The new Disney movie, The Princess and the Frog, marks another milestone that we should celebrate. In the year of Obama where we see how much image can mean to the spirit of a people, bringing a Princess of color to the big screen is much more than just a new “classic” for Disney.
We all know almost every little girl at one time in her life pretends that she is a Princess who is the fairest in the land and the one who is desired by the Prince. All too often young girls of color had to add another layer of dreaming when imagining fitting the magical slipper. They also had to pretend that their hair was as golden as Cinderella’s or envision their nose as keen as Snow White’s. This can be challenging when that is the standard of beauty society often uses to judge girls by. Well, Princess Tiana is bringing a broader nose and a bit of pigment to the party. The wonderful actress, Anika Noni Rose, who provides the voice and spirit of the animated Princess, told me how proud she is to be able to bring this important role model to life. Yes, role model. Often storybook characters are the first heroes and heroines for our children and Rose knows that now little girls of color will know that when they are at school or birthday parties they too will have a likeness to point to and say “that’s me!”
Tiana will hopefully reach the iconic status that many of her animated predecessors have reached. She will serve as an early image for girls to aspire to emulate. She will be a mirror of beauty and give confidence to young girls who have too few images of strong, pretty confident girls of color. We really shouldn’t think of this as a cute but unimportant “kiddy” movie. The Princess and the Frog has the potential to become more than a pop culture favorite, but a pop culture influence that will give girls of color confidence and strength.
The movie also shows the importance of a father in a girl’s life. Too often fathers are not seen as nurturers, but this movie shows how vital a father is in instilling values and confidence in his daughter. It illustrates the lasting impression a man has on a young woman’s growth.
In November, Daddy’s Promise teamed with Disney and Liquid Soul Media to host three events (Chicago, Atlanta and Washington, D.C.) in conjunction with the movie. Each was an afternoon of fun for fathers and daughters as we celebrated this special relationship. Each event was filled with nearly a thousand fathers and daughters celebrating their love for one another. We had cooking demonstrations, hula-hoop contests, food, games, and face painting. Fathers and daughters were given a chance to have a caricature drawn of themselves and a father-daughter portrait taken on-site. The smiles, fun and excitement were infectious.
I had a chance to talk about the importance of the images the movie will show, but I also suggested that the biggest impact of the movie should be off the screen. I talked about the fact that some people had been caught up in the “color” of the Prince and some even questioned if Tiana is black enough. It’s important not to get caught up in this. Yes, a Black Princess is a long time coming and yes, you might be able to nitpick some details (as you can with most movies.) But, the real importance of this movie is not on the screen but behind it. We need to make sure our daughters (and sons) know about Bruce Smith, an African-American who is one of the lead animators of the film. We need to introduce our children to the idea of creating our images and running our own studios and telling our own tales.
So go see this movie. Enjoy it with your kids. Don’t take for granted what this can do for the self-confidence of a generation of young ladies. Don’t let it serve only as a fairy tale. Let this be a guide to a whole generation of girls who are confident in their beauty and intelligence. Girls who know their fathers are important in their lives and that they can and should strive to reach all of their dreams…like all good princesses.