I think I’ve had enough of the hoopla surrounding the new Disney animated film The Princess and the Frog.
But before I opine further, here’s a little background: For the first time in the company’s history, Disney has finally introduced a black princess as the lead in one of its features. The company that has given us some of the most iconic characters (Mickey Mouse), theme parks, television shows, films — you name it, they’ve done it — has introduced Princess Tiana: a young, beautiful girl who goes on an adventure through the Louisiana bayou. Like many Disney movies, there’s a prince, a father figure, a character with unconventional beauty and mystical fantasies. And finally, there’s a princess who looks like me. I think I’m supposed to be grateful, but in the words of Rhett Butler, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.”
Why not? Because one film does not make up for decades of racist and sexist imagery that has defined Disney’s characterization of blacks and women. While I understand the need for young girls to have access to images that look like them in order to have some validation from the very media that permeates every facet of their life, I do not accept Princess Tiana as restitution for years of wrongdoing. What I do not understand is the throngs of black folk running behind this character as if it is new, when in fact, there have been black princesses in the history of people of African descent since the beginning of time. Why are we following suit and taking our cultural cues from a cartoon?
My friends know that I do not support Disney in general because of Walt Disney’s long history of anti-Semitism and apparent loathing of all things not white, male and Protestant. In my mind, Walt Disney and his images, which reflect his perverted ideology, are nothing to aspire to or certainly mimic; he went about the business of cultural imperialism through the making and marketing of figures that seem harmless but are in fact harmful.
Now, before you get your panties in a bunch, I’m not saying that white men are harmful or perverted. I am saying that continuously circulating the same image of dominant, white male superiority damages everyone, including white men, who may not fit that image. I understand that some people like to paint white men as invincible, but that takes away from their humanity.
Some of you are probably wondering, “Why all of the drama over fictional characters?” Animated cartoons, through which Disney has earned the bulk of its money and reputation, can be some of the most harmful programming to which children are exposed. Many of the characters are given “human” behavioral and psychological qualities that reflect dominant stereotypes about certain groups in media and society. Read more.
This article originally appeared in Creative Loafing, where Nsenga serves as cultural critic.