Fairy Tale Friday: Disney’s The Princess and the Frog
Okay, so by now you’ve heard that Disney is making a movie with its first black heroine/princess ever. If you haven’t, you heard it here first — The Princess and the Frog, featuring the voice talents of Jennifer Hudson, Oprah Winfrey, and Anika Noni Rose, hits theaters on December 11th. Naturally, the New York Times has already reviewed it, and while I normally agree with Manohla Dargis, I have to take issue with one part of her review, found here.
Dargis argues that the movie doesn’t engage with the issue of race, and that Princess Tiana is an underdog due to social class, not color. Another article in the Times, this time by Brooks Barnes, chronicles the arguments of those who say that this movie will only deepen stereotypes.
I’m sorry….what? This may be easy for a white middle-class woman to say, but since when have fairy tales ever been about race? They didn’t have to be, as they were folk tales specific to certain homogenous cultures. The Brothers Grimm were German, which is why you have about 400 boys named Hansel running around in the collected stories. Fairy tales are about a lot of cultural issues (coming of age, finding one’s parents, marriage), but race is not one of them.
I understand that because Disney has been so racist in the past, there was a lot of pressure on this movie to be politically correct. Isn’t it enough for this to be like any other princess movie? In fact, isn’t that better? Rather than essentially saying “Oh, THIS PRINCESS IS BLACK AND THEREFORE DIFFERENT,” this movie seems to say, “Tiana is a girl who works hard for what she gets — just like Cinderella, actually — who winds up with a prince because she’s just that awesome. And you know what? You should be like her.”
And I think that’s okay! Disney made Tiana a princess in the grand tradition of Disney Princesses. Her working hard at the cafe while dreaming of a restaurant is not that fundamentally different from Cinderella’s working hard for her sisters while dreaming of going to a ball. Can we accept that Disney has finally managed to make a movie that didn’t portray, say, cigar-smoking birds named Jim Crow?
As for the argument that Prince Naveen is not black enough, has anyone compared Naveen to the roster of Disney Princes? Those princes are almost whiter than the princesses they’re paired with. Beast looks like the poster child for the Aryan race once he transforms. Prince Philip was literally played by David Beckham in a recent photoshoot. It’s an achievement for Disney to have a prince with a deep suntan at this point. And as for the fact that Naveen is voiced by a Brazilian man, I would say that 1) Disney was playing the accent, as he’s supposed to be from a fictional country, and 2) Aladdin was played by a guy from New York.
There are people who disagree with me on this — Manhola Dargis, for one — but again, I don’t think it’s so terrible for this movie to not engage race as an issue. Maybe one day Disney will make a movie with, like, Taye Diggs as the prince. But for now, at least The Princess and the Frog shows that Disney has made a valiant attempt to move beyond their rather checkered past.
(Side note — anyone else notice how no one’s bitching that we haven’t had a fat princess yet? Just asking. Also note how one of Jasmine’s eyes is the size of her waist.)
EDIT: Thought I should throw this out there as another POV. My post is pretty soft on Disney, so it might be interesting to read BlackCynic America’s take on Disney’s racist history and why one black Disney Princess isn’t really enough.