The Black Princess … and a Non-Black Prince???
So by now, I’m sure you’ve heard that Disney has been working extensively on the “The Princess and The Frog” their first foray into a Black Princess. I for one, am very, very excited… particularly for my niece. She can pretty much be assured that between her mother, my parents, and me she will be outfitted as Princess Maddy Tiana until Disney makes another princess (and trust me my family has an unhealthy obsession with Disney, so give up on convincing us it’s a bad idea). Well, some of you reading this will be saying, “But Dumi, didn’t you hear? The Prince isn’t Black?” Why yes, I did hear that, but I’m not sure it really moves me. I’ve got questions for Disney and You!
There is an ongoing outcry about the Princess not being Black and the Prince, who is named Naveen, being voiced by a Brazilian actor Bruno Campos and being olive complexioned. This has raised a number of questions/issues for Disney to deal with. To many, this is one more signal that Disney is not invested in portraying Black people positively or even worse an attempt to devalue the Black family. While these things are plausible, I wonder most how the decision to name the Prince and draw the Prince came along. I know that the movie has been mired in controversy and some of that controversy/buzz lead the filmmakers to change the Princess’ name from Maddy to Tiana. I wonder if this was intentionally kept beneath the radar or by happenstance, probably the former.
But I’m also interested in asking the public some questions. If the Prince was named Prince Carlos and was voiced by the same actor, would it be so controversial? Or even more so, if he was a bit darker was “noticably” Afro-Brazilian in appearance would it still be considered interracial or controversial? I imagine so, but that is probably because of how narrowly we define ethnicity within the African Diaspora. With racial and ethnic identity being such a complex subject in Brazil, the questions of who is seen as Black, who identifies as Black, and who is identified as non-Black are oh so critical. Paired with US based definitions of Blackness, that commonly derive into meaning African-American, the pairing would likely raise more than a few eyebrows … but maybe not as many. What if Tiana was noticably lighter-skinned or “Creole”? What if this Prince and Princess controversy was a chance to open conversations within the Diaspora about boundaries and racial meaning … now that sounds like a fairy tale to me!
b.t.w. – I’m really not feeling the lightening bug Ray voiced by Jim Cummings…