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!