I have so much to say about representation in media that it would be nearly impossible for me to write it all out coherently in one post. That is why for right now I want to focus on Disney for a moment. Specifically the princess films.
The two major Disney princess movies coming out right now are Moana in November and the live action Beauty and the Beast next year in March. Moana looks like it was very well researched and people of Polynesian culture are being included heavily in the story, which is good, but I don’t believe Disney deserves cookies for it given that this is the bare minimum that should be done. Disney also recently introduced a Latina princess named Elena for television. This is a bit tricky because Latina’s come for very varied cultures, and lumping Elena into one category is a bit of a cheap tactic. Elena and Moana are the first new WOC* princesses in Disney since Tiana in 2009 making it almost seven years since audiences saw a brown woman playing a lead. Meanwhile Rapunzel, Elsa, Ana, and Merida have been introduced in the interim adding four new women (technically Elsa is a Queen) to the already long list of white royalty in Disney. This is a problem.
It’s a problem, because in this country which boasts diversity (only when it’s convenient) and has a large population of latinos and black people only three women represent the vast majority of the minority population (I’m loathe to include Sophia the First in this example). Little girls of color have almost no role models that resemble them or their culture despite the fact that Disney is one of the largest company’s around making movies for kids to consume. Of the WOC that do exist in Disney movies none of them are known for their beauty (Think about who’s the fairest, or the most beautiful girl in town, or more wonderful than Aphrodite). They are admirable because they work hard and are strong, which isn’t a on it’s own a bad thing, but it tells WOC something they already know, and that’s that they have to be better to be seen at all.
The live action movies as a result are just as bad because they aren’t adding a new element to the fairy tales we already know, they are keeping casting pretty pale, and if this keeps up we probably won’t see a live black princess until 2030. To further emphasize how problematic this is I want to add that what bothers me the most about the new Beauty and the Beast. It is not just that the important characters are all white, but that a woman with six Tony awards is playing a wardrobe, and a talented biracial actress who played a character named Belle already is playing a feather duster. Long story short: Black women (who are in my opinion far more talented then the lead) are playing maids. A long tired stereotype that makes me want to scream. If you’re not a minority this might be hard for you to understand, but as a biracial woman, who is very proud of her black heritage, and is friends with people with equally poor representation I’m quite tired of it. I am not a servant, I am a god damn princess.
In closing: Mae Jemison saw Lt. Uhura on Star Trek and felt like she could go to space, and Whoopi Goldberg felt like she could act. The female athletes at the Olympics are killing it and Simones’ are inspiring black girls to swim and do gymnastics. Princesses have inspired several little girls to see something magical in themselves. More diversity is the key it always has been. I won’t stop talking about it until people realize it’s true, and then do something about it**.
*WOC- woman/women of color
**I could go on for longer but I want to give people a chance to breath and digest.