DEAR DISNEY…

Dear Disney:

First, your new princess is Latina, and then she is not because you were criticized for her not being Latina enough. Then you fall back to the “This is Fantasy and Fantasy represents no particular culture” argument. But that argument doesn’t work for it is as hollow as Captain Hook’s missing hand. Especially, with the Princess in the Disney Universe because the princesses are constructed as exemplars of a type of femininity. You have all these attributes, which are often fantastic, but these features also inform a real sense of what is considered feminine in larger American culture. You have Snow White, an ultra-thin, pale—paler than humanly possible—black-haired women. You also have Rapunzel, a woman with blonde hair so Pantene long and strong that people can climb up it.  I could go on, but the reason that trying to rescind a princess’ heritage is more difficult, than say dumping a bad script, is because of the depth of association that is made between any Disney Princess and her young, impressionable fans.

So much of Disney and American culture is default white, and we, as People of Color, are supposed to identify with it.  Thus when there is an ethnic Disney Princess and the Disney stamp across her forehead, one has a sense of inclusion to that magical Disney world. This is why the backlash is so virulent to the appearance of Princess Sofia. She is Latina, but she looks European. Her skin is white and most Latinos’ complaint is how Princess Sofia fails to represent Latinos in this fantasy world. The Disney Brand, in my opinion, is about interacting with this fantasy world—which is default white. It is why Pocahontas was Native American, looked Native American and thus expanded the culture’s idea of beauty, injecting into the zeitgeist a different sense of itself.  It is why placing people of color, real or imagined, is critical because it allows ethnic children into a world of fantasy that is not the sole property of whiteness.

I implore Disney not to give up on a true interpretation of a Latina princess. I know rescinding Princess Sofia’s cultural ties is an ass-saving measure to back away from Race as it is a sensitive topic. (All The Pirates of the Caribbean movies are an example.  You have a movie franchise that revolves around piracy but glosses over the slave trade!? Really!?) Normally, race can only be handled in Disney fantasy in two ways. One is exoticism to the point where it is so alien that it cannot be subsumed.  The other is the bridge effect; the princess so often in the movie acts a culture bridge between what is the dominate culture and her own. Think Pocahontas, think Cinderella, think Aladdin, think The Little Mermaid. They all end in a marriage that bridges culture, as in the case of Pocahontas and The Little Mermaid or class such as Aladdin, and Cinderella.

Disney, please acknowledge what you have learned from the positive responses to your most recent addition, African American and small business owner, Princess Tiana, that the cathartic effects of culturally diverse Princesses can never be emphasized enough.

Thank You,

Jacob McCall

Comic and Animation Geek, Poet, Disney Fan

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