset about the princess or the prince.

    • Dean

      I dont think that it is so wierd that no disney princess have been black. cuase in europe where princesses like this and stories about princess (I know many princess stories comes from asia to) there is no black people in europe in the princess story time