Disney: Black girls can [finally] be princesses too?

Cross-posted at Brave New Films Blog. Also on featured on AlterNet.

Disney, the 800,000,000 pound gorilla of kids fantasy entertainment, annouced that they are going forward with their plans to have their first Black princess in 2009's The Frog Princess.

Disney has had opportunities to show the uniqueness of non-white cultures in it's films, but has failed miserably at doing so in a respectful, non-stereotypical way (see Aladdin and Mulan). I have zero confidence that this film will be any different.

This is doubly dangerouse given how Black women are portrayed in today's media. Bringing back up the Aunt Jemima images of old and coupling them today's over-sexualization of Black women and the racist indifference shown towards Black women sets the table for a pretty nasty racial stereotype feast.

I, like others, have mixed feelings about this. It's good for Black girls to be able to see Black girls/women as princesses/queens on the big screen. For people in general, it's great to see "positive images" of others, and this is especially true of minority and marginalized populations. I've yet to find a little girl that didn't want to be a princess (which is actually, ironically, also Disney's fault). Now little Black girls can say, "I want to be Princess Tiana."

Not too many good things in life come without negatives, and this is no different. Perhaps more important than Princess Tiana herself is they way that her environment and surrounding characters are presented. The film is to take place in segregated 1920s New Orleans at the height of the Jazz Age. The questions abound here:

  • Will the segragtion be shown or ignored?
  • Will the other Black characters be characters or caricatures?
  • Will the images suggest that New Orleans and the segregated south are actually part of real American history?

I wonder how many Black people are included in the planning/production of this film? How many of them have some degree of control of an image of their own race? It is imperative that minority and marginalized peoples assert control over their images and portrayal. How much more compelling and powerful is the image of someone when crafted by that person? Think more Antwone Fisher and less Apocolypto.

Brave New Films blog readers know how slanted and biased the media is (e.g. Fox Attacks, Outfoxed, Uncovered: The War on Iraq, etc.). Well,"the media" is not simply limited to the infotainment media; it applies to entertainment as well.


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About Garlin Gilchrist II

I am the City of Detroit's first ever Deputy Technology Director for Civic Community Engagement. My job is to open up the city's public data and information for the consumption and benefit of all Detroiters. I currently live in Detroit, my hometown, with my beautiful wife Ellen and our twins Garlin III and Emily Grace. I'm from Detroit. I created Detroit Diaspora, and was formerly the National Campaign Director at MoveOn.org. I also co-hosted The #WinReport on "The Good Fight," a an award winning, nationally syndicated radio show that was one of Apple's Best of 2013. After graduating with degrees in Computer Engineering and Computer Science from the University of Michigan, I became a Software Engineer at Microsoft. By day, I helped build SharePoint into the fastest growth product in the company's history. On my personal time, I sought out opportunities to connect my technical skills with community building efforts across the country. This led to my co-founding The SuperSpade: Black Thought at the Highest Level, a leading Black political blog. I served as Social Media Manager for the 2008 Obama campaign in Washington, and then became Director of New Media at the Center for Community Change. I spent two years creating and implementing a strategy for the Center to take it's 40 years of community organizing experience into the digital age. I speak before diverse audiences on effective & responsive government, empowerment in revolutionary new organizing spaces, increasing civic engagement & participation through emerging technologies and protecting civil rights in the age of the Internet. Full bio here.

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