“The Princess and the Frog”

The Princess and the Frog“, OpenDemocracy.net, 7 December 2007

I wrote this piece as a blog entry for OpenDemocracy’s “16 Days Against Gender Violence” initiative. A much longer essay on the Princesses is forthcoming.

frog_princess.jpg

Earlier this year, in a move that made animation history, the Disney corporation announced the addition of a ninth “Disney Princess,” who-like her colleagues Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Ariel, Belle, Jasmine, Pocahontas and Mulan-will do beautiful better than the rest. According to details released in April, a new film entitled The Princess and the Frog will be set in jazz age New Orleans, with characters that include a voodoo villain, a wacky Cajun firefly, and a jolly alligator. It will also boast a heroine that is black.

It’s about time, say social activists who have been crying foul about race in Disney pictures. They suggest that the glaring hole in the media giant’s newly consolidated pantheon of beauty cut to the core of social violences in America. More plainly, they’ve said that if Disney wishes to promote a comprehensive vision of beauty for its black girls-Nala from The Lion King isn’t going to cut it.

Disney has perennially visited the touchy intersection of pop and politics, gender and race. If the dustups over names alone in the months since development began are any clue, the topic is still quite prickly. Early reports listed the title heroine’s name as “Maddy”, a supposedly underclass name that has been changed, under protest to the crystalline “Tiana.” Likewise has the original title, The Frog Princess, been scrapped. Wild cheers went up from the race crusaders. And a good thing. No girl, brown or otherwise, should have to sigh herself to sleep with visions of bogs and bullfrogs. In fact, that sounds like a recipe for malaria.

In truth, the whole thing sounds like a recipe for cringing, should Disney fail the Herculean task it has set. As families (of all races, presumably) crowd around the box office on Christmas 2009, what will they see? What will they learn? I’d bet the farm that a Randy Newman Mardi Gras number is in the pipeline; the impact of New Orleans, the newly-racialized staging ground for this ambitious drama, is yet to be seen. In a best-case scenario, the story of the city and the girl will use fun and games to transcend race. But the proof is in the princess. I remain skeptical that Tiana, who in early sketches glows with an unalarming, brown-paper-bag complexion, will “represent” for young black women; her figure boasts the standardized curves of her colleagues; her hair is tamed, her manner silken. And let’s hope the supporting cast dies not devolve into jigaboo stereotypes.

I’m currently writing a long essay on the Princesses. It’s no news that such beauty projects bear a unique risk of psychic violence for girls of color. Disney’s message teeters on the knife-edge of uplift or objectification. But perhaps there is good here. The spectacle of royal perfection attempts to de-vilify the body of a black woman, whose course over the American centuries belies a wash of injustices fraught upon that body. Trying to disarm this imagery-tied equally to the spectacle of Saartje Bartman, her buttocks cruelly on display at the 1893 World’s Fair, and to the kitschy adoration of Josephine Baker on the Champs-Elysées-is a daunting, yet admirable task. A face like one’s own outside the mirror may be the largest known boost to self-esteem among young women. If black girls feel un-alone, counted-and not just counted, Princessed-this is surely a happy end to a somewhat toothless revisiting of the American South. Fingers crossed for Tiana and company, if not in hopes of a modern maiden paradigm, at least in contemplation of a post-racial childhood.

Dayo Olopade

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9 thoughts on ““The Princess and the Frog”

  1. When the images of Black people are controlled by non-Blacks and/or white-washed Negroes, there will always be some stereotypical element involved.

    It’s cool they changed the title of the movie. The “Frog Princess” was very undesireable.

    My only question is this: will the prince be Black?

    There needs to be a positive representation of Black Love between a Black woman and a Black man – even in animation.

    Of course, Hollywierd has never been interested in serving the needs of Black people.

  2. It’s a terribly ugly animation style. Looks really shitty actually. It’s sick hearing about the race thing over and over and over and over and over again. Disney princesses don’t influence the way girls act as adults at all. If they did, would we honestly have so many promiscuous 13 year olds? Or so many rude as heiresses? Disney princesses are not what these girls are watching… It’s a phase, simple and that, if you have kids you know this.

    • Disney has it own way of doing things. the princess of disney show every type of race that they can make a dream come true each princess came from something little like bell and cinderella they came from rags and now they are A princess I think that make a big change it doesnt show that you have to be high and mighty to be great it shows little dreams turn into big ones.Disney try to do their best to make every animation style as good as possible and to my opinion and others they do a heak of a job. this should be a terrific movie and i hope that they keep on making more princess dreams.

  3. Sabine,

    Disney is FULL of promiscuity and sexual standards. Take a closer look at Tiger Lily in Peter Pan, or the main characters’ relationship in the Atlantis movie (or even the proportionate waist sizes of any of the canon princesses) for support on that statement. Disney doesn’t cause this on its own, of course, but is certainly one of many contributing cultural factors. Also, the animations at the top of this post are a little blurry, but if you watch the actual trailer, it’s gorgeous: a real return to old-school 2D animation.

    I’m really excited for this movie. Sure, there are more than a few things wrong in the race relations department, but after all, Disney’s first modern American depiction of royalty (in contrast with former princesses who have all been from foreign countries, and in contrast with Pocahontas who was very clearly characterized as outside of the modern world) is a beautiful, strong-willed African American girl. That’s a huge stride!

    Here’s to hoping that the movie actually follows through with that sentiment, and here’s to more of those strides in the future.

  4. All good comments. However you are forgetting the point that she is only a black female for a few moments in the film…then she turns into a frog. We couldn’t have a black female character through out the whole film! That would be crazy! (Pure Sarcasm)

  5. Who cares if the prince is black or white. More than half the people in America don’t date solely within their race anyway.
    I say go Princess get your groove on with the hot brazilian prince.

  6. Our Princess is a frog throughout the majority of the film.. it takes place where one of the most devastating catastrophes hit the black populace–New Orleans, and no… the Prince isn’t black. I’m all for interracial marriage, but for the first film to feature a princess of color, it would have been nice to see her standing beside a man of the same race.

  7. Just because I saw something about how the princesses don’t effect girls as adults and how this is all horrible blah blah blah. Studies actually show that fairy tales like this actually help girls become more emotionally healthy and empathetic. Yeah, we may not realize that a fairy tale can play a part big or small in that but is their something wrong with the idea of it?

    Honestly, some of the comments about this are so painfully cynical. I work in Magic Kingdom and just a few days ago I saw two little girls, probably five, dressed as princesses. One, a black girl, dressed as Aurora from Sleeping Beauty and the other, a white girl, dressed as Tiana, walking hand in hand, giggling together and just enjoying being kids and friends. Not everything is about being “white washed” or some elaborate put down of anyone. I wish people would just calm down and stop thinking that everything has to be a fight.

  8. WHY DOES THE PRINCE HAVE TO BE BLACK? Everyone is so effing concerned with this! can’t a black person fall in love with a white person, or a hispanic person, or an asian person, or any other nationality?
    and also, i’m sure the creators weren’t sitting in their office, making the movie, thinking “damn, we gota make a black princess, well i guess turning her into a frog will be a good loophole.”

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