The Princess and the Frog

Ah, finally, a black princess!

And it only took Disney 72 years from the debut of our first princess, Snow White. We can all breathe a sigh of relief.

Not.

 

  • Tiana is not even the beginning princess in her own film. Charlotte, the rich white girl Tiana’s mother works for, is the initial princess.
  • Tiana is falls in love with a white boy. Now, he may have olive colored skin and an accent, but for all intents and purposes he’s a freaking white boy. There’s nothing quite like having a movie dripped in that racism. Because black boys don’t need heroes, right? (sarcasm~~)
  • Tiana is a frog for the majority of her time onscreen. Disney couldn’t even allow her to be the black human being she is. 
  • The representation of voodoo is disgustingly racist. Racialicious, a blog dedicated to the discussion of race issues in pop culture, sums this up nicely in this article (please read the whole thing, it is excellent):

“To underline how offensive The Prince and the Frog’s version of voodoo is, imagine if another religion were treated as a system of enchantment that could be employed for good or for ill. Imagine if the prince had been changed into a frog because a Catholic priest, referred to as a magician, who is wearing a Roman collar but seems to exist in a separate universe from the actual tenets of Catholicism, sprinkled him with cursed water from a baptismal font, and the only way for the prince and Tiana to save themselves was for them to get the pope-wizard to feed them magical communion wafers. It’s because voodoo is an African religious system that it can be treated with such license as though it weren’t a real religion like Christianity or Hinduism.

  • The villain in this movie is a black person. The princess is a black person. But the prince is a white person. This is white colonialism’s defense: white man saves brown woman from brown man. No, sorry. Not ok.

 

Ok, ok, so everything I’ve said and read about The Princess and the Frog has been negative. here are some of the things that I enjoyed:

  • Tiana has her own goals outside of finding a man or falling in love. Her restaurant! How awesome! She wants to run a business!
  • Tiana represents a different socioeconomic status than the other princesses. Not many of us are the rich and fortunate Sleeping Beauty or Ariel. Not actually being royalty made Tiana more relatable.

 

Feminist rating: 6/10

Passes Bechdel Test

Passes Racial Bechdel Test

 

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Mulan

Mulan, often hailed as the more feminist of the Disney princesses, certainly has some problems. While I primarily agree with the sentiment that Mulan is empowered and a bad ass, let’s not forget that the film opens with a number that places Mulan’s only value in her ability to find and keep a husband. “Girl” is regularly used as an insult in this film, and the song “I’ll Make A Man Out Of You,” while catchy, is certainly enforcing gender expectations. While gender norms are oppressive towards women, they are oppressive towards men as well. The need to be tough and physically fit can be quite the burden on our men.

Another cool thing about Mulan is she sheds all preconceived notions of a princess. She is articulate, loves being educated, strong willed, and disobedient. It’s refreshing after watching white disney princess films.

The representation of the Chinese race is problematic in this film and is manifested in a few characters. Chi Fu, the advisor sent with Shang and Mulan to defeat the Huns, is a nasty caricature of Chinese stereotypes. His accent is heavy, his animation is tacky, his voice actor is putting on airs, and his is highly sissified and used for comedic relief against the dark tones of the film. Another character that is problematic the is Emperor of China himself. While he is meant to be portrayed as a fair and trustworthy ruler, he spouts “words of wisdom” that you would see printed on placemats at a Chinese restaurant in downtown Lansing.

Chi Fu

My favorite part of the film, though, is during the number “I’ll Make A Man Out Of You” and Mulan kicks the butt of every male soldier.

Feminist Rating: 7/10

Fails Bechdel Test

Passes Racial Bechdel Test

The Disney Villain and Representation

Disney villains are not friendly people. They’re villains, why would they be? But typically in a Disney story villains represent anti-white culture. Disney villains and Disney heroines/heroes have have some obvious discrepancies in physical appearance. While heroes and heroines are attractive to white culture, villains are anythingbut. Let’s take a look at a few villain/hero comparisons.

ariel ursila

Here we have Ursula and Ariel, side by side. Ariel is a conventionally attractive white girl (minus the giant fish fin) with a tiny waist and big blue eyes. Ursula is non-white colored, with heavy lidded eyes, and obese in size (therefore contributing to stereotypes and discrimination against fat women). The representation of evil in The Little Mermaid manifests itself in the form of anything different than mainstream white culture.

