Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Disney's Frog Princess Controversy, A Black Girl Child's Perspective

In "Disney, blackness, gender, princess=reserve judgement for now" La Chola writes about the latest controversy/issues regarding Disney's plan to add an African-American to its' Disney Princesses line. The "Frog Princess" is the tentative title of an animated movie set in New Orleans during the 1920s, the height of the Jazz era. The lead character is a nineteen year old African-American girl named Tiana. Recently, the storyline has been amended due to some criticism of how the new princess was to be depicted.

La Chola writes,
Is New Orleans the only place in the world where a black princess could possibly exist in the U.S. imagination (and please, try to tell me that the story wouldn’t have had something to do with the “secretly she’s not a slave, she’s an African princess who was wrongly kidnapped and isn’t that terrible, oh, and too bad so sad for all the non-princess little girl slaves who, sadly, were rightfully enslaved” story line)?
In the comments section of La Chola's post, Chuckie K wrote about an example of the renaissance of black stereotypes that took place in an episode of the show "Psyche". That reminds me of the "Pushing Daisies" show where the black sidekick of the main character (a white male crime solver with the power to temporarily resurrect the dead) is often freaking out and becoming scared and making the stereotypical bug-eyed look of fright whenever something strange happens. I don't know if I believe these are really signs of a renaissance, though. These stereotypes have never disappeared. I mean, has there ever been a period in American entertainment where blacks weren't depicted this way?

You know, I understand why a lot of people of color are concerned about the possibility that the Frog Princess may also wind up doing the same thing. As a mother of a girl child, I really don't need another movie to shield my child from lest she internalize the racist depictions in it. God knows I did my absolute best to stop my child from seeing the Disney Pocahontas movie. The outrageously racist movie was made worse because, unlike the other "princesses", Pocahontas was a real person whose life was completely re-written into a form that was much more palatable for whites. To this day, whenever The German and VanGoghGirl want to get me riled up, they needle me about how much I hate that movie.

Still, I have to deal with the fact that my nieces are crazy about the Disney Princesses. They regularly request the toys and books for holidays and birthdays. I would love so much for there to be a black princess to choose from if I'm going to give in to their Disney desires. Of course, I'm from New Orleans so I'm actually delighted by the idea of her being from here. We have a rich African-American heritage and it deserves to the subject of a fairy tale about a black girl from that period. This is a place of enchantment. Sure there are lots of other places in America that a black character could depicted as residing but there are no other cities where hundreds of years of black culture, black spirituality, black cuisine, and black music is more integrated and celebrated and preserved than in New Orleans.

I vehemently disagree with this comment mentioned on La Chola's post:
“For one, this princess’ story is set in New Orleans, the setting of one of the most devastating tragedies to beset a black community. And then they throw in the voodoo theme and an alligator sidekick. When you put New Orleans, alligators and voodoo together, there’s no beauty there.”
New Orleans is and will always be so-oo-oo much more than "the setting of one of the most devastating tragedies to beset a black community". To constantly associate us and our city with devastation means that one has very little understanding of this community.

I grew up in the city of New Orleans. During that time I've lived on both sides of the river, and opposite ends of the city. Everywhere I've lived, wild life has been a constant presence. When I lived on the west bank, whenever it rained, the snakes would come out and slither down the streets. When I lived on the east bank, out in New Orleans east (a predominantly black part of city), we had more raccoons and possums rooting through our garbage than I could even count. In the local park (Joe Brown park) where baseball and basketball games were held and picnics and wedding receptions took place, there were ALWAYS alligators being spotted sunning themselves. You just called Louisiana Wildlife Services and they'd come out and deal with removing the animal if it was a really big gator. Otherwise, you just left it alone and it left you alone. No big deal!

With regards to the voodoo elements, any depiction of New Orleanian culture that didn't touch on voodoo isn't going to be complete. I'd like to see any references to it done in a balanced manner that recognizes it as a kind of spirituality and, as such, can be used in a positive way or, as with any religion, the practitioner can choose to try to use it maliciously.

The idea that there is nothing beautiful about the combination of New Orleans, alligators, and voodoo is more than a bit insulting, in my opinion. This is our culture. These things are our cultural markers. There is no reason why their depiction should be seen as a negative.

All of the comments I've seen about this come from people who are adults and non-New Orleanians, so I decided to get a different perspective by asking VanGoghGirl about her opinion of the story and the criticisms of it. This is what she had to say:

I personally don't think that Disney shouldn't have revised the original story. it wasn't racist in the least bit to me. i believe that it not only told a story but it told history, and race is a big issue in history. Also the people who criticized the story didn't have right to do that because it's not there history. If they new the real New Orleans and not just what they see in brochures they wouldn't have thought it was racist and Disney wouldn't had to do any unnecessary revisions.

