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Stereotypes and Disney Heroines: Inseparable Bedfellows

Media reactions to the new Disney movie The Princess and the Frog, the first Disney feature with a black heroine due to be released in time for Christmas 2009, have been a decidedly mixed bag. Disney’s first African-American Princess, Maddy, lives in New Orleans of the 1920s, and dreams of capturing the attention of  Prince Naveen.

Some critics have lambasted the production, claiming that the movie promotes negative black stereotypes rather than challenging them. Others think we should get a grip —  it’s about time Disney had a black role model for young girls, and The Princess and the Frog is no worse than other Disney releases, such as Aladdin and Mulan, which portray simplified versions of other races and cultures.

The lack of black female role models in media is a serious problem. Vogue has been repeatedly criticized for the limited diversity represented by its models , and high profile middle-aged black celebrities, such as Oprah (who was in fact a consult for Disney on the movie and voices the role of Princess Tiana’s mother) hardly appeal to a youth market.

But what about the content of the movie itself? Aside from worries about racial stereotyping, there has been little discussion of the hackneyed, traditional, and broadly anti-feminist premise of TPATF: Princess Tiana spends pretty much the whole movie focusing on winning the affection of her Prince. Few of the Disney Princesses are particularly independent, and Tiana’s representation makes no attempt to break that mold.

So what do you think? Does Disney need to rethink its heroines, or are we just getting over-animated about some harmless animation?

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