What Constitutes as a Disney Princess?

So it looks like Moana is not going to be a Disney Princess. If The New York Times is to be believed, “celebration over the introduction of a Pacific Islander princess in “Moana” has apparently been premature. Because the film barely mentions her lineage, the company will not be calling Moana a princess, according to a Disney spokesman.”

This is…very frustrating, to say the least.

Now of course, this could just mean that they’re not going to add her to the lineup right away. It’s entirely possible that, if the movie does VERY well, they’ll add her in anyway. But still, it’s kind of irksome how Disney was going to add in both Anna AND Elsa (who is a QUEEN) in the lineup before the movie even came out (when the movie took over the world, they got their own separate franchise) but Moana, who despite being a daughter of a chief and the protagonist of her own movie it looks like she’s going to have to PROVE her worth of being a princess. What makes this especially infuriating is that Disney has a bad record of excluding their non-white princesses (all four of them!) more than often. So the fact that there’s no guarantee that brown girls (especially Polynesian girls) are going to get any merchandise for Moana after the movie runs its course is more than troubling. Considering Disney’s current habit of marketing Frozen to death and leaving their other movies in the dust (even if the movies were huge hits, like Big Hero 6 and Zootopia), this just makes matters so much worse.

This just proves how absolutely fickle Disney is when it comes to adding ladies to their Princess lineup. Do you have to be born a princess? No, because Cinderella, Belle, and Tiana married into royalty are considered princess. Do you just have to be a princess in general? No, because Mulan has no connections to royalty and Pocahontas is not technically a princess but they’re both in the lineup (despite barely getting featured on any merch). Do you have to sing and have a love interest? No, because Merida has neither of things but she’s included. Plus there’s also the matter that some characters (like Esmeralda) WERE included at one point but then promptly kicked out.

So what gives? How come some of Disney’s female characters are allowed to be featured in an elite lineup and get their own dolls and products but others aren’t? Honestly, I have no idea. I feel like at this point, you have to be white and wear a pretty dress. You might be included if you’re non-white for diversity token points, but once you’re inducted they won’t bother to include you.

This is why I stand by this: Disney needs to create an all-inclusive HEROINE lineup. One that showcases all the important Disney female characters and focuses on all their skills, talents, and personality (not just looking pretty) and allows all girls to be represented. The current Disney Princess lineup just isn’t cutting it.

Until then, I’m going to do my best to make sure Moana is popular enough to warrant inclusion. It’s not fair that two skinny white women get plastered everywhere with no problem but a brown, thicker woman has to fight for it.

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Why Tiana Cannot Be The Only Black Disney Princess

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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.

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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.

Thoughts on the Disney Princesses

I have a lot of love for the Disney Princesses individually (though I feel like Merida doesn’t really belong in the lineup, since she’s Pixar [not from the Disney Animated Canon like the others are] and pretty much the antithesis of a Disney Princess), but I never really liked how they were marketed. When I was a child, I remember clearly that, for most of their merchandise, all they’d really do is pose and look pretty and wear glittery dresses and smile. They weren’t shown to really do much, besides get dressed (I remember distinctly going to the Disney Princess site and all you could do with the Princesses was dress them up), do a few innocuous and feminine activities, and be kind.

Now it’s slowly starting to change. If you go to their updated site, they emphasis the Disney Princesses not as delicate maidens modelling clothes, but as determined dreamers who can do anything. Real role models for young girls, if you know what I mean. And honestly? It’s really refreshing. It’s a vast improvement over having them just be pretty and act out of character. I also like in some of the tie in books and shows they’re giving more personality to some of the older princesses, but there still needs to be more for the non-white princesses, particularly Mulan and Pocahontas. I’m kind of surprised Disney hasn’t made a TV show exclusively about the Disney Princesses interacting and going on adventures, can you imagine how much little girls would love that? Can you imagine how much older fans would love to see that? After all, Disney DID do a show called House of Mouse that had all the Disney Characters coexist in the same world, so I don’t see why they can’t do something similar just for the Princesses.

But I still feel like there can be more.

I feel like, in addition to showing girls they can do anything, they can also apply their skills and dreams and experiences to improving the world around them.

Give me a Snow White who makes sure every child has a loving home. Give me a Cinderella who opens up women’s shelters and provides resources for domestic abuse survivors. Give me an Aurora who holds charity events where absolutely EVERYONE is invited. Give me an Ariel who encourages ocean conservation and peaceful relations between nations. Give me a Belle who opens up schools and makes sure everyone is able to read and write. Give me a Jasmine who works to reduce or even eliminate poverty. Give me more of a Pocahontas who is an anti-war, anti-racism, and a pro-environmental activist like she is in the movie. Give me a Mulan who stands up for LGBT and women’s rights. Give me a Tiana who makes sure no one goes hungry and stands for black rights. Give me a Rapunzel who encourages the arts and provides resources for emotional abuse survivors. And give me more of a Merida as a diplomat.

I understand that all those are probably longshots that aren’t going to happen anytime soon, but I still feel it could add a lot of depth and substance to them. The Disney Princesses get a lot of criticism, some of them just, others not, but I feel like if you actually had them get together to do good things, you could give them a lot more credibility and respect. That’s just how I feel at least. But I am glad that they’re gradually moving away from them just being pretty. I just wish they’d let Mulan wear her blue dress and for Tiana to let down her hair every once in awhile.