The Princess and the Frog
This research paper reflects hidden messages of racism, covered in Disney fairytale The Princess and the Frog. It also includes analysis of several articles regarding the movie that demonstrate the real subtext of the fairytale and its impact on young and adult audience. In addition, the research paper examines and negotiates princess Tiana’s racial and social identity.
Keywords: racism, segregation, African-American culture.
The Racism Implication Regarding African Americans in the Disney movie The Princess and the Frog
African-American stereotypes seem to be the most provocative question of past and present. People seek the ways to dispose of stereotypes and put aside all prejudices of the past. The main stereotype is growing African-American culture during years of slavery and colonization. At present, the African-American population is considered less educated, involved in crimes, drug or alcohol addicted, underprovided, or simply poor. Unfortunately, African-Americans are often called as Black people, which is politically incorrect nowadays. Many people of African-American race break those stereotypes in spite of what others think. For instance, they become successful politicians, musicians, and artists. Nobody expected that a man with African-American roots would ever become the president of the country. Over the time, many stereotypes about African-Americans were neglected and the rights of Americans and African-Americans became equal. Nevertheless, it must be admitted that the fear of racial discrimination exists. It is a point of honor to stick to the rules of ethics and human behavior in the modern world. After all, it does not matter what is the color of the skin, but what is the color of the soul. However, even nowadays, some racial segregation can be seen in the movies and even cartoons. The following research paper seeks at analyzing the Disney fairy tale The Princess and the Frog from the racial discrimination perspective. It also aims at answering the questions whether this fairytale was animated for a reason in order to make rumors about racism deeper; whether Princess Tiana and New Orleans were a good choice and whether the movie affects young audience and fans of Disney in general.
The research of the racism’s demonstration in mass media, in The Princess and the Frog, in particular, had shown that society cannot escape the judgments and prejudices. The works of such brilliant researchers like Breaux and Engel, Barker and Foote, Gehlawat and Chowdhury presented in the paper, reveal the truth about recondite hints in the Disney story The Princess and the Frog. In the movie industry, Disney is one of the most powerful companies that impacts people and presents standard stereotypes. Sometimes, Disney movies contain too many sexism or insulting moment regarding race, religion, or social status. Being as popular as Disney is, it is not that hard to manipulate and control people via media. Considering all the above-mentioned information, movies must contain deep insights and mostly innocent implication.
Without any doubt, this movie influences little children, showing stereotypes, people’s behavior, habits, and social status or its absence. The young audience may not understand clearly all hints of the movie, but most of the African-Americans realize that self-esteem and confidence may be damaged. The plot of the Disney movie The Princess and the Frog takes place in 1920s in New Orleans city, USA. The main characters are Prince Naveen and Princes Tiana. Both of them have the dark color of the skin although differing. According to the historical details, New Orleans of 1920s was the time of jazz birth; the obvious racism of those times was not hidden. On the contrary, as the main character has worked in the café, trying to fulfill parents’ dream, there is a hint of racism. Nevertheless, the mother of Tiana was a maid, who served rich white girl, which is the indication of racism. Even if the Disney have tried to absorb historical details, it is far from the reality of life in the USA in 1920s and 1930s.The movie clearly shows that black people are poor and have to work hard while white people of New Orleans are rich and may count on wealthy future. For the first time in Disney history, a princess was shown as a black girl in order to get rid of criticism because most of the Disney princesses were white. That was the nice try of Disney to demonstrate African-American princess in the movie as a symbol of non-racism. Prince Naveen was charmed and became a frog until he feels princess’s kiss.
One of the important features in The Princess and the Frog is racial segregation of 1920s in the USA. Thus, people with the dark color of the skin, the African-Americans, in particular, had to suffer from discrimination, facing educational, medical, employment, and other limitations. It is understood that demonstration of segregation in the Disney movie was too shocking. Taking into account the current state of affairs in the USA regarding African-Americans, The Princess and the Frog was provoking enough to displease people.
Analyzing the semiotics of the movie, several examples occur. For example, one of them is a situation when poor Tiana dreamt about opening her restaurant while working hard in the café (Hill, 2014). It clearly shows how low income for African-Americans was a standard life. Aside of that according to Engel (2013), the movie shows “that capitalism, craven materialism and the power associated with money leads to an unjust society, and offers, in contrast, an alternative value system based on family values, true love, and financial independence” (p. 59).
