Disney’s Latest Princess

March 15, 2007 at 11:31 pm (movies, theory)

Today Disney announced that it is introducing its first black princess, Maddy. Maddy will star in The Frog Princess, based on the Grimm Brothers’ fairytale “The Frog Prince”—this story will be set in New Orleans. Maddy is already being touted as a “strong princess character,” by Walt Disney Studios Chairman Dick Cook. But I have to wonder how this character will play out in the film, loaded already as she is with gender-bias and racial implications.

As Peggy Orenstein discusses in her article “What’s Wrong With Cinderella?” the Disney princess empire is booming. Disney Consumer Products has sales in the range of $3 billion. Most disturbing about this trend is the message these characters send to girls. I argued with my husband about this just the other day—being a student of the media, I started to insist that any children we have not watch Disney films. He claimed they are harmless, that we all watched them when we were kids…until I argued that these films would convince our fictitious future daughters that their goal in life was to be pretty and rescued (being an engineer, he of course desires that they should be the same—and engineers fix problems themselves!).

One has to wonder what kind of expectations the princess creates for women—they not only have to be smart, but also kind and beautiful. I still wonder how much I succumb to this in life—do I dress or act certain way because I choose to, or because it is expected of me? Do I find it difficult to openly show my anger because it is a part of my personality, or because as a girl I am supposed to be kind and courteous?

So, does Maddy provide a strong role model for young black girls where there was none before, or does she serve to assimilate an untapped demographic into the princess empire? I suppose we’ll find out in 2009…


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