Fairy Tale Friday: Disney’s The Princess and the Frog

December 4, 2009 at 12:10 am 4 comments

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.


Entry filed under: Fairy Tale Friday, Musings and Essays. Tags: , , .

Discussion Post: Uncle Tom’s Cabin “We band of brothers”

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Corey  |  December 4, 2009 at 3:31 pm

    I know I’m also a white girl but I completely agree. To me it is far better to treat her as just another Disney princess than to single her out as the black Disney princess. No one ever called Jasmine “the Arab Disney princess” and no one ever referred to Mulan as “the Chinese Disney princess” (although why Mulan is now a “princess” according to Disney is a whole other issue). I think pointing out her race only makes her different and thus perpetuates some form of racism.

    I do not think the filmmakers were ignoring the fact of her race; I think they were wisely choosing to simply make it a part of her rather than her only part.

    • 2. KT  |  December 4, 2009 at 3:35 pm

      I totally forgot that no one made a big deal about Mulan being Chinese! Valid point, my friend :)

      Did you read that other article? Someone was angry because it was set in New Orleans, as Hurricane Katrina was quite devastating to the black community. Never mind that this movie takes place in the 1920s, and that New Orleans had a bright, vibrant culture that would make for a really fun movie, political correctness demands that the movie take place in, uh…somewhere else. I guess.

      • 3. Corey  |  December 4, 2009 at 3:48 pm

        I know, people are so ridiculous about history. Just because something is a certain way NOW does not mean it was that way THEN and to talk about it is not insensitive, it is simply accurate. Oy veh!

        At some point we should gripe about how Disney kills feminism by making everyone, including totally butt-kicking lady-warriors, into pretty, pretty princesses. That, to me, is more disturbing than anything and I think goes along with your point about eating disorders!

      • 4. KT  |  December 4, 2009 at 4:30 pm

        YES. Since when is Mulan a princess?!?

        But then the other side of the issue is that of what they are doing to Rapunzel. Oh my god. According to rumors (http://www.dwtickets.com/v/blog/2009/09/disney-returns-to-fairy-tales-for-its.html), she is not so much trapped in a tower as wandering around with Prince Flynn. Except for, um, THE WHOLE POINT OF THE FAIRY TALE IS THAT SHE’S TRAPPED IN THE GODDAMNED TOWER. Ugh.

        Actually, Rapunzel isn’t even really a princess, is she? I mean, she marries the prince at the end but I feel like he lost his kingdom since he was wandering around blind in a forest for several years.


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