Speaking of authors’ opinion, for instance, Engel (2013) has interesting thoughts watching The Princess and the Frog. The Princess and the Frog was set in the early 1920s, during New Orleans roaring jazz age (Chowdhury, 2009). In addition, Engel claims that “the film running for 57 to 97 minutes showing that Tiana a green frog and she was also waitress who does not gain a princess status until the very end of the movie”. (Engel, 2013, p. 60). Interestingly, Tiana was a little girl at the time when Woodrow Wilson was elected as a Republican president who increased racial oppression through segregation.
Furthermore, Breaux in After 75 Years of Magic: Disney Answers Its Critics, Rewrites African American History, and Cashes In on Its Racist Past expresses another interesting opinion. The article represents the historical intersection of race and gender in Disney’s The Princess and the Frog: black women in animated film in the US during 100 years. The executive used this movie to respond to its critics who claimed about the racism in its animated features. The critics pointed out that Disney had presented non-whites as racial stereotypes. The answer for the critics stated that princess Tiana was not the first non-white actor, as Aladdin and Jasmine were first non-white actors from Middle East. The article also reflects that black women could not be trained in skilled occupations and were not intelligent enough to do anything besides low-skilled job (Breaux 2010).
Considering another intriguing Barker’s point of view in Hollywood, Black Animation, and the Problem of Representation in Little Ol' Bosko and The Princess and the Frog, the transformation of princesses’ characters over the years is a telling indication of the changing demographics and audience in the USA since 1930s. The difficulties can be easily shown by examining the critical and popular responses to The Princess and the Frog. The majority has railed against the film for ignoring racial realities of 1920s New Orleans and casting mocha skinned ethnicity as the lead male (Barker, 2010).
In addition, an insightful article I Want to be a Princess Too': Exploring the Blackout of Disney's Princesses and Controversies Surrounding The Princess and the Frog and Its Effects on African American Girls by Foote (2011) leads to the following conclusion. The Princess and the Frog was released on 2009, as Disney finally decided to add an African-American princess to the Disney movie. A great number of people were upset and believed that the disagreement surrounding the movie is relevant and must be discussed. Some bloggers accounted that The Princess and the Frog is an animated movie, which does not affect children. Nonetheless, children internalize what they see on media and everything depicted affects their self-esteem. The article reflects the agreement that Disney could avoid racism and African-American stereotypes (Foote, 2011). The fact that prince Naveen was presented as a European Brazilian actor may lead to the general opinion that African-American boys feel they are not good enough to be a prince or win a heart of an African-American princess.
What concerns the Strange Case of The Princess and the Frog: Passing and the Elision of Race by Gehlawat (2010), this article clarifies that Tiana is the first princess that has an actual job at the end of the movie. Furthermore, she is a hard working and devoted to the craft woman, “a working-class African-American girl who strives to open her own restaurant in New Orleans in the 1920s” (Gehlawat, 2010, p. 417), which is too ambitious for young women of 1920s of New Orleans, where segregation prospered. The author of the article described it as “the time of Segregation, a period in which those declared “Colored” or “Negro” were relegated to second-class citizenship” (Gehlawat, 2010, p. 420). Finally, The Princess and the Frog has all chances to be politically incorrect due to the current African-American president of the USA. Open statements about segregation might be controversial, as Gehlawat (2010) admitted “presidential campaign and administration of Barack Obama, in which race is simultaneously ever-present as a subtext and yet never invoked” (p. 429).
In conclusion, it is worth mentioning that The Princess and the Frog does not show the true reality of 1920s, including racial and social limitations, caused by segregation in the USA. Despite the general opinion of legal equality for all races in America, especially for African-Americans, the real state of affairs is far from perfect. Regarding personal impression of The Princess and the Frog, it is not defined. On the one hand, the movie is a desperate try to present something old and traditional using fresh digital methods. On the other hand, the movie has too many questionable moments of racism. As it was mentioned previously, Disney movies that influence millions must be more considered wisely, taking into account present relations between nations and races.