Disney Debate: Tiana

Welcome to Disney Debate!

Over the next 11 weeks, we’ll discuss each of the “official” Disney princesses. Read the information and question below and then use the comments section to join the debate. Engage with people’s comments by replying to them, and add your own points by creating a new comment. Comments must be civil to be included.

WEEK 9: TIANA

Tiana (from The Princess and the Frog) is Disney’s first African American princess. For some, this was seen as a major victory, for others it was travesty that the first Black princess spent most of the movie as a frog, still others had no opinion about the princess’s race.

How important is racial diversity in Disney princess movies?

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12 thoughts on “Disney Debate: Tiana

  1. When it comes to narrative, diversity is important. The last thing you want is uniformity of characters, plots, settings, etc. Racial diversity is not necessarily needed for this, but when it a) makes sense, and b) isn’t forced, it can be great.

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  2. I think the movie did it well. It didn’t hit you over the head with race, and it didn’t just do a princess palette swap. Is race important? It seems important so far as culture has made it important. I at least found that the character made sense the way she was presented, and addressed the current culture.

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  3. I guess it depends on what we what the source of the princess aspect to be: fairy/folk tales, picking different cultures or just picking/making up princess stories, some of them only fit that narrative? Like Tiana seems a bit more American Girl or modernized fairytale, rather than a more traditional folk tale princess story, I guess. Most of the other ones seem to be based on fairytales/folktales/historical myths, etc. that are for the most part, quite old, often older than the movies settings.

    I mean, I guess, why did they make her American, rather than a traditional African fairytale, the only other American princess of any race before Tiana is Pocahantes and traditionally, Pocahantes actually only American Disney princess, period, in a folktale, traditional sense (and that’s a bit of a stretch really, its more romanticized history; I’m sure more traditional Native American stories can be found). Moana in that sense would be Oceanic. Non-native Americans don’t have a purely American style folk-lore because we weren’t here when folklore was important.

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    1. I’ve heard this critique from some other people as well — the idea that the first black princess should have been in a story based on an African folk tale. And that definitely could have been interesting but I don’t think it’s a necessity. America is filled with people of all colors who don’t identify with the country/place of their family’s origin.

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      1. That’s not quite my meaning, and this prompted me to think harder. The American part isn’t very folk/fairytale-ish. I think maybe that is part of the question, is identifying in every way the point of fairytales? It wasn’t before.

        America, as now, according to this definition “America is filled with people of all colors who don’t identify with the country/place of their family’s origin” isn’t the source of fairy and folktales; this is more applicable the the American Girl idea (representing the variety of cultures, races, etc. in America). All animated ones are set in the folk/fairytales country/continent of origin in places and times when princes and princess were more of a real thing while Tiana’s story is both very specifically American, African-American, New Orleans, very modern (1920ish?), (and yet still European as the story is European). Disney is American, the voices are all American, but the stories were more global, older previously.

        There is nothing wrong with a modern princess retelling, I love that idea, but that is not the normal model of these fairytales. And America has its own folksiness, yes, but I don’t think this fit the regular fairytale pattern, rather its a new thing all together, and so maybe doesn’t actually represent diversity quite in the imagined way. It isn’t actually broadening the selection/culture of folktales, its starting a different brand of princess (with still European versions of fairytales). Which hasn’t been picked up. We’ve just gone back to the older style of folktales and origins. What I mean is, Tiana could have been any race, and the story wouldn’t fit the traditional Disney fairytale storyline.

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      2. Ah, I see. Yes, you make a good point that the other movies are set in a time/place that goes with their story and an equivalent narrative might be an African folktale. But I do think her story fits into the classic Disney princess narrative — just in a more modern setting. And, as I said before, I really appreciate that her skin color is not the point of the story.

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  4. My first comment didn’t go through. I think when you’re writing for an American audience, one which is so diverse, it is important for a little girls to be able to see themselves in the characters. It’s nice even when they just have similar appearance, not necessarily exact heritage. I remember one year for Halloween I wanted to be Pocahontas but decided against it because I didn’t look enough like her and thought a blond Indian would be silly.
    While I appreciated the fact that Tiana was an American princess, and I love the Jazz elements, it would be nice to have an actual African Fairy tale.

    Next I think I’d like to see a princess from Spain, maybe an Inuit princess, and an Irish princess.

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    1. I definitely see your point, but I wonder why we are so focused on outward appearance when we talk about little girls “seeing themselves” represented. Surely Disney princesses are all about the princesses’ inner attributes and that these are what we respond to in the stories and characters. What I liked about The Princess and the Frog was that, while Tiana was black, her blackness wasn’t the point of the story.

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