I do like the style of animation very much. I appreciate that the artists gave her black girl features without making her looking too outrageous. I think that it will be easier for girls, not just from New Orleans, to relate to her because of the fact that she is way more modern then the other princesses. I mean, what little girl doesn't want to be a Disney princess? I know I always did, but Cinderella was to white, Belle was too much of a freak ( for dating an animal ), Snow White was too hard headed, and Arielle was too fishy. Now there's a princess just like me. Were both American girls-actually people from Louisiana are more French, Black, and Spanish than any thing- we both have curly hair, and we both love jazz. The only difference is that I'm lighter than her, which leads me my last point: instead of making the princess an ultra light color brown they made her BLACK, no doubt about it! I only hope there will be more black female characters like her !!

My New Orleanian Princess

This is no stereotype. This is who we are.


Anonymous said...

People are always looking for a reason to complain. Personally, I think Disney should of stuck to their original plan of having the princess named Maddy. And those who are complaining about N.O. being the location of the movie, where would they have the movie set at? Also, these people have no clue about Walt Disney and his fondness for N.O. - there's an entire themed area in Disneyland based on New Orleans, and two resorts at DisneyWorld themed around S. Louisiana. If these naysayers know what would be best for a black princess, why don't they create their own perfect movie? It should gross billions based upon its lack of any flaws and political correctness.


Anonymous said...

I appreciate your speaking to this, as someone from NO, and I especially love that you asked your princess to speak her mind! As the mother of children of color - I want our images and I want them to be real. I want to be excited about this movie, because I know millions will see it.

My family's roots are in Florida, and yes, I agree about the aspects of culture and wildlife, too.

But my caution - I want Disney to be very careful and do it right. Those negative, racist images - put on postcards and used as advertisements - of black children as "alligator bait" - this is what I am afraid of resurrecting. My family remembers those images - those false, negative, racist images - and I do not want to support their revival. I simply want Disney - and everybody else - to do it right.

thanks again.

Sarah J said...

One of the reasons (only one of many!) that I love your blog is it helps me stay in touch with New Orleans.

And if any city in this country needs and deserves a Disney princess right now, it's NOLA.

I've got a great idea for Disney. How about they hire some writers and animators who are actually black New Orleanians to work on the film?

VanGoghGirl could be a consultant. ;)

Alligators freaked me out from the time I moved down to South Carolina, but yeah, I don't see anything racist about 'em. Hell, I was a middle-class white girl who lived on a golf course in Hilton Head, South Carolina and I had gators in my backyard.

Houseonahill said...

Being the mother of a 12 yr old male child, I am not really into the debate, however I was so confused by the commentary on the Brown Femipower. I appreciate your perspective as well, and because of it I plan to do my research...which brings me to my comment: I feel that any attention to NOLA would be great. The movie, good or bad, would encourage discussion, visits, investigating ~ ALL GOOD for NOLA. So that's my two cents! LOL.
Great blog. Best to you and your princess ~ GREAT Blog.
From a NOLA lover...

BLESSD1 said...

I loved this post! Your little princess showed that she's smart, pretty, and funny...just like her mom! Great post, Bint!

Renegade Evolution said...

as an art fan, I love the way she looks...and VGG is one smart girl.

Zula said...

In some ways, the new version is an improvement - the original plot sounded basically like Cinderella, except she was black and in New Orleans. However, the things they made worse in the new version outweigh the things they fixed, IMO. Especially the "whitening" of her appearance, judging from the pictures on La Chola's blog.

Basbousa said...

What a beautiful girl!

queen emily said...

Yeah. I understand the caution with Disney, they're just really awful on race and gender and class and..

I do agree, the beauty in New Orleans is pretty obvious. I only spent one day in the French Quarter and I really loved it (I'll be back VERY SOON).

cripchick said...

i LOVVVVVE vangoghgirl!!!!

so brilliant, like her mama!

eva watashuwai francis said...

being native american i don't understand why well black americans (my aunt is black so whatever) i don't understand why people freak out constantly i mean more people know more black people then natives so they know the truth.
anywho they wanted to do a more newer version of the frog princess and truly i think it's neat...i feel sad actualy they made pochantas so clean but it is disny...but really it's not a big thing race unless it is terrible rasist comments
btw your daughter is cuter then a puppy dogs ear

Anonymous said...

Kudos to you for defending alligators. I can´t believe people includes them in their list of reasons to be mad at Disney and this movie. They're beautiful animals and a movie set in swampy American southeast wouldn´t be complete without them.

Anonymous said...

My beef with this, and I'll admit I'm as white as they come, is that it took Disney so damn long to create a black princess. How is that we had a black president before Disney could dream up a black princess? Seems backwards to me.
P.s. I lived in New Orleans for 2 years when I was in the Coast Guard. Loved it there!! I hate to see people talk badly about a city so dear to my heart.