Friday, May 08, 2009

Disney's Uneasiness with African Americans

After decades of failure to feature a black lead in one of its animated films, the Walt Disney Company is finally offering the world its first black princess in The Princess and the Frog. The film, which is scheduled for release this December, is set in New Orleans and will star Anika Noni Rose (Dreamgirls) as the voice of Princess Tiana.

Although Disney has had princesses of color in films before (Aladdin, Mulan, Pocahantas), the company's failure to include positive black characters in its movie is well-noted. For instance, Disney has had animated films set in Africa but either the film only had animals (e.g. The Lion King) or white characters (e.g. Tarzan.) More specifically, movies like Song of the South retread negative black stereotypes.

With The Princess and the Frog, Disney is hoping to correct some of this history. However, the film has not been without controversy. Even months before its release, The Princess and the Frog has undergone several changes -- from the actual name of the movie (changed from The Frog Princess) and the name of its star (from Princess Maddy.) Furthermore, there have been concerns expressed about the setting of the film and the nearly white Prince that falls for Tiana.

Even though this is long overdue, I'm glad that Disney has finally made a movie with a black princess. For the first time, young African American girls can finally have a Disney Princess that looks and sounds like them. There's been a bevy of European princesses so I don't think this is too much to ask. I trust that the movie will feature positive portrayals of its black characters and that the film will do well at the box office and in DVD sales, which would encourage Disney to make more movies like it. Now if only they could begin to have animated films where the girls have a mom that's still around...

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