WaltDisney has had a major impact on both children and adults. Numerousmovies produced have served life lessons and have provided moralguidance for the audience (McBride 1). One of the main featuresassociated with Disney movies is the `Princess.` From such films asAladdin(1992) to Pocahontas(1995) and Mulan(1998),Disney films have touched on gender and racial issues in the society. Diversity has been evident in Disney`s more recent films such as`The Princess and the Frog.` Disney`s Princess Tiana for "ThePrincess and the Frog" is an excellent example of how Disney isfinally moving forward in the diverse world, by having a strongfemale lead, showing different cultures and by having a Princess of adifferent race. This paper discusses Disney and diversity withregards to the film`s main characters.
AShift from Traditional Feminine Perspective
Theneed for girls to focus more on their appearance as opposed to theirinner substance was predominant in previous Disney Princessmerchandise. This is evident in both `Cinderella` and `SleepingBeauty` where the prince sees a cute lady and instantly falls in lovewith her. They spend their life together and live happily ever after.Such movies send the message that love, affection and happiness, aredetermined solely by a woman`s outwards appearance (Duke University1). In such films, it is also evident that a desirable prince is onewho is handsome. A research by family life professor Sarah M. Coyneof Brigham Young University, involving 198 preschoolers concludedthat the Disney Princess culture has a strong influence on the youngaudience, particularly girls. The research was based on theparticipants` sorting and ranking of the favorite `girl,` `boy` and`gender-neutral` toys from a varied collection (McBride 1).
Morerecent films have adopted the fact that women are taking a moreproactive role in their lives and the society. The 2013 film, Frozen,like `The Princess and the Frog,` makes a break from previous filmsin terms of the absence of the `Prince and Princess` as the maincharacters, as well as the diversity in modern sexuality. There is noprince charming in the over, as is typical of Disney`s previousmovies, but instead features an unwashed manual-laborer whosesidekick is a reindeer. When Elsa, Arrendelle`s newly crowned queenuses her supernatural ability to cast an eternal winter across theland, women take the lead role in the film, with no expectation orwaiting around for the traditional `Prince Charming` to rescue them.Anna, Elsa`s little sister, and Olaf the snowman take charge to thawthe kingdom.
Digitalcontent company LiveScience,in their 2011 article “Disney Princes and Princesses Still Slavesto Some Stereotypes” informs audience of how Disney is changing thestereotypical nature of its films. Walsh, the article writerappreciates that while Disney still has a lot to do in changing thestereotypes of its films, much has improved over the years (1). Inthe early years, the Disney Princesses had portrayed morestereotypical female traits, and are even moving on to traitstraditionally considered to be masculine.
Diversityin sexual orientation has also been evident in recent Disney films.Oaken, owner of Oaken`s Trading Post and Sauna whom Ann encounters inher adventures in the film `Frozen`is portrayed as gay. As the first homosexual character ever featuredin a Disney animation, Oaken represents Disney`s attempt to diversifyand take into view the reality of the modern world where lesbian,gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) individuals are widelyaccepted as part of the society unlike in the past where the societyhad a closed mindset regarding sexuality.
Disney`sPrincess and the Frog (2009) is the first Disney film to ever featurea dark skin Princess. Barnes of the New York Times cites Cori Murray,an entertainment director at Essence magazine, in an interview withthe CNN, "“Finally, here is something that all little girls,especially young Black girls, can embrace" (Barnes 1). It showsthe revolution, the diversity, and impact of portraying a BlackPrincess in a Disney film. Unlike the Princesses in previous Disneyfilms who were driven by love and power, Tiana, the feature Princess,has a dream of owning a restaurant, just like other people in thesociety. Upon kissing a dog, she is turned into a frog. Again, astrong character emerges in the Princess when, instead of relying ona prince charming to save her, she helps to find the cure.
HardWork and the Modern Woman
Hardwork and determination pays. This theme is clearly brought out in`The Princess and the Frog.` Tiana works numerous shifts to make endsmeet. She has a dream of owning a restaurant. Her success and thefact that she becomes a Princess is a motivation for all young girlsand audiences of all ages and gender, that dreams come true, not byone`s luck or environmental influence but through hard work. It showsthat anyone, of any color, can succeed and become powerful (Manuel1). Despite being a waitress, Tiana saves enough money to make adown-payment on an old sugar mill which she intends to convert into arestaurant. However, upon discovery that another potential buyercould make full payment and purchase the sugar mill outright, therealtors dissolve the deal they had with Tiana. She does not takethis lightly, and declares instead, that she has worked hard foreverything that she has, a statement that inspires all people aroundher. She receives their support and wins the sugar mill (Manuel 1).
Giventhat Tiana is cast as a character living in the 1920s in the Southwhere many obstacles existed particularly for Black people, Tiana`sdream of owning a restaurant and the fulfillment of that dreamrepresents a different point of view in the ability of all Americans,and people across the world. The film further depicts the fact thathard work can make one to become not just successful but to also beaccepted in the society, regardless of his her gender or race asexemplified by Tiana when she becomes a Princess (Manuel 1). Thefilm further alludes to the success of interracial relationships.Unlike in previous films where fewer if any interracial marriageswere depicted, most of which ended up collapsing, the film features asuccessful relationship between a Black girl and a Caucasian prince(Duke University 1). A hardworking Black girl and a Caucasian man canlive together in happiness.
