Backlot Bitch: Disney's New Princess Problems
I was procrastinating on some needed reading when I saw a friend of mine post a link to Disney's new princess. I couldn't look away, as living within 45 minutes of the Magic Kingdom during my childhood has left me with a Pavlovian response to anything Disney.
As usual, Disney's got controversy on their hands even before the first toy has hit shelves. Sofia the First: Once Upon a Princess is set to premiere next month on the Disney Channel, a TV movie that will launch the cartoon series about a half-Latina, half-Scandinavian princess. So let's talk Disney princesses, who up until the 1990s, were pretty much on the lighter shade of pale. There's never been a Latina princess, a fact that disappoints the little girl in me despite the fact that, as an adult, I'm no longer in step with the damsel-in-distress storyline of Disney's princess narratives.
I guess the upside to the introduction of Sofia is that the series will ostensibly touch on the subject of what is to have a multicultural experience: She's celebrating a Scandinavian Christmas, with Latin music! The downside, as we might have expected, is that Sofia is as pale as her royal predecessors, with blue eyes and light brown hair. You know what a daring multicultural experiment would be? Make Sofia look not so much like Snow White's little sister. The majority of multicultural folks (according to the last Census) were children of black and white couples. We're not exactly facing a shortage for European-looking princesses either, and practically every other ethnicity has been granted only one princess each.
Latino groups are right to be confused about Sofia, given that she's half Latina but looks nothing like a majority of the girls who would love to find someone on TV who looks like them. I'm not mad that Disney is tapping into the fastest-growing group on the latest Census, but I am let down that she's not that different from the princesses of the 50's. I hope that at least her adventures will be more inclusive, but again, this is Disney here—not letting the minorities lead, just support.
It kind of strikes me as odd that Sofia's kingdom is professed to be this melting pot that, "reflects the ethnically diverse world we live in, but it is not our world," according to Nancy Kanter, Disney Junion's Senior Vice President of Original Programming. In a new article, Kanter actually disputes that Sofia is meant to be half-Latina at all, pointing out that "All our characters come from fantasy lands that may reflect elements of various cultures and ethnicities but none are meant to specifically represent those real world cultures. It is a fairytale and storybook world that we hope will help spur a child's imagination. It's one where we can have flying horses, schools led by fairies, songs that have a Latin beat and towns with markets like those found in North Africa." That's cool, I'm all for teaching everyone that salsa music is magical, but "Asian-themed" lands that the princess go to in order to picnic and "towns with markets like those found in North Africa" are based on real places. I have mixed feelings about skewing reality and fiction and teaching kids it's all make-believe.
So is all this a moot argument over princesses? You know, the super-rich, the super-privileged, and the so overdone tales as old as time? Should I be more concerned about Dora, Diego, and Handy Manny? Yeah, it's also kind of sad that these are the only three positive Latino kid's cartoons I can think of (sorry, Speedy Gonzalez). Should Disney look to do the Latina version of Kim Possible? Obviously yes—because not only would that be cool, it'd be a whole lot more relatable than castles and fairy tales of yore.
What do you have to say about Disney's new princess? Or are you sick of the subject and want to go to a magical place where we never talk about princesses ever again?
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