In 2006, when Disney first announced they were finally bringing a black princess to the big screen with 'The Princess and the Frog,' it was cause for celebration -- long overdue, yet still worth celebrating.
The honeymoon didn't last long. In 2006, when Disney first announced they were finally bringing a black princess to the big screen with 'The Princess and the Frog,' it was cause for celebration -- long overdue, yet still worth celebrating.
The honeymoon didn't last long.
The first cries of foul came quickly, with critics bemoaning the lead character's announced name and occupation. She'd be a maid for a white family named ... Maddy. When her name and occupation were labeled demeaning (as AOL BlackVoices points out, the moniker bares close resemblance to the ethnic slur "Mammy"), Disney was quick to respond, renaming the heroine Tiana and recasting her as a chef.
Until early this year, anyway, when it was revealed that our groundbreaking African-American princess (voiced by Anika Noni Rose) would not in fact be falling in love with an African-American prince. It's unclear what ethnicity her dreamy Prince Naveen is exactly -- his first name is Indian, he's from the fictional land of Maldonia, and he's voiced by Brazilian actor Bruno Campos -- but he's certainly not black (nor white, for that matter, as reported in some camps).
Exclusive Behind-the-Scenes Look at 'Princess'
Outrage ensued, with the popular refrain coming in question form, "We can have a black president in office, but not a black Disney prince?" (It's an interesting contrast to Hollywood's well-documented underrepresentation of black actresses in major roles -- just see the many times Will Smith, Denzel Washington and Eddie Murphy have been cast opposite white or Latina love interests.)
Are the criticisms warranted? Or are the reactions excessive? Depends on how you look it at. There are some reasonable questions being asked: In a film set in 1920s New Orleans, where most of the characters are black, why isn't the prince? Why make the princess clearly culturally definable, yet the prince ambiguous? After 70 years of white princes, doesn't the black community deserve a prince to call their own? (And no, we count neither Prince Akeem nor the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air in this argument.)
But at the same time, shouldn't we credit Disney for diversifying their portfolio and promoting interracial relationships? Won't this scenario help teach our kids about racial tolerance? Aren't we all just overreacting here? After all, this is an animated movie for kids about people who transform into frogs; the main characters even spend most of their screen time as reptiles amphibians. So should race even be an issue here?
In a year that saw Hollywood's biggest moneymaker, 'Transformers 2,' draw justified ire for its inexplicable jive-talking robots, 'Princess and the Frog' has also caught some flak for some of the supporting characters -- a blues-singing lightning bug with missing teeth could easily be seen as stereotypical -- but since when have Disney sidekicks not been over the top? Just see the French (and quite possibly gay) candlestick Lumiere, the flatulent warthog Pumbaa and the scantily clad pixie Tinker Bell.
So the question remains: Does Disney deserve all this controversy? Or is it all much ado about nothing? Tell us what you think.