Thursday, November 26, 2009

Walt Disney introduces black Princess.

LOS ANGELES: Walt Disney Pictures has introduced its first African-American princess, Tiana, in "The Princess and the Frog." The very premise seems rife with potential for racist stereotyping and cultural insensitivity, but Disney knows what it's doing. The film is set in the past - specifically, New Orleans circa 1913 - a tactic the studio has used before.

Disney looked to bygone eras with its last three films starring non-Caucasian princesses: "Aladdin" (the Islamic Golden Age), "Mulan" (ancient China) and "Pocahontas" (Colonial America). It's a handy way to distance the ethnic characters from modern-day racial land mines. It also allows Disney to base its portrayals not on subjective perceptions but on existing source material.

In "The Princess and the Frog," the black characters are generally poor workers or jazz musicians, but if any viewers are offended, Disney can point to history.

"The Princess and the Frog" also upends a few tables. Its most outdated stereotype is actually a white character, Charlotte, an antebellum throwback whose only ambition is to land a man. Tiana, by contrast, is independent-minded, and her eventual choice of a mate is unconventional by movie standards: He's not one of her "kind." Instead he's the olive-skinned, vaguely foreign Prince Naveen, from Maldonia. (A fictional place, but still.)

As it happens, Tiana's race is almost moot: She spends much of the film as a frog. Is Disney trying to de-ethnicize the character, or transcend color entirely? (Or, more likely, simply add a new twist to an old story?) That's for viewers to puzzle out. But as a famous minority member once said: It's not easy being green.

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