3.15.2007

A Whole New World

“That’s it Mommy, I want that one!” My three-year-old flung her arm towards a wall of shiny, sherbet-colored princess costumes.

“I thought you wanted to be a duck.”

“I changed my mind. I wanna be Cinderella for Halloween. See it, Mommy? Right there!”

I tried not to notice the crinkly, powder blue costume creeping slowly into my peripheral vision. “Um, how about a ladybug?”

“No, Mommy. Cinderella!”

Of course that’s who she wanted to be for Halloween. After all, the blue-eyed, bouffant-wearing princess was the it-girl of Four-year-old World. I knew that J-Jo was more interested in playing dress-up and looking "pretty" than actually looking white, but I still had my reservations about endorsing it. I was never that crazy about the Disney Cinderella with all of her whining and pining for Mr. Right; I’m not raising my daughters to wait for some guy on a white horse to gallop in and whisk them off to Wisteria Lane. I want my girls to aspire to become much more than daydreaming debutantes in ball gowns. The last thing I need is some cartoon character contradicting me.

And then there was that other part. As an African American mom, I resented the fact that for so many years, Disney had never bothered to create a black princess.

American Indians had Pocahontas and Asian Americans had Mulan (both sort of underrated, but at least they were there). And of course there’s Jasmine, who always seemed like she’d only been created to keep other minorities from getting mad. Clearly somebody at the mega-corporation knew that white people weren’t the only ones with Orlando timeshares, or they wouldn’t have created the few princesses of color they had. So where the heck was Princess Imani? Black families like Epcot, too. I wanted a princess I could, I mean, my girls could relate to. Several more seasoned moms had mentioned that the princess fetish is just a phase, but if I was destined to spend the next six years or so getting dragged into the princess aisle at Target (or even worse, the Disney Store) I needed more incentive to be there.

No one could convince me that plunking $19.99 on the counter for that costume would be anything more than a deposit on my daughter's future therapy sessions. I couldn’t stomach the thought of letting my beige-skinned daughter dress up as the archetypical porcelain-skinned princess for Halloween. At the same time, I wasn’t ready to tell J-Jo why she couldn’t make her own decision about what to be for Halloween. So I stood there for a few minutes, staring at the wall of flammable frocks. And then I caved. There’d be plenty of time to talk about the difference between real love and fairy tale romance later, right? And we could discuss race forever, considering we’ll be black all of our lives. But at that time she was three years old. She’d only be three once.

So much of parenting is about picking battles; this time I'd chosen to surrender. I gingerly placed the costume in my red cart and wheeled it towards the check out line. J-Jo just sat there beaming at me; her smile could have upstaged the sun. When Halloween rolled around, I removed the cheesy, plastic cameo (with Cinderella’s face on it just in case it wasn’t obvious) from the front and sent J-Jo off with daddy in search of strangers with candy. I tried to focus on the joy on her face when we bought that costume, instead of my resentment at the company that inspired it. Then I sat on there the couch nursing our two-month-old twins, fantasizing about a day when little girls like my own would know a princess character who wasn’t based on a Eurocentric beauty standard.

And then she arrived, Disney's very first animated BAP.

The ninth member of the $3 Billion Princess A-List is Maddy, heroine of “The Frog Princess”. The 2-D animated film is an original story set in 1920’s New Orleans. In 2009, Princess Maddy will join the likes of Jasmine, Mulan and, yes, Cinderella. She’ll be given the royal treatment, with her very own rides at Disney World and dress up clothes to match. Rumor has it that Alicia Keys, Dreamgirls’ costars Jennifer Hudson and Anika Noni Rose are all vying for the lead role. Keys reportedly called the producers and begged for the part herself (sources say she’s received a second audition). One might scoff at the persistence of these starlets, fighting over a part like it was a sale rack at Filene’s Basement. True, the role itself is little more than a glamorized voice-over, but to anyone who grew up too black to be Snow White, the prospect of a black Disney Princess speaks volumes.

