Back in February, I received an entry for the PitchMe! column from a young lady named Rosalyn Yates. Rosalyn was trying to perfect the perfect pitch. (Say that three times fast!) We all pitched in and helped her out by giving her our opinons. She handled our critique with aplomb–a sign of a solid writer with great potential.
I’m so happy to have Ms. Yates back in the fold–this time as a guest blogger.
Rosalyn’s got a bone to pick with Disney about their upcoming animated film, The Princess and The Frog. The new princess is Black. Her love interest? Not Black.
Does it matter? Check out what Rosalyn has to say….
Black Love: A Fairy Tale
By Rosalyn Yates
Beauty and the Beast was the first animated Disney film I ever owned. I viewed it religiously as a child, spending many weekends locked inside my room while magical teapots and candelabras danced within the confines of my television screen. I loved the movie so much that I begged my parents to let me dress as main character Belle one year at Halloween. After an exhaustive search, we managed to find a “Belle” recital costume in a dance studio. I skipped excitedly out of the building—costume in hand—anticipating the fun I’d have travelling door-to-door as my favorite Disney princess.
Growing up, I never gave a second thought to the race of Disney characters. All I saw were white characters in fairy tales. That was my normal.
But things should be different now. Right?
This fall, Disney is returning to classic 2D animation with the much-anticipated release of The Princess and the Frog. Set in New Orleans, this animated film stars Princess Tiana. Princess Tiana will be voiced by Anika Noni Rose and is generating lots of buzz because it marks the first time a Disney film features an African-American princess.
When I saw the movie poster, I was confused:
Meet Prince Naveen, Princess Tiana’s love interest. Played by Brazilian actor Bruno Campos, Prince Naveen is definitely a handsome fella, with his perfectly coiffed hair and an award-winning smile.
Naveen’s from a fictional place called Maldonia. It’s not clear if he’s Middle Eastern, Latino, Indian or perhaps mixed race. Or just plain white.
But our heroine is black. Why isn’t her beau created in her image?
Prince Naveen is actually our new princess’s first runner-up. According to a listing in the Manhattan Theater Source Forum, The cast sheet for the original role of the prince read as follows:
[PRINCE HARRY] A gregarious, fun-loving European Prince, in his early twenties. A young Cary Grant. Charming, witty but irresponsible and immature. Loves jazz. Dialect: British upper-class.
A young Cary Grant with a British upper-class dialect? Really?
Disney officially recognizes eight princesses: Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid, Princess Jasmine from Aladdin, Belle from Beauty and the Beast, Pocahontas and Mulan.
With the exception of two, all of their princes have been white.
I guess we’re supposed to be satisfied that we’re getting a Black princess. But this casting is doing African-American children a great disservice and defeating what is arguably the whole purpose of the film: to show audiences something different.
How many little black girls will rush to stores for their Princess Tiana costumes in the years following the movie’s release, the way I did with Belle?
Now, how many black boys would have liked to be a prince for a day?
The issues here go beyond a child’s inability to play dress up. Not only would it be beneficial for African-Americans to see a beautiful black couple on the big screen but it would help to counter negative stereotypes and show that there is more to black families than broken homes and single motherhood.
Perhaps Disney is afraid of what having a black prince will mean. After all, most princes will one day become king. Even if the story isn’t developed as far, that much will be implied. And we all know that the king holds the highest position in the land—ruler of all people in the kingdom.
If Tianna and her beau were Black, children across the world would be able to look at The Princess and the Frog and believe that anyone—regardless of their physical appearance—could ascend to such heights.
I learned about The Princess and the Frog in early 2007, when “Tiana” was “Maddy”—then a fatherless chambermaid for a white southern debutante. Disney has since gone back to the drawing board to bring our princess into the modern world while still being true to the film’s time period. But I don’t understand why she can’t have a Black man by her side, showing little future Tianas that anything is possible.
What’s Disney rationale? Would a Black couple be threatening to the American public? Would it shrink their potential audience? Do they think their audience is not ready to see Black love on the big screen? Is the idea of a royal Black couple just too much?
The people at Disney may not be ready. But let the evidence show that fairy tales do, indeed, come true.
Rosalyn Yates is a writer out of Chicago. She blogs at negritalinda.com.
Dear readers: I don’t know what to say. Rosalind makes some great points here! Would I like to see a Black man as Tianna’s beau? Sure. But I’m not so sure a Latino leading man is that bad. I just met Lori Tharps, a fellow writer, at a conference in Philadelphia this weekend. Her husband is Spanish. And I can just imagine that her children are going to be thrilled to see this film, which reflects their own lives. We live in such a multi-culti world–the president himself is biracial!–maybe this is actually a good thing?
Then again…Who am I kidding? We all know that Disney had to give some serious thought to who Tianna’s prince would be. And they knew that making him ambiguous would make a statement. But what exactly does it say?
Should Tiana’s beau be a Black man? Does it matter?
Rosalyn and I would love to hear from you…