BPW Foundation's Women Misbehavin' Blog

Well behaved women never make history

Princess and the Frog: Groundbreaking?

Posted by ywmguest on January 22, 2010

We love our network of working…men. YWM encourages you to sound off about the influence of images in the media. Today’s guest blogger is Garret Jenkins.

Fresh off the Golden Globe Awards…

IS THIS REALLY A GROUNDBREAKING PRODUCTION FOR DISNEY? OR IS IT A REINFORCEMENT OF CLOWN-MAKING , DILLUSION AND SELF-HATE?

Folks know that I pride myself on being a husband and father of two beautiful children, one of which happens to be a 7-year old princess named Morgan.  She’s my first born, one out of two of my better half’s best pieces of creative work.  We want her to be fearless, independent, forever educating herself, questioning that in which she feels is not right, and stating so loudly so she is heard and her presence is known.   She’s a bright young lady, got that interrogator mind and mouth (gets it from her momma), and a level of confidence that puts me at ease often, for I feel she’s developing into her own and is listening to her inner drum and thus marches to her own beat.  But at this age, she’s also very much into the social circle of the other 7-year old girls in her school.  Often, the topic of conversation revolves around most things Disney related.

Whether Disney’s cable channel (i.e. Hanna Montana, Suite Life of Zak and Cody, Corey in the House), it’s radio station (Playlist: Every kid that they have on a show of theirs, they have a song  in rotation on the station in addition to your Sean Kingston’s, Some American Idol runner-ups, etc.), and of course it’s movies (PIXAR’s productions in regards to the theater releases, viewing/purchase of  DVD’s of the pre-PIXAR/Disney 2-D cell animated works).  Ironically, not only have we as a family bared witness to the election of the first African-American President, but we are now about to do the same as per Disney’s first African-American character addition to its “Princess” line of animated works (it only took them 72 years since their unveiling of “Snow White” in 1937, but I’ll give them a 34 year pass due to segregation).  Now while I’m happy that my daughter will finally have an actual character to identify with, one who resembles her the most (prior to today, the closest we had was Jasmine from “Alladin”), my feelings are but marked with a big-azz asterisk (see: *) like Barry Bond’s record setting home run.  Regardless of the fact that Disney consulted with and included in their cast one of America’s most successful media titans of our time (who happens to be African-American) in Ms. Oprah Winfrey, as well a number of other veteran and new African-American acting talents providing their voices for the film’s characters (Keith David, Terrence Howard and Anika Noni Rose), the mark was missed the minute they decided to deviate from allowing their first EVER African-American themed animated film to depict black-on-black love, and decided that such was too narrow an appeal, probably wouldn’t generate enough box office receipts domestically and internationally, and decided to go Benetton with this love story!  Meaning you ask? . . . . . Allow me to expound upon this.

Disclaimer: The following copy content will be expressed as I see fit, in a vernacular that I deem fit.  My delivery may be crass at some points, eloquent at others.  You may chuckle, you may grit, but these are my words, so get over it.  Overall, said point will be made.  Now .  . . Let’s begin.

STEREOTYPES. . . . BE DAMNED!

Yes, this story could have taken place AFTER segregation.  We can also get upset about Disney reinforcing stereotypes all we want.  I read the criticisms/reviews in such pubs as the Village Voice (thanks for the link the other day, ST) and such.  Yes, there is a firefly with a stronger Lou-weezy-anna accent and exaggerated pronunciation than the Lady-whose-bonafied-fried-chicken-you-loves from those Popeyes commercials.   Even at her the height of her pissisity (due to Popeyes only chargin’ you $4.99 for her bonafied chicken), she’s still has nothing on this gabby-gums of a firefly’s speech patterns.  Hey, guess what?  There are folks of our race, down in New Orleans who probably did/do talk just like this.  Thing is, we’re pissed when the “other man” puts a spot light on this, for we feel we’re only allowed to be depicted as such by mainstream media, and never in a more favorable light.  Yes, this is true.  However, some of our most successful critiques/comics have always presented themselves or their characters that play on said stereotypes, and we laugh and learn with them before we call them out for doing so.  Richard Pryor had Mudd Bone, Chris Rock has his delivery and teefus, and let us not talk about Steve Harvey’s country azz delivery that is all day every day, syndicated radio on the daily!  I’m not even going to harp on this fact, for it’s a fact.  But again, we know what’s what, so don’t front.  This shit is bigger than a firefly, so let us move on to what that is . . . . . . . .

