My Princess Is Black: Op-Ed by Jana Landon

As part of our “The Princess and The Frog” series, Dartmouth student and IMAGES intern extraordinaire, Jana Landon, gives us her take on the movie and its meaning from a millennial’s perspective. This is Jana’s first blog for us, but sadly, this is her last week at IMAGES. While she was an ADORABLE kid [see photos of Little Jana dressed as Disney’s Princess Ariel and Princess Jasmine above], now she is a poised, sharp and ambitious young woman who’s made herself an asset here at IMAGES. She will only thrive in whatever she chooses to do after Dartmouth. And now… here’s JANA BANANA!

I grew up on flying carpets, little mermaids, glass slippers, and enchanted castles with talking pots, clocks, and candles. In my house, you’ll find a bookshelf nearly filled with Disney VHS tapes, and a toy bin filled with souvenirs from Disney World and Disney on Ice, Disney princess Halloween costumes, and countless Disney Happy Meal toys. Even today, at 20, my iTunes is as likely to shuffle to Jay-Z as to The Little Mermaid’s “Part of Your World,” Beauty and the Beast’s “Tale as Old as Time,” or “Colors of the Wind” from Pocahontas.

I remember having to beg my mother for permission to get my hair wet in the bathtub when I wanted to be like Ariel and then feeling frustrated when she’d answer, “No, because I’m not trying to do your hair!” I also remember not understanding why the “flesh tone” mesh on some of the Disney princess costumes didn’t match my skin. I don’t think it ever occurred to me that there weren’t any Black princesses, but I don’t think it would’ve mattered much to me at that age either.

I was in love with the stories and I still am, to some degree. I get such a strong feeling of nostalgia toward these movies when the kids I babysit beg to watch them over and over again. And no matter how old you get, almost every little girl knows exactly who Jasmine, Ariel, Cinderella, and Belle are and has some relationship with these movies.

Well, now there’s Tiana – and she’s a sista’ – and I absolutely love it! Most of the excitement and anticipation about this film isn’t from the little girls I know, but from people my age who also grew up on Disney movies. At the same time, I’ve also heard a lot of the inevitable criticisms surrounding the film. I’ve heard some of the characters speak improper English, the prince isn’t even “all the way black” [he might be Creole], and the most vehement argument: “How come when we finally get a princess, she isn’t even a princess for the whole movie?”

I haven’t seen the film and I don’t know if it’s racist or culturally insensitive or an attempt at “brainwashing society with multiracial relationships.” I’ve also read Disney was very receptive to feedback from the African American community. For instance, in initial drafts, Tiana was a chambermaid named Maddy—which thankfully didn’t go far. An underlying issue that I anticipated the film exposing is the difficulty with creating the quintessential Black princess when dialects, skin tone, and hair make African Americans so diverse and different.

I still want to be captivated by the story like when I was a little girl, but as college student, I know that it’s going to be hard not to overanalyze Tiana’s portrayal. Still, to really make it feel like the good old days I’m waiting a week until I return home for Christmas to see The Princess and the Frog with my Mommy!

Advertisements

3 responses to “My Princess Is Black: Op-Ed by Jana Landon

  1. Jana!! I agree with your last paragraph the most. I went to see The Princess and the Frog yesterday and I found myself analyzing the movie from an African-American Studies minor more than trying to enjoy the movie.

    Overall, I realize that no matter what Tiana’s name was or what her dialect was or what she was wearing , there’s no way she could represent the variation of the African American diaspora. With that understanding, I can appreciate the fact that there is a little more melanin in the skin of Disney Protagonists.

    The first of many important factors is the name. I’m glad her name wasn’t Maddy the Chambermaid, I’m also glad her name wasn’t Shenehneh. Tiana is a fair name, it’s certainly a Black name but it’s not a stereotypically “ghetto” name.

    I’m glad she didn’t have exaggerated black features: wide nose, big lips, big butt. She was clearly a Black princess based on her features, but Disney did a good job of not over-exaggerating features to make her nationality clear.

    As far as dialect, I can appreciate the dialect. this country has a problem of assuming that northeastern white talk is the “right” way to talk. The English language is so diverse and these dialects don’t just exist within the Black community. White’s from Vermont talk differently than Black’s in London; Natives in Oklahoma speak differently than Hispanics in New Mexico. The characters in The Princess and the Frog spoke with a clear New Orleans accent. I had no problem with the colloquial language used in the film.

    As far as the prince, we can’t expect for everything to be Black. I got the impression that the Prince wasn’t 100% black also, but what is 100% black anymore? Ever since slave owners had children with their slaves, “true” Black blood hasn’t existed. So any disgruntlements about the race of the Prince, while they are fair, they’re not quite valid for the aforementioned reason.

    The ONLY problem, I had with this film, and it’s a very minor problem in the grand scheme of things, but it has to do with the food that the Princess cooked. Everytime Tiana needed to add one last ingredient, just guess what that one ingredient always was? Tabasco Hot Sauce! When she set the table with her mother after she got the building, she put a tablecloth, salt, pepper and hot sauce. Now, I realize that New Orleans/Creole food often uses spicy foods but all I could see was the stigma of Blacks and hot sauce being perpetuated.

    Overall, I LOVED this movie. The music was great! There’s a little twist at the end that is VERY cute, and very Disney-like. It’s great for a date, it’s great for a family outing. I’m so glad to see Disney making strides to include the diversity of this country in their films. Now I’ll be expecting the Hispanic Princess and her Quinceanera movie coming out by 2015

    -KayBee

  2. awww I loved it!
    I agree. The movie is probably going to be flawed in so many ways, but hey, that’s Disney. These are the same people who made that racist scene in Fantasia with the centaur-slave :/
    We’ve come a long way… lol

    And I’m waiting to see it with my mommy too :))))

  3. I don’t know if I like the idea of a remake of a story we’ve all heard before. I feel as if Disney could have put some thought into making a real authentic story. The movie doesn’t make any sense to me, a black Princess in the states..?? I too grew up on Disney movies, and I was very upset with this one.

    ~Tiya

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s