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Maddy and the Importance of Disney’s First Black Princess

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This article is neither a review of Disney’s The Frog Princess, which will be released later this year, nor is it a critique of the sparse occurrence of positive Black role models throughout the history of Disney folklore. This article is about the internalization of imperfection, especially among young Black girls.

Personal identity is a general phrase philosophers use to describe the continuation of memories, beliefs, and values of an individual through time. Many factors contribute to the formation of personal identity, including our familial, cultural, and social interactions. Another important factor, though often overlooked in the formation of personal identity, pertains to the role of the media in shaping systems of beliefs and values among a population of consumers.

Within the Black community, one of the most sensitive topics of discussion among parents and their daughters pertains to what I would call the princess mythology — specifically Disney’s version of the mythology. Disney understands how to interpret demographic and statistical data, and the interpretation of that data surely contributed to the embodiment of their princesses, specifically their hair color.

In marketing their line of princesses to young girls, Disney understands that some girls will have red hair, some will be brunettes, some will have black hair, and others will be blondes. It is no coincidence, then, that their line of princesses and princess dolls reflect this particular demographic distribution – a distribution regarding hair color.

Why is this important?

It is significant because the young, red-haired girl may most identify with Ariel, the young blonde with Cinderella, the young brunette with Belle, and the young black-haired girl with Snow White. The particular demographic distribution that Disney was seemingly factoring heavily into its market research was the specific distribution and diversity in hair color across a projected population of consumers.

Until now, Disney had no princesses with which my little girl could identify.

It is natural in the formation of a person’s identity, especially among children, for them to seek to confirm their identity in archetypes. If these archetypes cannot adequately accommodate the specificities of their identity, then rather than attempting the near impossible feat of changing the archetype, the young girl attempts to change her personal identity to conform to that of the dominant archetype.

The young girl may look in the mirror and look at her princess doll. She may look at the color and texture of the doll’s hair and she will immediately recognize that she is different from the princess. She is other than a princess. Finally, she is not a princess at all. As a father of a young Black girl, I have cried for my daughter and her struggles to relate who she is with what she sees in the world.

Gladly, Disney will create a new archetype for her. Hopefully, The Frog Princess’ Maddy will love as the other princesses have loved, and she will learn a profound moral as the other princesses have learned.

I am grateful that the executives at Disney have finally learned their lesson. For better or worse, they play a major role in fashioning the personal identity of young girls the world over, and theirs should be the business of inclusion.

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About Jason J. Campbell

  • http://www.joannehuspek.wordpress.com Joanne Huspek

    As someone who is of different ethnic backgrounds, I was not amused or comforted with Disney’s portrayal of native American or Asian women. But, I’m also not pleased with the makers of Barbie. Both companies deal heavily in fantasy, and I’d rather have realistic models, not something “out of this world.”

  • http://jasonjcampbell.org/blog.php Jason J. Campbell

    Good point Joanne. I wish I could escape my little girl’s fascination with princesses but there are some battles I just can’t win. She’ll understand when she’s older, but you’re right Disney’s depiction of Asian and Native American girls was less than satisfactory.