Disney has had ethnic princesses in the past — Jasmine, Mulan, and Pocahontas. The depiction of their newest royal addition, Princess Tiana, has created some colorful controversy to the 2009 animated film The Princess and the Frog. The story of their first black princess came under fire even before it was released.
On May 8, 2007 after complaints of racial and ethnic insensitivity, Disney Studios released a statement outlining the changes they had made to the movie’s title and storyline. The original title The Frog Princess was changed to The Princess and the Frog to negate any unintended slur on the French. The main character’s name was also changed from Maddy to Tiana because the former sounded too much like the racially negative name of Mammy. The character was also originally slated to be a maid to the spoiled white debutante, Charlotte.
Disney did in fact strengthen Tiana’s role to show her as an independent young woman. IMDB quotes the Disney statement: “The story takes place in the charming elegance and grandeur of New Orleans’ fabled French Quarter during the Jazz Age . . Princess Tiana will be a heroine in the great tradition of Disney’s rich animated fairy tale legacy, and all other characters and aspects of the story will be treated with the greatest respect and sensitivity.’
Other racial concerns have centered around the fact that while Princess Tiana is black, her prince is not. Prince Naveen is voiced by the Brazilian actor Bruno Campos and is shown in animation with light skin. Disney has missed a golden opportunity to racially balance their characters by introducing a black Prince.
Some people feel that the sterotype of black women shown in The Princess and the Frog does not need to be rehased to their daughters. One critic writes in The Huffington Post: “In Princess, all the images are re-ingrained into a new generation of black girls psyche–single attractive black woman, works hard, wants a business, can’t afford it, gets swindled, is alone, does not date, has no fun, is stoic, stern, a chastening rod for the frivolous playboy prince, ends up in the swamps as an ugly frog, running for her life from evil, broken dreams, etc. Is there any need to go on? . . . I understand that this movie is set in a segregated 1930’s southern time frame — BUT, our little girls deserve better than the same old work hard, be a strong black woman, men aren’t important, I can make my dreams come true alone without any help nonsense that has wrecked so many of us to this very day.”
Disney has taken a step forward to try to bridge the Princess Gap for all of the young girls that watch their movies. But, they sill have a way to go to reflect the racial sensitivity that fits the persona of the Princess they present to her Prince, ever after and audience.