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Is Disney finally painting with ‘all the colours of the wind’?

Disney are well established in creating more palatable, child-friendly animations from, frankly dark and un-PC (at least by modern standards) fairy tales.

The Frog Prince fairy tale has been revamped and updated for 2010 in the anticipated release of The Princess and the Frog.*

It is the first animation to have a black (African-American) princess and it is causing a furore in the media world.

Tiana voiced by Anika Noni Rose (The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency) is a young woman in 1920s New Orleans who dreams of owning her own restaurant. With no time for fairy tales, she is determined to raise the capital to buy her own place.

If America managed to get a black president before a black animated princess, it poses the question…what took so long?

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs premiered in 1937, but it has taken 73 years to release a feature film where a protagonist is a recognisable person of African-American descent.

Disney's Princess 'Hall of Fame'

According to the US Census Bureau, in 2004 there were a total of 36,121,000 people in the USA who were identified as black. That represents 12.5% of the US population, which increases when including households with mixed racial heritages.

It is not unprecedented for Disney to have a non-white princess: there was Jasmine (Aladdin, 1992), Pocahontas (1995) and Mulan (1998). Arguably, although there have been depictions of other races, in the past Disney has come under scrutiny for being racist, politically incorrect and dated, (even if we take into account that in previous eras it was an accepted social practice to use racist stereotyping as the crux of comic sketches).

In Richard Watson’s feature on, producer Peter Del Vecho says

Our intention was to make an American fairytale set in New Orleans… We didn’t set out to give the world Disney’s first black princess; it evolved organically. Our main concern with Tiana was that she’d stand up with any of Disney’s previous princesses.

These are noble words indeed; but it still stands that there has been a significant absence of ‘blackness’, especially American blackness in Disney’s animation. Rightly, he suggests that next time Disney has a movie where the character ‘just happens to be black’ it will not be the ‘central issue’.

Well, Mr Del Vecho for that to happen, Disney’s animated films need to portray more diversity in its racial characterisations, so when people connect with something they recognise, it doesn’t feel like potluck!

Princess Tiana will be inducted into the “Princess Hall of Fame” on 29th January 2010 in cinemas across the UK!

*Not to be confused with the Russian fairy tale The Frog Princess.

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