DISRESPECTING THE STRENGTH AND IMPORTANCE OF THE BLACK FAMILY UNIT

So Tiana (that’s the main character’s name by the way) is the child of two hard-working, manual labor parents.  Her mother happens to work as a seamstress for (you guessed it) a white family.  Her father’s toil, I’m not clear on, but I’ll bet my black azz its back-braking, poor wages work.  Now as Tiana grows into an adult, she works just as hard as her parents, waitressing tables, hoping to make her now deceased father’s dream of opening a jazz club in the French Quarter a reality.  Oh, I guess it would have been too unbelievable to have Tiana’s parents bust they azz to have their daughter attend an HBCU? Howard? Spellman? Fisk? Tuskegee?  You know, get her learn on, better herself through education and shit.  Oh, it’s okay for Mulan to kick Mongolian butt and pretty much lead the army to victory, but Tiana couldn’t even get an opportunity to get on line, pledge a sorority, make life-long connections that she could tap into and network through Jim Crow era South?  Of course not, for this would throw a Gorilla-sized monkey wrench in the standard Disney machine’s plot. It’s what I like to call the “Double X Chromosome needs life altering experience that can only be achieved by the introduction of and help by the XY Chromosome” moment.  I must say, Disney’s true to form with their work, for they’ve been beating us over the head with it from the jump:

– Snow White’s trusting self ate an apple from a strange, wickedly fugly old witch, here comes the prince to save the day!

–          Sleeping Beauty  . . . fugly witch. . . . . Beauty’s put to sleep, here comes the prince to save the day!

–  Cinderella . . Father married fugly witch of a step-mother . . . step-witch already had a pair of fugly heffa daughters from a prior relationship (the fugly gene was strong with this witch . . . Cinderella’s pops took one hell of a loss, crazy!) . . . step-fuglies strong arm Cinderella . . . Prince braves funky feet to find her and save her!

Now in 2009, this frame of thought is not the teachings of my home, or most homes that I know of in which daughters are being raised into women.  We’re about doing for self, male or female, and that you are not defined by your mate, but by YOU.  But I’m not as pissed about this as much as the fact that…

THE MEDIA’S OMMISSION OF THE BLACK-ON-BLACK COUPLE

All of Disney’s “Princesses” mates  . . . . they were matched hue for hue . . . DEAD ON!  Although Pocahontas’ did not, it was depicted true to so-called history.  Lewis and Clark were feelin’ her, wanted to have little poca-chips once they got settled in the New World.  That’s her prerogative (No Bobby Brown).  Out of all the others, she was the exception to the rule . . . . until Tiana.  Her “Prince” . . . . . . winds up looking more like Ricky Martin than Tyson Beckford.  Peep his physical appearance:

– Hair wavier than Christopher Williams AND Al B. Sure’s put together

– Skin complexion damn near got him passin’ for white during the summer months (thinkin’ he’s got his tan on, they still let him sit at the front of the bus)

I know all about the Creole folks, and like most African-American who can trace their ancestry back to early Jim Crow/Slavery times in this country, the family tree contains the mixing of the races (Native American, white and Afr.-Amer.).  Yes, we as African-Americans range in varying hues in this country, as well as our hair texture.  But for this first time in 2009, for Obama’s daughters, yours and mine, can we start with a pairing of spot on hue for hue couple like standard Disney films of the past?  WHY NOT?!!!!  Why is it deemed okay to always send in the “White Knight” to save the colored natives?  Why am I force fed this time and time again through live-action productions on the regular (from Sandra Bullock’s upcoming film where she’s pretty much the southern Erin Brocavich saving a “Green Mile” giant of a black kid, on down to the early 80’s with Mr. Drummond saving Arnold and Willis Jackson), and now animated?  Why is it that even though Disney’s pushing positive P.R. of the film by giving the opportunity to Black Businesses to come off financially with this production (spread advertisements in consecutive issues of Essence Magazine, Carol’s Daughter personal care line pegged by Disney to produce an exclusive “Princess and the Frog” themed personal care line) did they still miss the mark . . . Just how much more powerful an affirmative message to the world they could have sent just by giving their first African American themed love story between two identical (in appearance) African Americans?  They sooooo obviously missed the mark!