Cheu(92) points to Princess Tiana as a break from the `normalized` senseof whiteness, as she is the embodiment of not just intellect but alsoa conservative physicality, clearly evident in the bodies of Tiana asa frog and a waitress. At the same time, she is not portrayed in`midriff baring` or in a rather `off-the-shoulder clothing,` andneither is her physicality seen through the cliff diving evident in`Pocahontas.` Unlike in the `Esmeralda` film, Tiana does not indulgein gypsy dancing, and neither is she overtly sexualized. Thisrepresentation, in Cheu`s view, is a typical image of theconservative African-American culture (93).
"ThePrincess and the Frog" differs greatly from previous classicalDisney films such as Aladdin,which tended to point out and recognize the social and racialcomposition of its audience but which did nothing to represent suchaudiences, such as Black people in their films. To some extent, theDisney films and their directors and producers have come toappreciate the fact that "every little girl, no matter hercolor, represents a new marketing opportunity" (Cheu 93), anopportunity to reach all audiences. Inclusivity has also been takeninto consideration. Indeed, the inclusion of Prince Naveen, who is of`not Black` but who is not White either tends to recognize thediversity in races such that not just the whites or the Blacksdominate the film but also people who are in-between, just as thecase in modern society where interracial relationships are common.
Therecognition of the modern woman as an independent, fearless, and hardworking individual is evident in `The Princess and the Frog.` Tianais a waitress, working more than one shift to earn enough money(Manuel 1). When she becomes a Princess and is turned into a frog,she does not look to Prince Naveen to save her but instead takes theinitiative to get a cure. The modern American woman, regardless ofrace or ethnicity, is does not depend on the males financially or formoral support. The modern woman is not looking for approval from aman- far from the past where women were depicted in the classicalDisney films as an emotional and weak person whose success andwellbeing depended on men, particularly their husbands.
Voodoomagic, a stereotype attached to the African culture, is portrayed ashaving a significant effect on the bearing of the society. Dr.Facilier, the villain of the film, makes a living with his Voodootricks. He bewitches Prince Naveen and turns him into a frog (Manuel1). He then tricks the Prince`s servant, and assumes the prince`sbody. While Dr. Facilier`s voodoo is responsible for the unfortunatesituation that Prince Naveen and Tiana find themselves in, as frogs,this eventually serves to reinforce the impact that voodoo is codedas a Black force which works amorally, to benefit its Black heroine,Tiana in this case (McGee 248). Charlotte, Tiana`s best childhoodfriend, from a wealthy background, had previously plotted to marryPrincess Naveen once he arrives but due to Dr. Facilier`sintervention through voodoo, the fate of Naveen, Tiana, and Charlotteare both altered. Tiana later becomes the Princess when, alongsideNaveen, they are released from their frog forms by sharing a kiss.Voodoo is, in this film, portrayed in the most blatantly offensiveform. Dr. Facilier is not only greedy but also lacking in moralconscience (McGee 249).
Thediversity expressed in `The Princess and the Frog` is howevercriticized by some Black scholars. Barnes (1) cites Angela Helm`sstatement about the prince in the movie, saying, "his hair andfeatures are decidedly non-Black…." implying Prince Naveen`slight skin color and the fact that he is from the fictional land ofMacedonia. He is `too brown` and looks more white than Black. Othercritics question why the Princess could not just find and fall inlove with a Black person, to make the inclusion of colored people inthe film more meaningful.
Othercritics point to the insensitivity in the locale of `The Princess andthe Frog." William Blackburn a former "The CharlotteObserver" columnist noted, an interview with the DailyTelegraph, that New Orleans, where the film is set, is associatedwith some of the most devastating tragedies to ever befall a Blackcommunity. The fact that the Princess also spends most of her time onscreen as a frog, instead of a person, also attracts criticism(Barnes 1).
RecentDisney films illustrate diversity in various aspects. `The Princessand the Frog` is one such film whose representation of diversityranges from gender roles to racial and cultural assortment. Featuringa first Black Princess and the fact that she is an independent, hardworking, fearless individual is a break from Disney`s previous filmmotifs and character representations exhibited in such movies as"Aladdin,""Frozen,""Pocahontas,"and "Mulan."The cultural representation of the main character, Tiana, vis-à-visher gender as a woman, her race, and social class, being from a poorbackground also differs from the classical scenario.
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Cheu,Johnson. Diversityin Disney Films: Critical Essays on Race, Ethnicity, Gender,Sexuality and Disability.Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2013.
DukeUniversity. The Princess and the Frog: Rewriting Jazz Age History andCulture. TheBlack Atlantic.https://sites.duke.edu/Blackatlantic/sample-page/contemporary-film-and-Black- atlantic/history/disneyfied-histories-disneys-intentional-inaccuracy-historical-films-and- the-Black-atlantic/the-Princess-and-the-frog-and-rewriting-jazz-age-history-and-culture/. Accessed 11 Dec. 2016
Manuel,Rebel. The Princess and the Frog. YouTube,21 June, 2016. Web.
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http://news.byu.edu/news/disney-Princesses-not-brave-enough.Accessed 11 Dec. 2016
McGee,Adam. "Haitian Vodou and Voodoo: Imagined Religion and PopularCulture." Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses.vol. 41, no. 2, 2012, 231-256.
Walsh,Jennifer. Disney Princes and Princesses Still Slaves to SomeStereotypes. LiveScience.1 April 2011. Web.http://www.livescience.com/13526-disney-princes-pink-Princess- culture-stereotypes.html.Accessed 11 Dec. 2016