Zack & Nick's Culture Cast

Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!

The Princess and the Frog’s Legacy: The Black Princess

princess

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
  • “Evangeline”
  • 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.

Still waiting.

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.

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?

-N

Advertisements

9 responses to “The Princess and the Frog’s Legacy: The Black Princess

  1. CMrok93 August 18, 2013 at 10:15 am

    Good review Nick. It’s like old-school Disney, except not as memorable. Still, a very fun movie, with some very lovely tunes to dance and possibly sing along to.

  2. CultureCast-Z August 18, 2013 at 9:19 pm

    Note: I’ve never seen The Princess and the Frog. I do want to see the movie, but at the same time I don’t really care for the Disney Renaissance style of cartoon film anymore — I think I just grew out of it. I’m not much for musicals (even my favorite musical, the South Park movie, exhausts me before its running time lets out. Ok, having said that, I think you raise some tremendous points. I remember all the hype about the first black princess and all that, and

    One thing I’d like to touch on as well: I never really thought the “Disney Renaissance” feeling of this movie translated into mainstream success for Disney. Granted, the movie did well, but not nearly on the level of the early to mid-90s Clements/Musker collaborations for Disney. The fact that its kind of only remembered for having “the black princess” is sort of an indicator as well.

    As an aside, for “Disney Day” at the local minor league ball park, the team hired two actresses to portray Disney princesses. One of them was Tiana, and I was really glad they went that route. Tiana is, from what I can tell, a pretty cool character and I’d much rather see Disney and others integrate her into marketing than yet more tired Snow White/Belle/Sleeping Beauty/etc. It’s just good to see the newer characters I guess.

  3. dgbnyc October 4, 2015 at 10:19 am

    It seems to me that YOU might not remember the Princess and the Frog but that’s hardly evidence of anything. Tiana is well represented on the merchandise and in the theme parks, and my (white) daughter loves her and her story. One hotel at Disneyworld, the Port Orleans Resort, has 200 rooms themed to the Princess and the Frog, a distinction shared by no other movie.

    • Nick! October 4, 2015 at 10:08 pm

      That’s great, but has nothing to do with what I wrote. Where did I say that she wasn’t represented? Having your daughter like the movie and having Disney theming their hotel on their movie doesn’t really change how the general public perceives of the movie or Tiana, nor how people were responding to it upon its initial release.

      Besides, your claim that “The Princess and the Frog” is the only movie that has a hotel resort themed after it is inherently false as Port Orleans isn’t based on TP&TF at all. A quick search will reveal that the resort opened in 1991, nearly 20 years before the movie even came out.

      Perhaps, I’m not the one who doesn’t remember things…

      • dgbnyc October 8, 2015 at 1:08 pm

        Sorry if I came off a little hostile in my comments. The main issue I take with your piece is your conclusion lacks evidence, like studies or statistics, to prove that that the public doesn’t remember anything about the film beyond the main character being African American, In your own words, you just “reflected” on a conversation and “realized” this conclusion. That doesn’t make it a fact.

        That my daughter enjoys the movie may be anecdotal, but Disney going to the expense of theming 200 hotel rooms to this specific movie is evidence of the character and the movie being very well remembered and still attractive to consumers. Disney wouldn’t have made such a large investment unless they’d done a cost/benefit study which would have proven the character’s continued popularity and value. Likewise, the hundreds of licensees paying Disney to use Tiana on their products wouldn’t be doing that unless they were confident that there was value in it.

        Minor quibble here but just to be clear, I wrote that the Port Orleans has 200 themed rooms, not that it was originally built themed to the movie. I’m probably wrong about it being a unique distinction, though: I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s themed rooms in the Art of Animation resort, and there’s a whole Toy Story hotel going up in China.

        • Nick! October 8, 2015 at 4:37 pm

          Of course it is anecdotal. My article was an opinion piece based on trends that I have noticed in pop-culture. I never claimed it was otherwise. TP&TF since its release didn’t have that lasting power the way other Disney films have such as Lion King and, more recently, Frozen. I would be willing to make the same claim with 2013’s “Wreck it Ralph” which seems to have been largely forgotten as a Disney movie as well.

          Also, I never once said that Disney didn’t have an investment in TP&TF. The film was successful at the box office and Tiana is a Disney princess, the company’s bread and butter. She also brings more diversity to the line. They would be stupid not to use her. But do you see Disney pushing any of the other characters in the film (including the titular Frog)? Not so much.

          And I still don’t know why you are pushing that Port Orleans has themed rooms as evidence of something. For starters, it doesn’t really have to do with what I was saying. And, it isn’t really TP&TF themed specific – by their own website (https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/planning-guides/in-depth-advice/disney-story-rooms/) states it is “royalty themed” and places families “right in the middle of classic Disney stories”. Why hide the fact it is TP&TF themed if it is? But, Disney also has the Caribbean resort, which by your logic must mean that Disney has a Pirates of the Caribbean movie resort theme. I guess I just don’t know where you are trying to going with this.

          • dgbnyc October 8, 2015 at 5:24 pm

            All I’m saying is that your conclusion is speculative and based on your opinion, which you acknowledge so I think we’re in agreement here!

            Seriously I think we both love Disney and this wonderful movie in particular, so there’s no reason for us to argue (and I love Ghostbusters too).

          • CultureCast-Z October 8, 2015 at 5:30 pm

            “All I’m saying is that your conclusion is speculative and based on your opinion, which you acknowledge so I think we’re in agreement here!”

            You don’t know what a blog post is, do you?

          • dgbnyc October 9, 2015 at 8:02 pm

            Culture-cast-z: I thought I knew what a blog post is. What am I missing?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: