“The Princess and the Frog” (2009) is a Disney film, the first ever with a black princess. That is the good news. The bad news is she does not get a black prince and, in fact, spends much of the film as a frog! It comes out in time for Christmas.
Disney makes about $4 billion a year from its princesses. There have been eight so far:
- 1937: Snow White, white
- 1950: Cinderella, white
- 1959: Sleeping Beauty, white
- 1989: Ariel in “The Little Mermaid”, white
- 1991: Belle of “Beauty and the Beast”, white
- 1992: Jasmine in “Aladdin”, Middle Eastern
- 1995: Pocahontas, American Indian
- 1998: Mulan, East Asian
In 2008 Angelina Jolie, who has a daughter from Ethiopia, said, “There still isn’t a Disney princess that’s African and it’s very difficult because our daughter’s getting into princesses right now and it upsets me.” Now she will have one – a black princess at least, if not an African one.
Not because Angelina Jolie wants one and not even because America now has black first daughters. This film has been in the making since the middle 2000s.
It takes place in the French Quarter of New Orleans in the 1920s during the jazz age. The princess kisses the frog but instead of him becoming a prince like in the fairy tale, she becomes a frog! To get changed back they have to go through bayou country to find Mama Odie, a good voodoo priestess. They are, of course, guided by a firefly and an alligator who plays jazz.
The princess at first was going to be a maid named Maddy who worked for a rich white woman. That seemed too close to the whole Mammy stereotype, so her name was changed to Tiana and she became a businesswoman instead – even though Cinderella and Snow White were both maids.
The voice of the prince is played by the Brazilian actor, Bruno Campos (Dr Quentin Costa in “Nip/Tuck”). Both Campos and the prince look white and sound Brazilian. Disney says the prince has an olive cast to his skin.
It should come as no surprise: When Brandy played Cinderella in 1997 she did not get a black prince either: her prince was Filipino.
Disney has not said why, but I think it goes something like this: they wanted a black princess, but to keep it from becoming a “black” film they needed a white male lead. Yet since it is a love story where they have to kiss, the male lead cannot be white American but something as close to it as possible, like Latin American, Middle Eastern or even Asian. You see the same sort of casting decision in other films.
The leading black male character, by the way, is an evil voodoo magician.
The voice of Tiana is played by Anika Noni Rose, best known for being that other girl in “Dreamgirls” (2006). Alicia Keys wanted the part. Jennifer Hudson and Tyra Banks were also considered.
Tiana’s parents are played by Oprah Winfrey and Terrence Howard. The good voodoo priestess is played by Jenifer Lewis.