The other day, a co-worker of mine brought up the 2009 Disney film The Princess and the Frog. I commented on how that film has been pretty much forgotten by the public at large despite the significant buzz it was getting up to its release in theaters nearly four years ago. My co-worker then asked me how many black families with daughters I knew. I admitted that I knew few, and she mentioned how young black girls look up towards and want to play-pretend as the “black princess” (her words). I couldn’t really argue that point as it was incredibly valid.
Later on, I reflected at the exchange and came to the conclusion that we were both right (not that we were debating, mind you), and I sort of came to an unfortunate realization about the film’s legacy. It is largely forgotten, and the only thing people seem to really remember about The Princess and the Frog is that it features “the black princess.”
Seriously. I question if anyone truly remembers anything from the actual movie beyond the skin color of the protagonist. Does anyone remember the following:
- it takes place in New Orleans
- it has a creepy voodoo villain
- the main character wants to open her own restaurant
- the thinly-veiled Louie Armstrong alligator
- that Oprah voices a character
You might remember this stuff now that I’ve typed it out, but I bet you couldn’t remember this stuff before. Unlike other Disney films, particularly during the early 90s Disney renaissance (which this film is trying to emulate), there are usually a lot of sequences or elements clearly remembered in pop-culture. Simba being raised up over the cliff, the waves splashing behind Ariel, the entire “Prince Ali” sequence, etc. What has this film contributed to pop-culture awareness? It has “the black princess.”
Does anyone else see that this is a problem? Is Mulan only known for having “the Asian princess” or Pocahontas only known for having “the Native American princess”? No. They are not. So is the color of the character the seemingly only remembered feature of The Princess and the Frog?
Lets look at that distinction for a second as well. While the main character is black, for the majority of the film she is a frog – from a marketing standpoint, the color of her skin is a non-issue.
It is also worth pointing out that her love interest, Prince Naveen, isn’t black. Not that mixed-raced pairings are bad or anything – it is just interesting to note. Hollywood does seem to have a problem with having black characters form romantic relationships, but that is another issue for another day.
And, tell me, without doing a Google search, what is our heroine’s name? Does anyone remember? I’ll wait.
Give up? It’s Tiana. This is just not known to the public at large. She is instead just “the black princess.” Note: I purposely avoided using her name until now in order to help make this point.
A great character seemingly defined only by her skin color.
I’m not condemning The Princess and the Frog (I actually enjoyed the movie quite a bit) nor Disney’s use of a black princess. Tiana actually is a really good, well developed character. Disney has done a really solid job over the past twenty years at diversifying their animated movies.
I am more bothered by the fact that the only thing that people remember about the film is that it features a black princess. Isn’t that sort of missing the point at what Disney was trying to do by introducing the character in the first place? I cannot recall people saying anything about the skin color of the characters in Lilo & Sitch, Mulan, or Aladdin. They all featured great characters who happened to not be white, and audiences loved them because of who they were, not what they were.
Tiana seemingly hasn’t gotten that same respect. It is all about the color of her skin. Not to say that her skin color isn’t an alluring element to her for young girls to look towards (as was the point my co-worker made). But it feels like her personal traits, desires, and actions are all secondary to the color of her skin. It is 2013. Why is society still like this?