I am so excited about the arrival of Princess Tiana, the first Black Disney princess. Amid all of the hoopla and the controversy, Disney will roll out The Princess and the Frog at Christmas. We Black parents are feeling a crazy mish-mash of nervousness and excited anticipation about this. We must not feel self-conscious if we seem a little sensitive about this long-awaited event. We’re not over-sensitive. It’s just that we are a part of the American fabric. Our desires and hopes are right in line with the American Dream.
We are thrilled at the possibility that Disney will introduce a Black princess that is whole and smart and beautiful. We are praying that she is someone we and our children (particularly our daughters) can relate to and identify with. We are hoping that she is someone that every girl of every ethnicity will admire and want to emulate. This is important, too. We want our princess…and she will be our princess… to be everybody’s princess of the hour. And we want her image to be everywhere like Ariel’s and Jasmine’s and Cinderella’s. We want to rush to the Disney store and buy everything related to this girl. We want her face on our daughter’s bed spread and on her lunch box. We all want to want to be her for Halloween. We want to be able to order a beautiful Tiana imitator for our daughter’s next birthday. That’s all we want.
Meaning, we want inclusion and representation and acceptance and validation and belonging, like everybody else. We can forgive our own neediness since know its historical roots.
We know that Disney will impose upon her some stereotypes that we may resent, but those stereotypes will be mixed in with the ones that we embrace. If she has a regal and patient Mother Earth persona like Queen Sarabi of the Lion King, we will be appreciative! But if she has the jive talking, minstrel acting traits of the Dumbo crows, we’re going to have a problem. We want her to be innocent and virtuous AND smart, like all of the other princesses. We don’t want her to be a quick-witted, street-savvy know-it-all like Rita of Oliver and Company (remember when Rita tells the thug rottweiler, Roscoe, that he should leave because “yo master is calling!”) We’ve been fed enough of those kinds of depictions. We want her to be hard-working and diligent, but we don’t want her to be somebody’s chamber maid, or an ex-slave…we’ve so been there and done that! We are tolerant and not overly-sensitive, really!! We just want a princess who is uplifting and multi-dimensional.
We want our prince to look like our fathers or at least our older brothers. We want him to be the Master of the Universe, or at least a Master of the Universe In Training. He must be handsome and heroic and smart and brave and strong…only, weak with love for the princess. We all know by now what makes a perfect prince. Well, we want all of that, plus a little ethnic flavor. We won’t mind if he looks like Barack Obama or some similar Bi-racial guy. Let’s face it– every leading man in the movies (animated or otherwise) who is Black is going to look like Barack Obama at least for the next four to eight years. That’s just what Hollywood does. We can handle that. We know the deal. A Barack Obama look-alike will work for us as a prince, as long as he has all of those aforementioned princely traits.
Yes, we are all ready for Princess Tiana. Can’t wait to know her. We will be in the theatre with our children. A part of us will be on high alert, our protective part. The other part will be hungry for a satisfying Black heroine, for our children and for ourselves. We have high expectations and high tolerance, too. Just give us someone we can connect with. We will fill in the rest. If we could fill in the rest for the other princesses, we can do the same for Tiana. And we just want to love her…Oh, and we want a beautiful theme song that we can sing in the car on the way to school, too.
We are ever hopeful and ever optimistic! But we do want balance AND perfection. Basically, we want it all…like everybody else!! Really, is that too much to ask?
(Photo courtesy of Disney Enterprises)