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

 

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

Pocahontas

Pocahontas, albeit an enjoyable movie (more for nostalgic reasons on my end, being a child of the 90’s), is a nasty blemish on Disney’s already-shabby-landscape of WoC characters. I’m pretty sure I could compile an entire dissertation on the cultural appropriation, racism, sexism, and ignorance (among other things) that run wild in this film. There are sources, upon sources, upon sources, debunking the protrayal of Native Americans and Pocahontas in this film. Some common discussions include the inaccuracy of the story; i.e., Pocahontas (or Matoaka, which was her real name) is a grown woman in the Disney depiction while she was between the ages of 10 and 12 in real life. Disney distorted Pocahontas’ story beyond recognition. As I watched the film, I kept a pro + con list of happenings/subliminal messages.

Biggest Gripes

  • The moment John Smith and Pocahontas met, all romantic/mystic-like with a fountain and such, Smith POINTS A GUN AND PREPARES TO SHOOT HER BUT ONLY STOPS BECAUSE HE FINDS HER ATTRACTIVE. LIKE, TALK ABOUT MAKING LIGHT OF VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN AND ATTITUDES/ACTIONS/THINGS THAT REAL WOMEN ENCOUNTER EVERYDAY– AND HOW ATTRACTIVE THEY ARE DOESN’T SAVE THEM.
  • The song “Savages” has issues from beginning to end. I really do believe Disney had good intentions when they wrote this song. HOWEVER it treats reverse racism as a real thing, which it is not. They try to level the playing field between the Native American people and the English settlers in terms of racism and violence. Let’s be real here, though. The playing field wasn’t level, it was never level, and it still is not level with our current state of white supremacy and patriarchy.

Cons

  • Throughout the film, the Native American race was portrayed as uni-racial with no respect  for the separate tribes and cultural diversity of First People.
  • The female faces in Pocahontas were smooth and youthful while the male faces were drawn in great detail, hinting at wisdom and age. An exception to this rule was Thomas, a settler, but he was highly feminized in the movie and perceived as less manly by other male characters.
  • Pocahontas, who claimed to want to be a free spirit and unattached to a man at the beginning of the film, ultimately fell for a white man instead of Kocoum. I have already explained why this is problematic in my post on Esmeralda.
  • Governor Ratcliffe was a sissified villain (see my post on Disney Villains).
  • The English settlers regularly referred to the Native Americans as “savages” and claimed the land as their own. The film did not discuss that this was a problematic attitude.
  • The film attempts to teach lessons about being a man: “A man is not a man if he cannot shoot.”
  • After Pocahontas and John Smith meet, there is what I call the “magical love wind” (which is supposedly Pocahontas’ mother’s spirit) and it broke the language barrier between Smith and Pocahontas. Which is cool, I guess, but I found the fact that Pocahontas defaulted to English, Smith’s language, instead of Smith learning hers, really upsetting. Why was it her language that had to be erased?
  • The Native American men were all drawn with the same body type, facial structures, and hairstyles while the white men were highly varied — this perpetuates stereotypes.
  • During a conversation, Smith refers to Pocahontas and her people as “savages” and, as she grew understandably upset at that description, proceeded to tell her how she should feel about it instead of listening to her as a PoC voice.

Pros

  • In the beginning Pocahontas is strong and dreams big for herself and is not in the market for a man.
  • “Colors of the Wind” is a really awesome song. I think we can learn some lessons from it, all of us.
  • Pocahontas is the one that saves John Smith, instead of Smith saving her as would be expected considering Disney’s track record.
  • The movie does teach some good lessons on how to be courageous in the face of adversity and promotes understanding (although the promotion is  not perfect).

 

Feminist rating: 5/10

Passes Bechdel Test

Passes Racial Bechdel Test

 

Disney’s Distortion of Awesome Princesses through Merchandise, Part 1

When you walk down the aisles of a toy store, it is fairly clear where boys and girls are expected to shop. Toy aisles are color-coded for an easy gender prescription. While most Disney princesses are the same old trope and conform easily into sexist merchandising, what happens to the princesses are a little more….untraditional? Turns out they are warped from their positions of individualism and power into the same cookie-cutter shape traditional princesses are in. Here are a few examples.

Merida

In case you missed it, when Disney released a makeover of their Princesses last May, quite a few people were upset with Merida’s makeover. Every body part — including her foot — were slimmed down. Her eyes got bigger and make up was applied. Her dress was lightened in color, made more feminine with golden etching and glitter. And, perhaps the worst offense of all, her weapon was removed from her grip.

Pocahontas

Pocahontas is one of the most problematic WoC in Disney. She is unfairly comandeered by white culture and morale with her tale with no respect for her ethnic background and Native American culture with preference to her tribe (essentially, her story woul be the same if she was replaced with a white woman). Still, Pocahontas persists as the strong princess that chose to stay with her people and her family rather than leave it all behind for the white boy she had met and had a fling with. Pocahontas’ merchandise is more damaging to Native American people than even her motion picture.

In the same makeover that had Disney fans stirring about the presentation of Merida as a Princess, Pocahontas was also redone.

You can see here that jewels were added to her buckskin getup. She was given earrings, her eyes got larger and more doe-like, her torso got thinner, and the necklace she got from her father was made shinier. Makeup was applied. She was all around glamourized with an appreance that looks like it belongs more on the Oscars’ red carpet rather than in the trees.

Disney’s marketing and merchandising strategy with Pocahontas also leads to cultural appropriation of Native American customs and way of life. This includes headdresses, Native American Halloween costumes, dream catchers, etc. Disney is literally cashing in on perpetuating racism.

The Purpose of this Blog

Image

The purpose of this blog is to examine the different roles women play in children’s media – primarily in Disney films. Many criticisms of Disney exist in regards to representation of race and women. While I plan on exploring both of those topics on my own, I will also reflect on my childhood and how growing up in the so-called “Disney Renaissance” affected my perceptions and expectations of the world. As a white girl, I had no shortage of princesses to identify with. Belle and Ariel were two favorites of mine until Rapunzel came along in 2010 (in all honesty, however, my ALL TIME favorite Disney movie growing up was the Lion King).

 I can’t help but wonder, however, who did little girls of other races have to identify with? Mulan, maybe Jasmine, maybe Esmeralda. But the pickings are slim and representations of their races are problematic for reasons I will get into later. We would be kidding ourselves to think that girls of color do not watch and subsequently are not influenced by Disney films.

So, how are women of color represented in Disney? How are they different from the white women? They act differently, dress differently, and almost seem to operate in a separate dimension than white women. For example, why is Mulan a soldier in full armor on screen, but only marketed to parents and girls in her kimono? Why is Jasmine dressed so scantily compared to the other princesses (not to mention how inappropriate her outfit is for an Arabic princess)? Why does Tiana spend the majority of The Princess and the Frog as a frog instead of as the black woman she is? In addition, I want to explore women of color’s erasure in Disney films. Why was there a charismatic chameleon but no women of color in Tangled? Why was there a talking snow man  in Frozen but not a single woman of color in that film, either?

I will be re-watching Disney movies and investigating such dilemmas. I will be working with a feminist lens with which I am going to employ my knowledge of intersectionality within feminism. I will also be stressing the importance of presenting images to children they can identify with.