“The condemnation of black criticism from some whites suggests that black people are peripheral citizens or customers who are eternally the recipients of aid and should be perpetually grateful. What’s especially unfair about those who condemn blacks who criticize The Princess and the Frog is that whites, as a race, are not condemned as ungrateful or otherwise for critiquing the numerous white Disney princesses (or society at large.)… Another charge levied at black critics of The Princess and the Frog is that they are trifling to ‘waste time’ getting agitated over cartoons. But the fact is all media, especially those directed at children in their formative years, shape how people see and interact with the world.”
—The Princess and the Frog and the Critical Gaze, written by Racialicious contributor Shannon Prince
I recently came across an article about the Disney princesses and princes, Not Quite Going the Distance. The only thing that really disappointed me about the article aside from the fans posting there was the writer’s confession to an obvious love of Disney and I got to wondering why. I see that the comments on posts like this one are mostly from Disney fans indignant at the fact that someone dared criticize their childhood princesses despite their problematic presentations and messages. I’m not sure from the first opening line that the author was trying to be subversive or ease Disney fans into the conversation.
One commenter wrote, “It really depends on how you look at it though — if you are looking for a movie with a woman in a ‘supporting’ role, you will find it.”
Why can’t the postulation be this instead: It’s there and if you’re looking at it with both eyes open instead of closed, you’re not only going to see the isses faster and more clearly than the desperate fangirls with posters of Tiana, Belle, and Ariel plastered on the insides of their eyelids, you’re going to realize that Disney has been propagating this kind of media for decades and they’re not going to stop now.
As long as they’re making money and can get away with it, they’re gonna keep doing it. That’s what international corporations based in a capitalist nation are for, and, in the process, we’re the ones who pay for it.
Fun parts of the movie cannot be isolated and separated from it’s racism,
the movie cannot be isolated and separated from the history of the corporation that produced it,
and the movie cannot be seperated from the racism in the history of the corporation.
I’m saying this because Tiana is the first Black Disney princess though not the first princess of color and because of Disney’s history. I’m talking about this because movies like The Princess and the Frog not only promote the idea that stereotypes and caricatures of Black women/peoples and our culture are natural, but socialize children and their parents to view it as fun, entertaining, and okay as long as it’s “not entirely racist”.
So, we’re we going to draw the line at what is “acceptably racist” now?
“Notice, that in this so-called celebration of Black womanhood, that Tiana’s hair is far from kinky. Tiana also spends a large portion of the movie as a frog. How is this a celebration or even ground breaking, when she is not drawn with kinky hair and is then immediately erased to become an amphibian? She does get her prince charming, but unlike Snow White, Cinderella, Belle, or Ariel, she does not go off to lead a life of leisure in a castle; she gets to own a restaurant, where she will spend her days working…The Disney princess series is absolutely problematic in the harmful messages that it sends young girls, but I venture to say that its treatment of race compounds the dissonance of worth and value that little Black girls live with everyday. I believe as women, we would all be better off if the genre simply disappeared, but if they must continue, framing them in a manner that specifically harms girls of color by celebrating Whiteness as the ultimate example of femininity must end.”
Name another Disney princess, in the Disney Vault or out of the Disney Vault, who spent the majority of their starring or non-starring animated film as an animal? Nothing against frogs, I’m just saying. Ariel was humanoid—she didn’t even look like the mermaids from Harry Potter or Pirates of the Caribbean 4 (fanged, man-eaters and such). Can we have a movie where we see the Black princess for the entire film and she’s not an animal? The visibility and subsequent “invisibility” of Tiana’s Black-identified body and other brown women in animated series is an issue here.
Not presenting Black women’s body as fully human or erasing and censoring their humanity as people who happen to be brown is not only a Disney issue. Let’s examine the colorism in the animated version of Bleach created by manga artist, Tite Kubo:
- Shihoin Yoruichi (or Yoruichi Shihoin, first name first) spends her debut in the anime as a black cat with a man’s voice.
- She is a “princess” though we have yet to see any of the members of her noble clan.
- Yoruichi spends over a dozen episodes as a cat before it is revealed that she is a brown-skinned woman.
- She is a supporting character, like many women of color who appear in the manga and animation.
- She (and other brown characters) are consistently described as “dark-skinned” no matter what brown they are, on the Bleach Wikia and in the manga and animation.
The animation staff and Kubo have stereotyped, downplayed, killed off, or hypersexualized (most likely as fan service for male audiences) nearly every character that would be considered of color to appear so far. Other female characters from Bleach that are problematic include but are not limited to Harribel Tia and one of her subordinates, Mila-Rose, who aren’t even humans and are presented as villains, who are later utterly defeated. Read my earlier opinion on Japanese animation, colorism, and racism here.
Like Disney, the growing manga and anime market, it’s artists and animating staffs’ treatment of “brown people”/racialized characters and women is suspiciously patternistic. The thing that Disney’s animations and Japanese manga and anime share in common is that many of the people who are fans love it so much that they won’t look at it critically no matter how offensive it it. Love is blind, or so they say.
Everybody manifests and deals with dislike, anger, and other frowned upon emotions and traits like criticalness in different ways. But I would put out there that it is our love for corporations like Disney that allow them to thrive, miseducate, profit from, support and engrain stereotypes, and infantilize the masses.