Monday, March 12, 2007

The Buzz About Maddy

I read an angry mom blog today about the newest Disney Princess, slated to hit theaters in 2009. I'm accustomed to parents who are angry about Disney Princesses. Lets face it they are riddled with problems for parents of someday women. The characters are entirely too focused on getting their men and the industry focuses too much on sexual stereotypes that are, if not harmful, completely one-dimensional.

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.


Evorgleb said...

Yeh I just blogged about this over at Highbrid Nation, check it out if you get a chance. Anyway, it really is about time Disney gave little girls a black princess to look up to. Its long overdue. I also think its great that the film will take place in New Orleans. I'll definately have to take my neice to the Frog Princess.

Ei said...

Here is another blog at one of my favorite sites Anti-Racist parent. Peace & love little ones.

Dave said...

My big problem with Disney isn't a lack of ethnic diversity. We've had Mulan, Pocahontas, Jasmine (my daughter's personal favorite), OK, so that's it.

The problem for me is the message. According to The Little Mermaid, Cinderalla, Beauty and the Beast and a host of others, the greatest thing that can happen to a woman is to marry a man. In fact, a woman should be willing to physically alter herself - by trading her fins in for legs - to make this happen.

Once she's married, the story ends. It doesn't matter what happens after the actual wedding, because the "I do" was her goal. Henceforth she's content to be an item in her husband's collection.

While I agree that it's great that little African American girls will have a beautiful African American princess to watch and admire on the big screen,* but will Disney have poor Princess Maddy enduring the same malarkey as her predecessors? Let's hope not.

*But not just African American girls. My daughter's best friend is bi-racial, and she'll also enjoy seeing a girl "Like Olivia" in a Disney movie.

Ei said...

Well ya' know Dave, Mulan DID kind of win a war, almost by herself, and THEN got her man. Which is a little more like real women I know ;)

Dave said...

I shamefully admit I haven't seem Mulan.

Elizabeth said...

Mulan is our favorite around here. She kicks ass.

It does leave little kids very confused at the playground when Mare grabs them and shouts "C'mon we gotta go fight the HUNS!!!"

Ei said...

but of course she has to dress up like a man to do it...

Our favorite anything Disney (mind you again, I have a BOY house) is Kim Possible. Of course if they called her Princess Kim Possible she'd be on a stick in the front yard.

Jeri said...

Kim Possible ROCKS. Seriously.

Sarah said...

Mulan kicks some major butt in this house. It's the favorite Disney movie.

Not only does the ethnically diverse girl break some major traditional gender roles, but the boys love the kicking Hun booty aspect, there's respect for the family and the ancestors, and the sidekick(s) aren't cute, cuddly animals with good PR. A dragon and a cricket? Hell yeah.

Plus, it's about time to give some props to about 8000 years of continuous Chinese culture...

Shannon said...

try as i might to not be overly dramatic, i can't help but wonder why all these smart parents are letting their daughters drown in disney princess and what will the implications be.

Ei said...

I try not to judge such parenting choices too much Shannon. Every parent has to choose his or her battles and sometimes the Princesses simply won't be the most important one to fight.

Elizabeth said...

It's a good question Shannon.

Unfortunately, it has a bad answer: because they like it.

Every girl in my daughter's class loves the princesses. Depriving her of it because of an ethereal idea she's not mature enough to grasp seems to give them more influence over her life than I would like them to have.

I don't allow her room decor to be princesses, and I don't allow her to wear the brand on clothing, but I try to do that without her noticing.

I retell their stories to her in ways that are compassionate and dynamic and complex (Snow White was going to a village meeting on revetments when the witch nabbed her with the apple) and I don't know what to say when people give her the videos except, "Thanks." She watches for a while, and then they disappear.

I wish there were some way to both raise my daughter to function in society and shield her from the influences I hate so much. There isn't. So I pick my battles.

And I do hate hate hate hate hate the freaking Disney princesses.

Nicole said...

And to be fair to Disney (in this one instance) they didn't create the legend about The Little Mermaid - it's really a Danish fairy tale from 1836. What I CAN blame Disney for, though, is allowing Ariel to bail on her entire family and culture for a dude she's known for 3 minutes. Gag.

Yes, I did.

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