Disney has dubbed “The Frog Princess” “An American Fairy Tale”, so hopefully girls of all ethnicities will be able to identify with its heroine…at least for a little while. As I write this, J-Jo’s Cinderella Halloween costume is crumpled in ball at the bottom of her closet; the princess phase has run its course. Yet I know that Cinderella won’t be the last Disney diva to join us at the dinner table. In no time, J-Jo’s baby sister Coco will want princess get-ups of her own. And princess sippy cups, princess pajamas and whatever else that dreaded Disney store has in stock. Not that I’ll always buy into it. I’m just thrilled that by the time she asks, there’ll be another choice: An African American Disney Princess, with her very own happily ever after.

Imagine that.

12 comments:

Evorgleb said...

Yeh I just blogged about this over at Highbrid Nation, check it out if you get a chance. Anyway, it really is about time Disney gave little girls a black princess to look up to. Its long overdue. I also think its great that the film will take place in New Orleans. I'll definately have to take my neice to the Frog Princess.

Rachel said...

I am a Disney-hater, and so far we have avoided all the princess merchandise. . .is it hypocritcal of me to at the same time be glad there's a black princess? I'm also glad it's set in New Orleans, because anything that keeps NOLA on the radar is a good thing.

Jessalyn said...

I was thrilled to hear about this. For years, I've very begrudgingly bought my biracial daughters Disney princess merchandise. For the same reasons you mentioned, I hated buying it when there were no princesses that looked anything like my daughters, but I also didn't know how to explain this to 2 to 4 year old girls. I also resented other moms thinking that Mulan, Pocahontas, and Jasmine were enough representation and that I should be satisfied with that. I look forward taking my daughters to see "The Frog Princess"!

Nerd Girl said...

It's good to know that I'm not the only mother out there with these internal struggles - how to balance them just being children, with the knowledge that we have to impart before they leave the nest.

I'm glad that 1)there is a black princess and that 2) she looks black. I have a serious problem with "black" dolls that are just darker versions of the white dolls.

Lovegirl is currently in a "ballerella" stage, but I'm sure it won't be long before princesses rule!

Christopher Chambers said...

Why couldn't they have set it in Harlem? I'm getting sick of the South. There is too much Tyler Perry, 3-six Mafia and College Park , Georgia mess out there. Black culture has been bamma-ized. I'm changing my name to Sgt. Watters, you geechies!!!

Just kidding...it's been a long week...went to beach to write and it was 80 degrees there and DC. Came back and it was 35 degrees. Then my white sister in law was scrunching her nose at these new black princesses. Pocahontas is cool, but why no sisters for my nieces? Ugh!!!

Anonymous said...

If you blacks want their own "black princess" dolls, then why don't some blacks form their own company and make them theirselves just like many others have done with many things??? Blacks always sit back and whine that "whitey" isn't doing enough for them and expecting everyone to hand them something. They never want to take responsibility for themselves, that's why their communities are such a mess.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous,

Black people just can't win with some of you White folk. Here you say "why don't you just get your own?" When we get our own, e.g. BET, Jet, Ebony, Essence, they YOU COMPLAIN about there being a Black TV station, Black magazines, Black stores, etc. You don't know how many times I've been asked how come there's a "Black _______? White people don't have a ________" Gimme a break!!!

SMP

Anne said...

I'm with the mommies who dislike Disney and applaud this: it's great news!

My little blue-eyed girl (4) is, alas, princess mad like the rest of them but at least she likes all the princesses equally. And Maddy is cute in that insipid princess way.

I'm shocked at how long it's taken--but the premise sounds promising.

And yes, amused at how quickly I cave to my daughter's desires. I tell myself that princesses themselves may not be inherently anti-feminist or normative. I'm trying to make her into an active, anti-racist, powerful princess not some little anorexic sleeping until the prince arrives... We'll see how that goes...

Yvette said...

I was initially very happy at this news, but am getting less so the more I hear about the details. For example, there appear to be no "good guy" Black male human characters. Two White men are writing the story and Randy Newman (?!) is doing the music.

I guess I'll try to reserve judgement until the film actually comes out.

Aly Cat 121 said...

ohhh the princess struggle. we tell our girls that THEY are the princess NOT cinderella, or snow white. But then we don't have cable much less more than 3 channels so I don't think they know about Disney and those phony azz princesses.

Keith said...

Let's just hope that the princess doesn't fall in love with a rapper, or aspire to be a dancer in a rap video. And please, no talking (hood) rats.

Mrs. J said...

Rumor has it that she and her nemesis (a plantaion owner's daughter) vy for the attention of a European prince *cough*. More on that later.