Disney has long been criticized for its treatment of black people in movies. Song of the South first springs to mind with its happy singing slave stereotype Uncle Remus, but there are also the crows in Dumbo and the monkeys in Jungle Book. Also, Disney’s princess characters have been Chinese (Mulan), Middle Eastern (Aladdin) and Native American (Pocahontas), but there has never been one who is African-American.
That’s about to change with Disney’s upcoming The Princess and the Frog, but perhaps because of past Disney sins, there are plenty of people who are already upset about the film even though no one has seen it. When the script leaked and it was revealed the lead character was a maid named Maddie (short for Madeline, but too close to Mammy for some), complaints were sounded and the filmmakers changed her name to Tiana and they made her a budding chef.
June 8 CBS News report with Michelle Miller
Fair enough, but Angela Bronner Helm, senior editor of Blackvoices.com still isn’t happy. It seems the prince in the story is voiced by a Brazilian actor and his skin isn’t black enough. This is a problem apparently. Listen to her in the CBS report above: “I just wonder why, with this first African princess why they didn’t have an African American prince to go along with her.”
She goes into greater detail over at Blackvoices:
“That’s right – even though there is a real-life black man in the highest office in the land with a black wife, Disney obviously doesn’t think a black man is worthy of the title of prince. I guess Sasha and Malia and all the other little black girls out there should just shut up and be thankful to have something!”
So, because Tiana is black, she has to marry a black man? Who’s racist now?
I know, I’m a white guy and my life hasn’t been touched by racism the way it has for so many in this country, but I really think Disney should be given a chance. Not only am I pleased to see them return to classic hand-drawn animation, I’m glad they’ve broadened their racial palette and they seem to be doing it in a way that avoids stereotypes (not an easy thing to do when animation as an art form so often relies on distilled “types” anyway), but doesn’t necessarily pander to non-white audiences.