Growing up in the pre-Disney video era, I never had much fascination with Mickey Mouse, his crew or his creator. In fact, I had practically missed the Mickey frenzy until I moved to the West coast. In the meantime, I was more interested in my dolls. I had at least eight Barbie dolls a few that looked like me and most that did not. It took time to amass my Barbie collection, the first one appropriately titled, ‘My First Barbie’. She wore a yellow bathing suit with blue trim. I was seven when she became my favorite playmate. Three years later, I received my first black Barbie. She was a Day to Night Barbie. During the day, she wore corporate attire, but her clothes could be reversed to make her presentable for an evening at the theatre. She was the first and only Barbie I named. I called her Valine and she quickly replaced the My First Barbie as my favorite. Not only was she beautiful but she looked like someone I could grow up to be.
This is what Walt Disney has deprived little black girls of for decades. Finally deciding to rectify this deliberate oversight, or seeing an opportunity to pad their pockets with a segment of the population that is steadily growing more and more middle class, Disney will release its first princess movie featuring an African American girl in the most desirable role to be bestowed on an animated character. She will be Princess Tiana. While many of the details are unclear, her story will be told within the 1920’s jazz era of New Orleans. There has been buzz of her being a chambermaid, but those speaking out against it have sent Walt’s crew back to the drawing board. Confusion also existed over the nationality of her prince, as the little information that has leaked out suggests, he will not be African American. At first, he was to be Caucasian, however, the most recent reports state he will be Middle Eastern. The tale will not run short of the snobby rich white debutante and the rich white mogul. There was even talk of a black male villain, but that’s up for revision too. Beyond that, Disney is being quite tight-lipped, probably in an attempt to give the skeptics as little ammo as possible.
In a society of political correctness, Disney has received a lot of negative attention, at least within the African American community. Many wonder why it has taken Disney so long to release an animated movie with black leads who were not villains or animals. One important possibility exists in the fact that minorities do support non-ethnic media while most of the Caucasian market does not. It all comes down to availability. With plentiful media aimed at Caucasian dollars, very little reason exists for Whites to crossover to the ethnic market. On the other side, with significantly less or in some cases no options in the ethnic market, minorities had no choice but to support what was mainstream.
While they could not know the release of the movie might find our country months into the first African American presidency, the timing could not be better. Although the release of the movie entitled “The Princess and the Frog” is set for late 2009, the project was announced in late 2006 putting the search for Princess Tiana’s voice in full swing. Disney granted the honor to Anika Noni Rose, supposedly beating out the likes of Tyra Banks, Jennifer Hudson, and Alicia Keyes. Rose has such movie projects to her credit as Dream Girls and Just Add Water.
With their Asian Mulan, and Middle Eastern Jasmine, the company’s attempts at inclusion have still fell short until now. Many will stand in wait to judge how Walt’s crew will pull off this long overdue addition to the Disney Princess Sorority, knowing that this is about more than just a movie. If handled like the princess inductees before her, Princess Tiana will become a franchise unto herself, with the possibility of dolls, video games and other toys. With critics picking apart the very few details that have been released, Disney will have to scrutinize every decision regarding this film.
Though many question the validity of animated characters as childhood role models, none can deny the extent to which animated movies influence children. They generally teach life lessons and encourage kids to dream. Additionally, they provide them with their own viewing material, when not much else is suitable.
Regardless of the details surrounding why little black girls are finally getting their Disney princess, this is a great opportunity to change the associations of black versus white and good versus evil. Black girls will have the opportunity to look at the movie screen and think, “That could be me.”