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Disney’s First Black Princess

July 18th, 2008     by Stacey May Fowles     Comments

When I was younger I was completely in love with Disney films. My favourites, Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King, I played over and over on a loop. When The Lion King came out in theatres, I actually went to see it three times (and please don’t mention that I was fifteen when it came out, okay?) A few years later I had more of an eye to critique what I thought was just harmless cartoon fun, and I really didn’t like what I saw. Not only is Disney jam-packed with obvious sexism and gender steretypes, in contains the worst kind of “acceptable” mainstream racism readily available at your local Wal Mart.

While some may argue “that was a different time” (which I’m not buyin’) when referring to the racism in movies like Fantasia, Dumbo, and The Jungle Book, Disney still has to be on the hook for some of their most recent blunders (Mulan anyone?) So when I saw this piece on Jezebel about “Disney’s first black princess” I knew I needed to post:

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. Cliched? 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.

Really? This is the best they could come up with? Well, given what they’ve “come up with” in the past, we shouldn’t be all that surprised. Watch this recap of some of the worst crimes Disney has committed to date (Although it doesn’t include the film that I believe to be one of their top ten personal worst.)

Warning: this video contains some pretty disturbing stuff, even if it is “just a cartoon.”

I’m actually starting to wonder if Disney cartoons are simply obsolete? Do they really need to do a “black princess story” at all? Do girls still need their princesses rescued by princes? Do boys still need that, for that matter?

The reviews for Wall-E, Disney’s latest Pixar film, have been strong. Admittedly I haven’t seen it because I’ve been too busy getting choked up about the trailer (the robot falls in love!), but in the spirit of Monsters Inc. and Finding Nemo, it seems to toss in the trash a lot of the problems listed above and move into a new kind of storytelling that a wider variety of kids can relate to. Disney seems to be better at creating monsters, toys, fish, ants, and robots we can relate to, rather than people. I was always curious as to why the Pixar division was able to, from day one, create stories that were inclusive, while the cartoon division just kept on being problematic (To give you an idea of what I mean, Toy Story and Pocahontas were released the same year. Toy Story marked the first involvment Pixar had with Disney, admittedly only in distribution.)

Do you think that Disney’s effort at a black princess is even worth it? More importantly, why is it so hard for them to get it right?

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. … 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 … can’t draft a politically-correct film about black people?

Tags: film fridays, race and racism

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