Though "The Princess and the Frog" doesn't open until December 11, critics are already weighing in on Disney's handling of its first African-American protagonist. Is Tiana, a Jazz Age New Orleans waitress who falls in love with a cursed prince, a breakthrough black icon—or just the latest example of what critics see as Disney's racial insensitivity?
Disney does cross the line: While Tiana, the titular princess, is "smart, bold and fun," several upsetting and arguably racist elements compromise the film, says Dodai at Jezebel. For instance, the imagery accompanying a witch doctor's curse seems to suggest that "African people are spooky and scary and have magical powers." And why does Disney's first black protagonist have to spend most the film trapped in a frog's body?
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The movie is refreshing, not racist: "The Princess and the Frog" doesn’t strain to emphasize Princess Tiana's race, which is part of the movie's charm, says Lisa Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly. Disney "inserts no overt lesson in the history of civil rights" into this faithful reimagining of the classic Disney formula: "Dreams are fulfilled, wrongs are righted, love prevails, and music unites."
"The Princess and the Frog"
Why is Prince Charming white? Tiana isn't the problem, says Angela Bonner Helm at Black Voices. Was there any particular reason why her love interest, Prince Naveen of Maldonia, couldn't be black, too? Though America has a "real-life black man in the highest office of the land with a black wife, Disney obviously doesn't think a black man is worth the title of prince."
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Flawed or not, the movie is brilliantly expedient: This is "sheer, commercial opportunism" for Disney, says Vince Mitchell at Times Online. With the high-profile of strong African American women such as Oprah or Michelle Obama, Disney stands to make a lot of money merchandising their first black princess worldwide—with the added benefit of being "seen as supporting the sea of cultural change" in black communities worldwide.
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