Friday, February 20, 2009

It's A Whole New World: Disney's First African American Princess Takes A Bow



I remember dying a thousand deaths the day my Mari came home and announced she wanted to be Snow White for Halloween. I mean, I understood that the kid wasn’t trying to make any grand political statement about her caramel skin and natural hair or anything. She was three. It was all about getting dressed up in the fancy gown.

Still, I shuddered when I got the mental image of my brown baby floating down the streets of New Jersey, telling all the neighbors—and especially my African American mom friends—that she was Snow White. After all, my friends and I had practically taken a blood oath on the playgrounds of South Orange, N.J., never to let our daughters get suckered by The Mouse into thinking they needed to stand around waiting for a boy to rescue them and then invite them to a hot party. Still, my parents, who’d fed Mari’s “Snow White” habit by keeping a VHS copy of the classic movie on repeat at their house, kept feeding their granddaughter’s princess habit.

The two of them were wrecking my anti-princess flow.

I was defenseless against Mari's request to be the black Snow White.

Already a little queasy about the mission at hand, my gut tied into a million more knots when I stepped into the Disney store to buy her costume, and saw every last gown in the place had white faces plastered like a badge on the chest. I would have paid triple the price if just ONE of the gowns in that great big ol’ store featured a character that looked like my child.

Just. One.



Two daughters, one each of the Snow White, Tinkerbell, and Pocahontas costumes, and an aggressive “Independent Brown Girls Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Princesses” campaign later, the Walt Disney Company is finally coming correct. Earlier this week, it unveiled a toy line inspired by Princess Tiana, Disney’s first black princess. Tiana, voiced by Tony Award-winning actress and singer Anika Noni Rose (Lorell of “Dreamgirls”), makes her debut in Disney’s animated feature, “The Princess and the Frog” on Christmas Day, and she’s getting the full-court Disney princess treatment, beginning with this beautiful Princess Tiana doll, a line of toys, including play sets, role-play dresses and accessories, home d├ęcor, consumer electronics, school supplies and personal care products, and an assortment of story and activity books.

Come this fall, black moms—and any mom who wants to add a little color to her daughter’s Disney Princess collection—will be able to waltz into more than 220 Disney Stores in the United States and Canada to pick up a princess Halloween costume with a picture of a beautiful brown girl.

Finally.

It’s a whole new world.

Even my Mari, who’s long been over the princess thing (part age, part “Drop Squad”-style indoctrination) got geeked when she saw these pictures. “She’s so pretty!” she exclaimed. “A brown princess! Can we go see the movie?”

That’s a date, Mari.

For sure.

Here’s a sneak preview... enjoy!





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23 comments:

  1. Heard about this upcoming princess. Its nice to see some variation and inclusion in fairy tale land. Thus far, we've been a Dora the Explorer household, because being a Latina princess has been the happy alternative to the three-four who all look alike, and different from my baby. I think that's part of the reason that I have been so turned off from Disney... I've just never been a Disney lover. Never dreamed of spending days at the park, none of that... not even after Miss J came along, but who knows, maybe now I can warm up to them.

    Its gonna be interesting to see, over time, how many non-children of color will chose to be Princess Tiana for Halloween.

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  2. i heard about this a few years ago...and i'm still hopeful that it was my letter to disney saying that my brown girlie deserved a beautiful princess as much as my peach one has 290,324,394. anyway, i know it wasn't me, but i did put my words in for discussion.
    i am thrilled to see her coming to light...and jk just said, "she has skin like me". that just made me smile and i feel like yet another door opens and another mindset is closed for my baby!

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  3. I wrote a long comment and lost it somehow, now I've got to do it again. Sigh.

    My 12 year wasn't too happy when she found out this Princess because her original name was "frog Princess." Or least that's how she heard it. She said it was still racist, and kinda gave it a hmph!

    At this point she knows she a Princess. She wears a giant 'fro and views the world in a Afrocentric manner, which is also very respectful of the cultures of others. In her view this Princess is too little, too late. However, my 7 year old will probably really dig this Princess. Either way, I'll role with it.

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  4. You know...my daughter's WHOLE room is Disney princess. Yep, border, framed art, wall decals, the curtains, the night light, the whole nine. I go all out for my babies' rooms. When I chose the theme back in '99', it was because I wanted my Autumn to know that she was royalty like my father made me feel. When I found all these things with Princess Jazmine, Pocahontas and the Mulan disney princess, I thought it was good that she would see a bit of diversity. I also remember thinking Disney really needs to make an African American princess too. When I heard about the movie, I was relieved. As my daughter grew, I fazed some of those faces out, replacing them with images of castles, carriages, tiaras, enchanted forests and the like. The theme started to go in the direction of a classic fairy tale theme or a playful Miedieval theme. I'm so happy to hear that they have created room decor with the beautiful new princess.

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  5. Im very excited to see a Princess that reflects the diversity of our country. My daughter enjoys most Disney, as do I. She never been a huge princesses fan so I never had to go through the whole "But they don't match" drama. My daughter prefers Nemo and Cars to Cinderella. I guess I just got lucky.

    However, I am very interested on how the story is going to evolve and how the newest princess will be portrayed. Thanks for sharing.

