Disneys The Princess and the Frog Makes an About Face with Black Princess

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The Princess and the Frog opens in theaters December 11, 2009

While Disneys animated film The Princess and the Frog due out for the holidays has generated lively discussions due to the protagonist being an African-American princess,none of the character archetypes have changed very much. The poor pretty girl longs to be a regal elite. The forces of evil try to stop her. A prince will save her. Faith supports perseverance and so on and so forth.

However simple the fairy tale traditions, they will always have a timeless draw because of their universal qualities. But some critics of the new post-race princess have taken the kiddie merchandise conglomerate to task about her realness as a black girl.

For instance, after screening a version of the film with the characters name Maddy, the producers changed her name to Tiana when a few viewers complained that the name resembled mammy too closely.

There has also been a string of complaints from black critics (who havent yet seen the film) because of her non-black features, as one writer put it, and the film being set in 1920s New Orleans. Apparently, because Hurricane Katrina registers as a black tragedy, its imperative that we treat it as such, forbidding cartoon films from having any mention of the site. And (drumroll please) the prince is a white man to boot!

All of the implications here are troublesome to a society grappling with what racial identity means, and whether a change in meaning amounts to anything. If Disney is now so concerned about the implications of the first major black cartoon character in their movie, that means times have changed to the point where ethnicity and cultural sensitivity are required considerations. The movie Aladdin featured songs about Arabs that included lines about Muslim savagery and light-hearted throat slicing. The Little Mermaids Ariel had a singing Caribbean fish as the Bojangles to her Shirley Temple. Even the image of the princess itself is a possible sexist quagmire, portraying the star as an aloof, subservient girl waiting to be courted, or for Daddy to make things right.


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