It was 2009. Winter was fast approaching. And I knew that meant one thing, The Princess and the Frog was on it’s way to nationwide theaters.
I had been waiting my whole life to see a Black Disney Princess, and I had even convinced myself that it might never happen. But here she was, Tiana, a creature as lovely as Belle. The Disney channel was promising a special look at the movie, and I was glued to the TV.
… But what I saw wasn’t Tiana. It was Rapunzel.
Before I had the chance to see my first Black Princess, I had to endure 25 minutes of endless advertising for Tangled, the first CGI princess. And for the next few weeks, I couldn’t see Tiana without seeing Rapunzel. Which would have been fine, if this was a double feature, but Tangled wasn’t due out until summer of next year. This was Tiana’s time.
The following year, the movie went to DVD, but at first the only place you could find it was at the Disney Store. I was going to apply for work anyway, might as well peek in and see how much a Tiana doll would be.
No sooner did I walk into the store did I see an enormous banner for Brave, then very early in development. Banners for Rapunzel and the new, then un-named princess from Brave were all over the place.
As for Tiana? She and the Arab princess Jasmine were pushed together on a very tiny shelf, in the corner, behind the Alice in Wonderland display.
A Disney Store employee asked me if everything was alright. I handed my application over, and she left me with another employee.
I asked the second employee when Brave was coming out. She said that it was too early to say, but Tangled was going to hit theaters very soon.
I then asked her about the Princess and the Frog DVD, but somehow, this was “magically” out of stock and not likely to be ordered ever again. Mind you, it was opening day for the DVD.
Curious, I had to ask a question that I had been trying to stifle this whole time. “Please don’t think me rude or anything” I began in my cleanest voice “but could you tell me… um, why are there so many banners already for Tangled and Brave? I mean… we already have tons of things here for Cinderella, Ariel and Aurora, and even more for little Alice, and the Enchanted display is still very big, but where are the displays for Tiana? Or Mulan? Or Pocahontas? Or Esmeralda and Jasmine?”
Without missing a beat, the lady looked me right in the eye, and in a firm but kind tone, told me “Because White girls need to feel included. Right now, there isn’t very much for them at all, so we at Disney strive to provide these girls with the kind of ambition and drive that they are usually sheltered from. Besides, every little girl needs to be told they’re beautiful, and White girls don’t get to see this message at all these days.”
I leaned backwards onto the counter. She asked me if I was alright. My eye was twitching and I had gone pale. She even said “My goodness! You’re as pale as Snow White, should I call a doctor?”
I smiled weakly, and told her I was just a tad dehydrated. I bit my tongue so hard though that I did draw blood. So innocently, I ask another question. “Do you still have those beautiful Esmeralda dolls? I was thinking of getting one for-“ she cut me off. “Oh no, those things DON’T sell well. People really just want Cinderella these days.”
“Oh that’s too bad” I start. “I’ve always likes Esmeralda’s ambition. Some of my friends joke that I look just like her.”
This is when the first employee came back, shouting in my face that Disney was on a hiring freeze, and that they were even so close to downsizing their own staff. As she said this, I saw the second employee whisper something into the telephone.
Exactly one week later, a friend of mine emailed me that Esmeralda had been removed from the Disney Princess line-up. I can’t make this up, it’s even on Wikipedia. And that truly is a shame. Esmeralda is the closest thing to a mixed-race princess for one, and for another, she's very savvy. Seemingly the type of ambitious go-getter that the Disney store employee would want girls to see.
I can’t help but wonder though, why does Disney continue to do this?
Now don’t misunderstand me. I like all of the princess almost the same. I like Rapunzel’s spunk, Snow White’s childlike innocence, Tiana’s insistence on hard work, Esmeralda being cut from a different cloth, Aurora’s whimsy and Belle wanting to read books without pictures in them. But right now, the princess scene is a little lopsided.
Melody is the tween daughter of Ariel and Eric, yet is seldom mentioned, even during the advent of a third Little Mermaid film. Is this because she's a tween? Has her father's man-brows? Maybe it's because the sequel just didn't do so well.