(REAL TIMES MEDIA)—I am a huge fan of Disney films. Being a child of the 1980s I grew up during Disney’s dark ages and yet I still consider their obscure animated films like “The Fox and the Hound” and “The Great Mouse Detective” to be two of my favorite kids films. Of course, I’m not a kid anymore, and consequently, I can’t in good consciousness just buy into everything that Disney is doing because I see commercials on television. Which is why I’m not going to see “The Princess and the Frog” and neither should you.
I realize that the movie looks fun and exciting, and I’ll admit the animation looks as lush and colorful as anything Disney has done since “Aladdin.” And you will not be forever condemning your nine-year-old kids to racial or emotional armageddon by dropping your $15 to take them to a matinee. But I ask you: Would you dine at a Denny’s restaurant that you knew always served Black customers a little slower than anyone else? Even if there was a great sale going on would you shop at a department store where they asked only Black customers to leave their empty bags behind the counter? Disney wants your money and your children’s commercial loyalty, but they expect you to accept it on their terms only—because they think the Black consumer is too weak or too desperate to stand up in the face of bigotry.
Where am I going with this you might be thinking? Let’s just look at the obvious facts about this upcoming film. Tiana is the first African-American princess in the history of Disney animated features and her character is written to accept circumstances that no other Disney princess is expected to experience. Unlike most other Disney movies this one features a love triangle, where Tiana and a White southern debutante vie for the affections of one man. Fascinating, since in every other Disney princess movie, “Snow White,” “Aladdin,” “Beauty and Beast,” etc., it is primarily the prince’s job to woo the affections and love of the future princess. Then there’s the prince himself. Tiana is the ONLY princess in Disney lore to have a prince that is not the same color as her. (Pocahontas is not considered a Disney princess!). Initially Disney producers planned to hook her up with a White Frenchmen named Harry, but upon getting some initial complaints, they quietly changed him to middle-eastern sounding “Prince Naveen” during pre-production. Apparently Disney just can’t bring themselves to give little Black girls and Black boys royalty that looks like them. So I can’t bring myself to spend any of my money on taking any little girls or boys in my life to their movie.
This is not a rant against interracial love, or multi-culturalism, this is about basic subtle racism. What Disney is saying to every Black parent and girl in the county is that while we will make a play for your money, it’s still too much to ask us to make your dreams come true in the same way that we will for young White girls. Further, it’s always fascinated me that the focus on “multi-cultural” or “interracial dating” is only brought up when the protagonist is a Black girl, never a White one. Popular Disney shows with young Black female leads like “That’s so Raven” or “The Proud Family” always have a melting pot of love interests for the main characters. Back in 1997 when Disney re-made “Cinderella” with a non-cracked out Whitney as a fairy godmother and Brandy as Cinderella, her prince charming was Filipino. Strangely I don’t remember ever seeing Hannah Montana go gaga over the new little Black boy at her school.
Not surprisingly, Disney has offered no public explanation for this, because they don’t care. They know perfectly well that Black folk are so desperate that they’ll buy anything that features them prominently no matter how insulting or how much of a double standard it presents. Of course, you don’t have to fall for this. You can stand up to this kind of programming, you can talk to your daughter about what the images in this movie mean, or even better, just don’t go during opening weekend. Show your children what Black love really means, and show the world that even African-Americans can stand up to the so-called Magic Kingdom.
(Dr. Jason Johnson is an associate professor at Hiram College in Ohio.)