Disney needs more minority princesses
New Latina princess not enough to showcase culture, tradition
Disney is in the process of creating a new princess — her name is Elena of Avalor. She has dark skin, wears flowers in her hair and is inspired by “diverse Latin cultures and folklore.” In 2016, Princess Elena will be introduced on an episode of Sofia the First, before her own show premieres, in a “Dora The Explorer” and “Go, Diego, Go!” spinoff style. However, it does not seem that Elena will join the ranks of the eleven traditional Disney princesses that cover the bedroom walls of young girls and adorn the shelves in the Disney store. Adding a Latina princess is a progressive idea, but the way her inception is being carried out does little justice to the actual concept of the Disney Princesses and what they stand for in terms of popular culture. Disney markets the princesses as girls with an entire world that revolves around them and their actions. How these girls act and react shapes the entire movie, taking viewers through a wondrous scenario of cause and effect. To young girls, Disney princesses are role models –– They are a figure to look up to and someone to emulate. Girls grow up with these fairy tales on their minds, mimicking their actions and waiting for a prince charming.
In total, there are eleven Disney princesses, but only four of them represent ethnic minorities. Pocahontas is Native American, Princess Jasmine is Middle Eastern, Princess Tiana is African American and Mulan is Asian. Growing up, almost every brown girl had three choices for Disney Princess Halloween costumes if they opted to stick with whoever is closest to their race — Pocahontas, Mulan or Jasmine. Meanwhile, white girls can go so far as to match their hair color to the princess of their choosing. There are three blondes, two red heads and two brunettes all with fair skin for children to pick from. In terms of creating ethnic princesses, it’s a one and done type of deal. A token princess is created and then producers are done with the minority. At least for the latest ethnic princess, the story of Princess Tiana in “The Princess and The Frog” felt forced and designed to appease minority viewers.
Despite their meek existence, the ethnic Disney princesses are shrouded in age-old stereotypes. Jasmine’s father is forcing her into a marriage against her own will, Tiana is outshined by her best friend, a white girl who is clearly viewed as a princess by their peers and Pochahontas is painted as a savage girl that needs to be saved by European settlers. Similarly, it’s true that Mulan is a fierce fighter who kicks butt and takes names, but she spends the entire movie dressed as a male soldier rather than a princess. In the same breath, Tiana spends the majority of her movie disguised as a frog, rather than as a girl on a path to self-discovery.
In reference to character, Disney princesses evolved from the traditional damsel in distress who waits in the wings for her glorious king to come sweep her off her feet and carry her off into the sunset. Merida is the perfect example of this phenomenon — she’s a fearless young girl who could not care less what other people think of her. Similarly, Elsa and Anna from Frozen, the newest additions to the ranks of tradition Disney princesses, use their sisterly bonds of love to conquer all. But as far as ethnicity goes, there is still a fair amount of lost ground to recover.
The traditional Disney princesses represent folktales that are timeless, but to what group of people? In America, it’s apparent that a fair amount of our history, specifically in terms of children’s popular culture, is derived from European tales. For instance, a number of the princess stories are based on the folklore of the Brothers Grimm. So while many of these Disney stories are traditionally set in countries like Germany and France, but now there is nothing stopping producers, writers and directors from creating a story line about a princess set in Colombia, India or Haiti.
There are every day television characters like Dora and Doc McStuffins that give minority girls the chance to identify with popular ethnic figures in youth media culture. But the stories of the current Disney princesses are timeless. Young non-Caucasian girls have no qualms about looking up to Disney princess who look nothing like them, but its unlikely that the reverse would take place, making the production of dark-skinned princesses movies a niche market. But it is very much possible for Disney to create characters that are new, timeless and representative of what diversified culture looks like today.