It has always been my intention to avoid certain topics in my communications. Religion, politics, racial issues… and I promise I am going to stick to it. I promise, this one is not about race!
Have you seen any of the commercials or posters for Disney’s new animated film, “The Princess and The Frog?” As the father of an almost four-year old daughter I am well aware of when the movie comes out (December 11) and who the main character is (Princess Tiana). But one thing that my daughter has not educated me on is the color of Princess Tiana’s skin. If you have seen the commercials then you already know, Princess Tiana is African-American.
Many of you know that my brother and many of my good friends are in the animation industry and are responsible for some of the biggest animated blockbuster films of recent years, “Monsters v. Aliens,” “Bolt,” “Chicken Little,” and “Shrek” just to name a few. As a result, I am fairly tuned in to animated films. I have known about “The Princess and The Frog” basically since it was conceived by Disney. And I have also been well aware of its controversy. Controversy, you may ask? An animated film? Well, I have said it time and again and this is no different: Disney Animation is held to a higher standard than any other animation studio. Disney’s films are critiqued more heavily and are examined more carefully than any other studio’s animated films.
Consider some of the criticisms of “The Princess and The Frog.” First, it was originally entitled “The Frog Princess,” but there was some outcry as to the perception that since the Princess was African-American, some correlation would be made between frogs and African-Americans. Second, the original name of the Princess was “Maddy,” but some criticized the name as sounding too “slave-like.” Next, the original Princess character was a chambermaid, although some felt this was demeaning to African-Americans as well. And I am not even going to go into the criticisms about the music for the film and it’s having been composed by a white person.
Many of those changes were made, however the current controversy is that while the Princess is African-American, the Prince is not (it is unclear as to his nationality, but it is not African-American).
Look, I know racism is still out there. One hundred and forty-five years after slavery was abolished and some people still don’t understand that it was wrong. But I return to my go-to line: Some people fail to see the forest for the trees. Instead of looking for reasons to criticize, why not applaud the ground-breaking nature of this film. It is the first film to have an African-American Princess! It is absolutely ground-breaking and should be heralded, not condemned.
I don’t profess to know the way to eradicate racism. What I can tell you is this: my daughter is the future of this world and so far, she knows nothing about different skin colors. Princess Tiana is not African-American, she is a Princess and that is all my daughter cares about. I may be naive and I may even be wrong. But society has looked to heroes to break barriers. Jackie Robinson, Jesse Owens, Barack Obama… Princess Tiana. My daughter compares her equally to Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella. She doesn’t see them as any different; they are all Princesses.
As Whitney Houston said: “I believe the children are our future…”
So what if my daughter told me her Princess Tiana doll wears bloomers under her dress because she poops herself?
I have a new hero this week… and her name is Princess Tiana and all of the wonderful people who have brought her to life.