When Walt Disney Studios announced that its newest animated film, The Princess and the Frog, would focus on Tiana, a girl living in New Orleans, I could only focus on one thing—the newest Disney princess is black. My first thought: It’s about time.
Growing up as part of the Disney generation, I dreamed of being a Disney princess. Exemplifying a combination of beauty and courage, Ariel (The Little Mermaid), Belle (Beauty and the Beast) and Jasmine (Aladdin) were everything pre-preteens of the 1990s strived to be. They were smart, gorgeous and the centers of their own 90-minute films. But almost all of them lacked one special quality—melanin.
- Related Story
- Review: The Princess and the Frog (12/9/09)
As an Indian-American girl growing up in the suburbs of Las Vegas, I got used to never seeing similarly hued characters in the media. For birthdays, my white friends always gave me the dark-skinned Barbie doll—you know, the one meant to appeal to anyone with a year-round tan. For some reason, this innocuous act always offended me. The lighter Barbie was always the more desirable toy. Why was this the case?
I blame it on Disney.
By only depicting light-skinned heroines to its impressionable audience, Disney failed to present its young viewers with a realistic cross-section of society. I identified with Belle’s bookworm sensibility and Ariel’s appetite for exploration, but I couldn’t see myself in their movies because they had no non-white acquaintances. Their world was obviously not my world. Granted, Belle lived in France and Ariel inhabited an underwater castle, but you can’t tell me there aren’t black people in France or that a sea king whose daughters have such an assortment of hair colors didn’t know the touch of a woman of color.
So when I first saw Princess Jasmine, I was ecstatic. Finally! A movie star who looked a little like me. Bedding, dolls, Halloween costumes—my sister and I bought it all. Jasmine wasn’t quite Indian, but the Middle Eastern princess was as close as we were going to get.
Since Jasmine came into the picture, Disney has slowly been incorporating more ethnicity into its features. And now, with Tiana, it is finally recognizing a long-overlooked minority.
I can only hope that the next Disney princess will wear a sari, eat food with her hands and have an elephant sidekick. But until that happens, at least black children of this generation will have a princess they can look up to.