One of the biggest criticisms regarding the Disney Princess lineup is the lack of diversity. Currently, there are 11 official princess, and only four of them (Jasmine, Pocahontas, Mulan and Tiana) are women of colour. I feel like the reason this is so is because Disney is afraid if they make another Arabian, Native American, Chinese or black princess, people will go “but we ALREADY had that! give us something new!” (but will flock to countless Disney films about white princesses in fantasyland Europe). And that’s really shitty, given how those four princesses are basically tasked with representing an entire group (often times not accurately). I feel that Tiana in particular gets a raw deal.
Up until her movie came out, a lot of people were urging Disney to give us a black Princess. And in 2009, they finally gave us that. And at first, it looked great. Tiana is absolutely GORGEOUS, she’s hardworking and determined, she has a set goal in life that doesn’t involve getting a man, and her movie has great animation. So what happens?
She turns into a fucking frog. For the majority of the movie. And is stuck in the goddamn bayou surrounded by companions that aren’t exactly cute or lovable. And the entire movie is about two non-white people wanting to be ‘human’ again.
Yeah I don’t know if this is the writer(s)’s fault or the director(s)’s fault or the producer(s)’s fault but I’m completely astounded by the fact that, during the production, absolutely nobody stopped to say “Hey, don’t you think it’s kind of fucked up that we’re turning our first official black princess into a gross animal for like two thirds of the movie? And that we’re forcing her to live in a place almost grounded in depressing reality where it’s likely that the restaurant she dreamed of will close down soon?”
This is why it’s extremely hard for me to love this movie as much as other people do. I almost certainly WILL protect Tiana herself at all costs, but I can’t really get into the movie and defend it and praise it and put it on a pedestal and all that without thinking about the implicit antiblackness that went into the filmmaking. There are other criticisms (Tiana’s hair, the fact that she has to work her ass off instead of being cared for and allowed to relax and be, well, a princess), but the fact that they create this beautiful and glamorous and vivacious and business-minded black woman, dangle her in front of this, and then turn her into a frog (and constantly have characters disapprove of her dreams and tell her to lighten up) really bothers me. The only way to see more of her as a human is to read the picture books for little girls, which isn’t as meaningful as making a short or sequel with her as a human throughout the whole thing.
Tiana really deserves better, but we can’t settle for her to be the ONLY representation of a black heroine in Disney. We definitely need more (and better!) diversity at Disney in general, and I think the least Disney can do is make another black princess. Listen to the criticisms that Tiana got and do the next black princess justice by learning from and rectifying those mistakes.
And for God’s sake, Disney, never turn any of your minority characters into animals for the sake of the plot ever again.