Saturday, March 17, 2007

Disney's New Princess

So Disney is finally expanding on the multiculturalism by introducing its first black heroine. The film The Frog Princess is set to open in 2009; it will be an animated musical set in New Orleans. It is being co-directed by the directors of The Little Mermaid, Aladdin and Hercules.

The new princess will be named Maddy. Even though this will be Disney's first dip into African American culture, Maddy will not be the first princess of color. But considering Disney's history with "ethnic" princesses, I feel a bit concerned about how this film will play out. Let's see... we can start with Peter Pan's favorite Indian princess, Tiger Lily.

This first foray into the diversity of American culture certainly was not Disney's most shining moment. The images of the American Indians in Peter Pan were unbelievably racist. But then again it was 1953. So let's jump ahead a few decades to 1992 and take a look at Jasmine, the Arabian princess of Aladdin.

All dressed up in belly-dancing gear as part of a film filled with negative stereotypes of Middle Eastern culture, Jasmine is not the best portrayal of the "East." Then there's Mulan, the feisty Chinese heroine of the film of the same name (Mulan, 1998)

Mulan disguises herself as a man so that she may take her father's place in the army. Considering Disney's history of sexist portrayals of female characters, this film is a step in the right direction. Mulan shuns society's desire for her to be the "sophisticated lady" and once in the army she becomes a respected member of her battalion.

Disney also gave us the movie Pocahontas (1995). Our leading lady, the daughter of the chief of the Powhatan tribe:

The film garnered much criticism for both its distortion of history as well as its stereotypical images of American Indians. While not blatantly racist like Peter Pan, Pocahontas has been criticized for portraying Native Americans as just as prejudicial as Europeans. At least they were made out as relatively peaceful and caring people.

Just a year after Pocahontas Disney released The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996). The leading female role in this film was Esmeralda, the gypsy dancer that is widely adored. While Esmeralda is portrayed as an outcast searching for justice for her people, she represents a somewhat stereotypical image of the European "gypsy" with her brightly colored clothes, bangles, tambourine and pet goat.

In 2002 Disney released Lilo & Stitch which took place on the Hawaiian island of Kaua'i. Lilo, the little Hawaiian lead of the film, lives with her older sister Nani after their parents died in a car accident. Hawaiian culture is a large part of the film. Lilo is big into the hula dancing and Hawaiian music plays throughout. While the stereotypes exist (hula dancing, etc.) they are largely positive. And as my roommate pointed out, Lilo certainly did a lot for positive body representation.

And of course we can't forget the Bianca, the Hungarian heroine of The Rescuers (1977)

And Nala, the first African female lead.

Haha ... well, here's hoping that this new heroine is more positive than some of the ones in the past.

No comments: