Princess Maddy, who will star in Disney's "The Frog Princess", will take on an entirely new set of problems as well as a lofty goal. Maddy will be the first ever black Disney Princess. Here is Princess Maddy, sassy girl from New Orleans! A princess in New Orleans? Ok...I'll bite.
For my friends who have little dark skinned girls with tight dark curls, I know Maddy might be a welcome sight. One such mama has told me how she worries for her daughter's self-esteem when she tells her mother she wishes she could have straight blonde hair and blue eyes, because then she would be beautiful. We know these little girls need to see their own images of beauty. Disney, long suffering for its lack-luster performance in the realm of diversity, is trying. And it can't hurt to have those little girls who have the straight blonde hair and blue eyes completely revel in the loveliness of a woman of color as well, right? Oh my, but she is the picture of loveliness too, isn't she? But then again, if Disney thought it suffered at the hands of irate Muslims when the presentation of Middle Eastern culture in Aladdin was perceived to be stereotypically violent and blood thirsty they might be in for a surprise here. If they screw up presenting New Orleanian African Americans...well...I'm sure there's enough fodder there for the next fifteen Shrek movies. Word is that the plot line includes some voodoo, so it sounds like they've got a leg up on that! Whew!
I started to wonder why this mattered to me at all. While my children are biracial, they are boys and the chances of them being significantly impacted are relatively low. I'm all about women empowering themselves and each other, but I can honestly say, it wasn't a feminazi rage boiling in my blood when I started reading about Princess Maddy...nor was it a white privilege shame.
When I was in college, I was lucky enough to do a show called "Talking With..." It consists of eleven monologues from eleven different and incredibly interesting women. My favorite still is a barrel-racer named "Big Eight." She'd been in the rodeo since she was a child, and she loved it with everything that she was. After years of living her simple life, the rodeo was "bought" by a company that decided it needed to be packaged differently. She tells some seriously funny stories about rodeo clowns dressed up like astronauts and the choreographer that used to work for the "Ice-damn-Capades" and about how they asked her to "haul her ass through the barrel races done up like Minnie-damn-Mouse in a tutu!" But the end of the monologue, it sticks with me. I think of it often even 15 years later, even though the role wasn't mine.
"Someday, somebody is gonna take what you love. Buy your rodeo. Turn your pleasure into the Ice-damn-Capades. Do you hear what I'm saying to you? Yer just merchandise to them. Yer just merchandise..."
In the end, that's my problem with Disney. Women are just merchandise. Ethnicity is just merchandise. New Orleans is just merchandise. Welcome to the main stream, Princess Maddy. You've come a long way, baby. Now please bend over.