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  6. Ok, I cannot resist a little shameless self-promotion here...please visit my website, at www.kishaskids.com. This website was born out of the frustration over issues exactly like those you've all expressed. I have 4 kids and have always tried to find merchandise which is reflective of them. As you all know, so little of it exists. I, too, resorted to Dora the Explorer as "the next best thing". After too many years of being underrepresented in the marketplace, I took matters into my own hands and found award-winning artists to create beautiful images of our black babies. My first product, a painting of a mermaid because I could not bear another day of Maya's (my daughter) worship of Ariel, the red-head Disney princess.
    Of course I am thrilled beyond words that Disney has FINALLY shown us some respect. And believe me, I'll be front and center on opening day of this movie. However, I hope you will all support and spread the word about black-owned companies like kisha's kids which have, and always will, remember our brown babies.
    FYI Denene did a great write-up about the site the other day along with a contest offering the chance to win a set of picture frames. So, check out the site, D's post (in the "taste" section), enter to win the contest and last but not least, please tell your friends about us.

    PS sorry Denene but I just couldnt resist!

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  7. Yay! I can't wait for the movie! My daughter LOVES the princesses and will be so excited to see one that looks like her.

    FYI, I tried to watch the video and it says it's been removed.

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  8. My apologies, everybody... I'm working on getting another video trailer connected. Coming soon!

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  9. Wow, I feel like such a jerk for never having noticed how lopsided the Disney fairytales were before this post.

    I'm glad that there is a new princess coming and I hope she's the most popular yet!

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  10. I've been working on a post about this... I heard about this last year and having been dying since! I am so unbelievably excited to see this movie! FINALLY a black princess!! Can't wait!

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  11. I am glad disney is finally representing. They also have a black princess named Iridessa.

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  12. @joanofalltrades: I didn't know about Iridessa until your comment. She's quite a beauty! I googled her; she's a fairy--one of Tinkerbell's friends. Too cute! Where has she been all this time?! I can't tell when she made her debut, but maybe I was so far removed from Disney that I didn't take notice. Now I'll have to see if I can find her somewhere. Thanks for the head's up!

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  13. I'm looking forward to seeing the movie and the Princess. A step in the right direction.

    I left you an award at my writing blog, Poetry and Hums.

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  14. I heard this movie was in the works last year and I've been looking forward to it ever since. It's about time, mouseman!

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  15. You are so right...it is way past time for Disney to do this! When my daughter was "into" princesses, she had a million and one to choose from. I've always wondered why it took Disney so long to address this issue.

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  16. you can't fight the princess vibe, I have just learned to work with it, created my own!

    www.myfroggyprincess,blogspot.com
    open to everyone but made for my brown baby.

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  17. Speaking of the brown fairy, Iridessa; my daughter wanted to be her for Halloween but Disney discontinued her costume (they don't have fawn either, just Tink, Rosetta and Silvermist right now). I hope they are coming up with an updated one. She wound up being Pocahontas instead.

    Her room is also Princess to the max. I actually recently added a wall sticker of all the Fairies which included Iridessa. Target has the most gorgeous Princess Tiana bedding that I am going to get for her. Very reasonably priced.

    For our upcoming trip during Christmas to Disney World, she is looking forward to meeting Iridessa in Pixie Hollow. I just ordered the Iridessa costume for her to wear during that meet, from the UK and paid a premium to have it shipped here plus our currency isn't doing so good against the pound so it was very expensive. I also found a gorgeous deluxe Princess Tiana costume online at Party City for 34.99 and I also had a code for $10 off (PEBARBIE10). Disney has one for 89.95 along with a really great crown with the Tiana cameo and a veil attached for $19.95. The Prestige Tiana costume is better than the Disney Store dress and is only $59.95 through Costume Craze.

    We have been to Disney every year since she was a baby and she has been every princess but I am most excited about this year. I just cannot WAIT to take pictures of her in her costumes with Iridessa and Princess Tiana. Hubby and I are about as excited as she is!

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  18. what is your problem! My daughter and I are arabic but I had NO problems with the times she wanted to be Ariel, Cinderella or Mulan.

    Seriouslly, not letting your daughter dress up as snow white is fine if you're against the "mouse." But not letting her dress up as her because she's not black is racism within racism.

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  19. @Anonymous:

    If you read my post more carefully, you will see that I actually DID let my daughters dress up in Snow White, Tinkerbell, and Pocahontas costumes for Halloween—with great trepidation, but I let them anyway. As a mom, it is your prerogative to dress up your daughter as you see fit, just like it's my prerogative to dress up my daughters as I see fit. As I said in the post, I had a HUGE problem with the fact that NONE of the princess costumes had pictures of princesses that LOOK like my daughters. There are a whole set of self-esteem issues associated with this, the biggest one that I can't encourage my daughters to love themselves JUST THE WAY THEY ARE if they're constantly being bombarded with beauty standards that do not include little brown girls.

    Now, if you do it differently in your house, that's great—I applaud you for being the kind of mom YOU want to be. But maybe you ought to pay a little bit more attention to what I've said and try to understand where I'm coming from before you lob ridiculous accusations of racism.

    Thanks.

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  20. i am happy there is a new disney princess..she is black yes...but i am happy there a new princess...anything that has to do with a new black anything people put too much into it...as black women we run around with "dora" dolla pretending to be latino when were not we are black we need to support princess tiana =)

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  21. I love your post and agree with it. I have two adopted daughters, one biracial and one full african american. We really try to celebrate that princesses can come in all different colors, it doesn't matter what you look like, you are extremely special.

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  22. I wish I could find a large stuffed Iridessa doll like those of Dora and tinker bell for my granddaughter. Like a 25" one.

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