aladdin jafar

Next we have Jafar, the villain from Aladdin. Again, we have the heavy lidded eyes and dark skin. It appears that he is wearing eyeliner on his eye lids (ergo, Jafar is feminized; femme male = bad/evil), and his features are distinct and very non-white. His eyes are also elongated in comparison with Aladdin’s. Aladdin bears the conventional white boy features and charming smile. His skin is lighter, eyes are larger and rounder, and all around he has a more mainstream look (read: the white boy look). Even though Aladdin is a PoC, he is distorted to fit white morale.

maleficent aurora

For a third comparison on the strand of Disney villan vs. Disney hero/heroine, here we have Aurora and Maleficent. Maleficent’s distortion is less prominent than the two previously discussed villans, but she still possesses heavily lidded, elongated eyes and non-white skin. Aurora is drawn in the traditional princess sense, with large, round eyes and tiny waist.

The effect on children on perceptions of those with white skin and non-white skin must be profound. If they are constantly surrounded by images of people that are different being portrayed as evil and mean, then they will become socialized to view them as evil and mean. In contrast, if the child has similarities with the villians in regards to appearance, the effect on how the child will view themselves has to be negative.

I know that I was profoundly affected by the portrayal of Disney villians. I was socialized by Disney to believe that I could only find happiness in life if I looked like their protagonists. When I gained weight as I got older, I bought into stereotypes that are perpetuated by Disney villians like Ursula and even Ratcliffe, from Pocahontas. How could I possibly be a good person with all this fat when all the fat people I saw as a child were evil?

I will continue a discussion of Disney villian characteristics in a later post. Until then, compare and contrast villians/antagonists that you are surrounded by. How are they alike? How are the different from the protagonist? How does that affect you?

The Little Mermaid

Ariel seems to believe that all she wants in life is to be human and to escape her overbearing father and life as a mermaid. She wants so much more than being a mermaid princess. This is an incredible premise for growing as a woman and becoming her own. “Part of That World,” one of Ariel’s big numbers in The Little Mermaid, she doesn’t mention a man in the entire song. She merely focuses on the freedom that she would encounter as a human, and her longing for it.

What would I give if I could live out of these waters?
What would I pay to spend a day warm on the sand?
Bet’cha on land they understand
Bet they don’t reprimand their daughters
Bright young women sick of swimmin’
Ready to stand

However, as the movie progresses, Ariel encounters Prince Eric and falls in love. Falling in love is an incredible emotion and my critique should not be taken as one of love, but rather as a critique that falling in love with a man is the only thing that gives a woman value.

Ariel “falls in love” with the first human being she sees. Eric is, by all accounts, a friendly and caring man. But Ariel is only 16. Essentially, a sophomore in high school. As she deals with teenage rebellion, she projects that onto Eric. She sees him as her way out, like an escape, instead of seeking to find herself as “Part of That World” describes. The song itself transforms into an ode to love and devotion instead of a anthem of independence.

What would I give
To live where you are?
What would I pay
To stay here beside you?
What would I do to see you
Smiling at me?

At the end, she marries him. Marriage today is evolving into something beyond traditional gender roles. But did The Little Mermaid really move beyond those traditional roles?

No, it didn’t. Ariel was rendered voiceless in exchange for human legs to meet her man, and she was told to make him fall in love with her body. She was literally voiceless — something women have been fighting to rectify for centuries. In Ariel’s fight against the feminine mystique, she lost and sucked back in. She never has a moment to be herself in the whole film. The beginning she spends railing against her father, and the following scenes are spent searching for a way to be with Eric and make him fall in love with her as she has fallen in love with him.

There is not a single person of color in the entirety of the movie. One thing that critics have noted is Sebastian, with a Jamaican accent, seems to portray stereotypes of Jamaican culture and Disney pokes fun at the non-white culture by integrating Sebastian as some comic relief in the film. Sebastian does not qualify as a PoC (person of color) as he is a crab and not a human.

Feminist rating: 3/10

Fails Bechdel Test                                                                                ~Ariel does speak to Ursula in the scene where she turns human, but the whole scene is about turning into a human for a human prince, and I refuse to count that as passing. 

Fails Racial Bechdel Test