Princess Tiana. Photo from all-disneychannel.com

The anticipated and hoped for reaction by the story writers and marketers at Disney is that audiences will view Tiana’s transformation into a frog as fun, magical, entertaining, and necessary. However, what the transformation really does is erase any question or possibility of what the film might have been like if Tiana had been human, Black, and female the whole duration of the film like her fellow Disney princesses.

The visibility and hypervisibility of Black women’s bodies (and the bodies of women/characters who we identity with our eyes as [potentially] of color) serve as a ploy to identify them as the sexualized, racialized, exotic “other”, a phenomena presented usually in the form of a side character or supporting character, in a world where whiteness is the default. Simultaneously, the invisibility and hyperinvisibility of these women’s bodies (i.e. being turned into a cat or a frog, being presented as a [scantily clad] villian and non-human) makes them more palatable and digestable to the gazes of those audiences who have been socialized against accepting and embracing brown/Black bodies in roles reserved for white bodies. This further confirms, affirms, corroborates racist perceptions, ideas, and presentations of “black bodies” and “black spaces” and it does so safely within the sanctuary and under the protection of white spaces with the help of it’s gatekeepers and policers who silence dissenters.

But Disney’s The Princess and the Frog solidifies a new level of racism in mainstream media though I wouldn’t call it “progressive” or some kind of “step forward” because it’s been done before: Princess Tiana is the main character–this is the new level which draws viewers in since it is the opposite of her being a side or supporting character or an extra). However, where this gimmick particularly fails is when Disney decides to turn her into a frog for a chunk of the movie.

Princess Tiana is turned into an animal to erase the visibility of her Black, female, and human body and this is made possible by the invisibility of that human, Black body. As an animal, she is not only more digestable and palatable for white audiences via the invisibility of her human, Black-identified, female body, she becomes fun, entertaining, and non-threatening in a mainstream media where three-dimensional Black female characters rarely take “the lead”, a role that is reserved for whites or *shouts* “ANYBODY ELSE? ANYBODY…?”.

Princess Tiana. Photo from Wikipedia.
Princess Tiana's tranformation as a frog. Photo from http://www.fanpop.com

 

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