Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Chocolate Chip Recommends: The Princess and the Frog

“I love Princess Tiana, she’s brown like me” says 5 year old Brooke Bellamy just as the opening scene gets underway introducing the world to the long anticipated first Disney African American princess. Goosebumps spread over my body upon the first viewing of her chocolate face on screen.

As I sit back and begin to watch the movie through my Chuck D lenses, I do run into a few cultural landmines that give me pause. Why does the African American princess have to be poor? Oh wait, I forgot about Cinderella’s pedigree. Did the first Black Princess have to be a frog for over 50% of the movie? I get the modern twist on The Frog Prince and how it ties into the transformative nature of the story, but seriously? I overheard a non-African American mother say to her child, “we thought we were coming to see a movie about a princess but instead we saw a movie about frogs”

Why did Princess Naveen have to be from an exotic location like Maldonia? What’s wrong with the prince being a brother from Brooklyn? Even though it’s the county of Kings, I guess that wouldn’t work since we don’t have monarchies here.

Why is Ray, the lightening bug toothless with a dialect and a mumble worse than Mushmouth from the Cosby kids? My heart truly sank into the pit of my stomach when he opened his mouth for the first time. Conversely, my husband had a totally different response. Ray’s warmth reminded him of a family patriarch. His judgement was overwhelming favorable and represents the varying perspectives that can exist when people of different backgrounds and experiences view something but see totally different things. Ray is a transformative almost Christ-like figure who brings wisdom and enlightenment. We fall in love with him because of his tenderness. His beauty shines thru despite his frailties. Perhaps that’s the point? If he had teeth would I feel better? Would it impact the overall outcome? Is there some hidden lesson on not judging from outward appearances?

Is Disney insensitive? Are they conjuring up negative stereotypes? Well we know Disney’s history is spotty at best when it comes to cultural sensitivity (there was a white Pocahontas at the Disney Princess experience following the screening for goodness snake). Even though it took upteen years for Disney to figure out that a Black princess was a good business idea, they have invested time and capital into this project and the only outcome they want is SUCCESS. Is my vision blurry? Am I being overly sensitive? Are people going to laugh at or judge us negatively as a result of this film? I understand the concerns and they are valid, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I don’t think that is the case here (if this were Rupert Murdock and Fox we’d be having an ENTIRELY different discussion). I don’t give anyone a pass for insensitivity or conjuring up old stereotypes, but maybe just maybe we’re (myself included) taking things a bit too seriously.

While my daughter and the children in the theatre thoroughly enjoyed themselves it can leave African American parents with unanswered questions. Having said that, after tucking those thoughts into the back of my mind and turning down the volume on the “Fight the Power” track playing in my head, I thoroughly enjoyed the film and highly recommend it! Tiana is sassy and smart while exhibiting great discipline, focus and drive. What better role model could we ask for our little girls? Jazz and the spirit of New Orleans (pre-hurricane Katrina), both play supporting roles in the film making for a wonderful musical experience. It’s an entertaining story with enduring themes of love, family, legacy, diligence, transformation and the fulfillment of dreams despite the obstacles- positive, timeless values that cut across culture or socioeconomic status.

Most importantly, Brooke gives it a thumbs up because even at her young age, she understands the validation that comes with having a princess all her own and seeing herself on screen. The entire theatre brimmed with excitement and embraced OUR new princess! I saw girls of all cultures and ethnicity proudly wearing their Princess Tiana costumes to the screening and patiently waiting in long ques to be photographed with the newest princess during the Disney experience.

I hope The Princess and the Frog becomes a Disney classic and stands the test of time (like Cinderella and Snow White- the princesses of my generation). I want my daughter’s daughter to know Princess Tiana and the future princesses of color that will follow as a result of her success. Because when it’s all said and done, every little girl wants to be a princess. After all, isn’t that what the magic of Disney is all about?

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