See, I know my daughter’s been looking forward to seeing this film since we first saw the preview on Youtube back in late 2008.  She and my wife have been looking forward to this as girls’ night out event.  I’m not going to spoil her day; I’m allowing her to go.  But I’m only doing so because after the film, when the lights come back on, and she steps out that theater and comes home, it’s her black father whose hue she resembles spot on, who is going to meet her at the door.  It’s her black brother, whose hue matches hers spot on, who is going to continue grow with her, be there for her.  It’s this black family unit, who is going to continue to raise her, teach her, expose and expand her horizons, and remind her of who she is.  It’s the examples that both I and her brother will give her throughout her life, that will reinforce to her of what a good black man is, and what (if she chooses to) look for in a man when she’s ready to find a partner.

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5 Responses to “Princess and the Frog: Groundbreaking?”

  1. Akera Ray said

    I think the white man black woman story line was a little strange too but wow…it’s just a cartoon. Let the little one’s enjoy without the racial overtone.

  2. KPH said

    I don’t think they were dissing the black family. Although many African Americans DO get into really great jobs or aspire for their kids to become great, successful, and wealthy…
    the fact still remains that black people STILL make up the majority of those in poverty in the US, so this scenerio was pretty realistic for many African Americans even today. I thought this was great representation, hopefully white kids from wealthy families will subtly pick up that impression and become allies and activists as they grow up!

    Let’s quit being so harsh on disney, aight? They originated from a severely conservative network of people, so the fact that disneyhas changed so much since it has started, it might feel slow and tedious to those of us who still want more (I know I do), but we need to recognize that they’ve made great progress. The fact that disney went from snow white, sleeping beauty and cinerella… to Ariel, Jasmine, and Pocahontas is really great. Why not try to view the frog priness from a different angle?

  3. joyinhome said

    @Akera

    I think Garrett’s commentary pointed out that he did not have a problem with his daughter seeing the film because she is getting positive affirmations at home. However, do NOT underestimate the power of images, especially on children.

    @KPH
    Check your statistics. Also, I think it is compelling that all the love interests have been mirror images (w the exception of Pocahontas) until now.

  4. gmoneygriplord said

    I’m happy to see a couple of people have left comments regarding my blog (Yes, it is I, Garrett Jenkins. Gmoneygriplord is my 80’s b-boy moniker from the South Bronx, so I thought I’d fly with it on WordPress.)

    @Akera Ray: They chose to promote an image THEY felt comfortable with & accustomed to. You’d be amazed what images can do to a young child’s mind, especially when that child associates certain characteristics with a particular image. I used to love the Little Rascals, Stymie, Alfalfa, Spanky, Buckwheat, Froggie, all of them. I enjoyed their antics. While I was not conscious of the imagery of African-Americans that the show chose to portray through Stymie and Buckwheat’s characters, my mother was. She preferred that I did not watch the show because she knew that while there are Stymie and Buckwheat’s in the world, the powers that be (at the time) chose ONLY to broadcast these types of characters in a show that appealed to young, impressionable children, and not that of other images of African Americans that these same children could learn from/be introduced to.

    @KPH: I recognized that it took 72 years for Disney to get as far as they did to finally produce a film with an African-American theme/characters. But what I (or anyone) should not do is allow them (Disney) a pass for not adhering to a practice they’ve historically done for prior movies, when it comes to relationships/love interests. Even their Pixar films follow it:

    Toy Story: Woody (Cowboy) and Bo Peep (both white)
    Wall-E: Robot on Robot love

    And if you want to get extra technical:
    Mickey & Minnie (both Mice)
    Donald and Darla (both ducks).

    Disney did not even entertain inter-specious mixing.

    So as long as they’re unveiling their first ever Afr-Amer. focused animated movie, why now deviate from their common practice of relationship pairings? Why CAN’T we get what other races/ethnicities were presented with in the past?

    People need to stop being complacent with whatever is given when what’s given is obviously lacking to some degree. Problem with accepting what’s just given to you is that it’s what the person who has offered THEIR expectation of what you should receive.

  5. Spot on with this write-up, I actually believe this web site needs much
    more attention. I’ll probably be back again to read more, thanks for the information!

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