Read it on Salon
It has been over 40 years since the heyday of the civil rights movement, and in that time, the Walt Disney Co. has made more princess movies than I care to remember. But not once has the company — whose long history of racism includes such highlights as “Song of the South” — released a film featuring a black princess. I’m sure market concerns (like those that have kept black models out of fashion magazines) play a bigger part in that decision than bigotry, but it’s still lamentable that, for so many years, Disney ignored the legions of African-American girls who might enjoy a heroine whose skin wasn’t as white as snow.
The race trouble hasn’t ended now that Disney finally has a black princess movie in the works. Apparently, it had to trash the original storyboard for “The Frog Princess” amid criticism that the film was baldly racist. Its heroine, a girl named Maddy, was a chambermaid for a cruel white debutante in 1920s New Orleans. And because all Cinderellas need fairy godmothers, Maddy’s happened to be a voodoo priestess. Uh, whoa. Call me crazy, but last I checked, a voodoo-wielding servant was a pretty goddamn horrifying stereotype.
Though I’m glad to hear that Disney has done a massive revision, I’m worried that it’s focusing on minor details and neglecting the big picture. “The Frog Princess” will now be called “The Princess and the Frog: An American Fairytale” because of worries that the original title contained a slur. But first of all, isn’t “frog” supposed to be an anti-French, not anti-black, slur? And does this mean we have to go back and rename the classic “Frog Prince” story, too? Can’t the word “frog” still be used to refer to a small green amphibian? Disney has also changed the named of its protagonist to Tiana, because Maddy sounded uncomfortably close to “Mammy.” Really? When I hear “Maddy,” I don’t think “Mammy.” I — and, I suspect, most people — think “Madeleine.” Nothing I’ve read about the new version has mentioned what has become of the voodoo or the servitude, but hey, now that Disney’s gotten the title and main character’s name under control, I’m sure we have nothing to worry about.
Judy Berman is a writer and editor in Brooklyn. She is a regular contributor to Salon's Broadsheet.More Judy Berman.
Read it on Salon