In early December of 2009, Disney released “The Princess and the Frog”. One of the key sales pitches for the movie was Tiana, Disney’s first black princess. In addition, they also made the point that the typical fairy tale of a princess kissing a frog and turning him into a prince would have a plot twist. When I was a little kid I would’ve rushed to see this film but since it came out after I graduated from college, the appeal wasn’t there. Well, a week ago I went to see Frozen with a friend of mine, and after seeing it I decided it was time for me to get around to seeing Princess and the Frog.
At the end of the movie I couldn’t tell which side Disney is on anymore. In many parts they tried too hard to appeal to a black audience by slipping in racial remarks to show Tiana’s oppression in the economic world. A character like Charlotte, who is oblivious to the feelings of others and demands everything from her father, is an example of white privilege. At the same time, voodoo is grossly misrepresented as black magic, and I’ll get into detail about that later. Tiana spends two-thirds of the film as a green frog, so her skin color is also misrepresented. Then there are these race-neutral parts, like only one stereotype (not that I want that to be there), and Tiana is a self-taught chef and busting her ass to make a living regardless of what people say (to an extent, I’ll get into detail about that too).
Does a film with a black princess need to address racism at all? I don’t believe it does. Tiana did not need to be shown in such a phony attempt to care about economic struggles based on race. When the bankers make a comment about Tiana’s background, and the rich snob known as Charlotte whines that she never gets what she wants, it’s so obvious that Disney is trying to appeal to our “omg that’s racist!” sweet spot (that we don’t actually have). Blacks aren’t all about racism, we’ve got other things going on in our lives. Honestly, the only Disney movies that I believe properly addressed racism and sexism, are Pocahontas, The Lion King 2, and Mulan. I’m not a fan of John Smith, but Disney is capable of making the point that the human race is not divided based on skin color and gender. Kiara and Kovu are an excellent example of a healthy interracial couple. If you are familiar with China’s society, women across the country feel denigrated because of their sex, and Mulan shows that perfectly when she rebels against everybody. Disney could’ve dug deeper in regard to what European settlers (*cough* murderers) did to Native Americans, but they touched on that “savages” attitude quite well. Why was it so hard for them to get Tiana’s story right?
What they got wrong is Tiana spends so much time as a frog, that it makes me wonder what was the point of even having a black princess, if they weren’t going to actually show her? Tiana may work hard, but most of the other black characters are seen partying or lounging around, fitting into that lazy black person stereotype. Her mother’s statements about not losing sight of what’s important, aka romance, is not a viable option for a black woman in the REAL world. She doesn’t have the resources or the time to run around chasing men, because if she let’s go of what she has she can’t get it back like some white people out there. The movie tries to steer toward making it okay to sit back and relax, hope it all works out, but we just don’t have that option in the business world. Furthermore, this romance they create with Prince Naveen is both positive and negative. He’s biracial, but he’s not black. He’s from another country, but he behaves like a leech. Why did he have to be white, rich and useless? Why couldn’t he be black, rich and a good man? What’s so wrong with a black couple? What bothers me the most is Tiana makes a deal with Naveen for him to pay for her restaurant. So she is trying to take a hand-out. The least they could’ve done is give her some integrity.
I get that the movie is set in New Orleans which means people expect voodoo, gumbo, jambalaya and beignets, but there are other things in that city. Mardi Gras was pretty invisible, jazz barely heard and it was sad. Disney did lousy research on voodoo, because voodoo dolls aren’t used to curse or kill people. Each pin has a color which stands for things like peace of mind, love, etc. A regular old spellcaster would have been fine if they needed magic in there so badly. Also, the demons that the villain makes a deal with, are shown as African tribal masks, making it seem like “bad” voodoo came from Africa, or that black people are scary or some other ridiculous association we supposedly have with the spooky stuff. Now, voodoo did originate in West Africa, but I don’t think that’s what Disney was implying.
Why is it so hard for Disney to have black characters? They don’t have to be poor, struggling, or oppressed. If Disney really needs to make a movie about that, show it for what it is, and have the character(s) fight to escape it. Stop trying too hard and misrepresenting people and practices.