Disney Introduces First African-American Princess

Has it really taken this long?

-Julie Ryan Evans

Apparently it’s easier for an African-American to become president of the United States than it is to become a Disney princess. But this year, at last, marks the first for each.

Princess Tiana will make her debut in the upcoming Disney movie “The Princess and the Frog” set to hit the big screen during the latter part of this year. The pretty princess’s doll likeness was unveiled this week at the American International Toy Fair.

I’m not up on my Disney princess facts, but I was shocked there hasn’t been an African-American princess before now. I mean they are everywhere and on everything, have I really never seen an African-American one? Has it really taken this long for such a progressive company as Disney to introduce one?

To be fair, it’s also to be the first American princess at all – I had no idea how cosmopolitan those princesses were!

Tony award-winning actress Anika Noni Rose will provide the voice for Princess Tiana in the film, which is set in 1920s New Orleans. Others lending their voices to the film’s characters will include Oprah Winfrey and Terrence Howard

Disney executives told USA Today they didn’t introduce Tiana to deliberately address diversity.

“It was much more about the storytelling,” says Kathy Franklin, vice president, global studio franchise development for Disney Consumer Products. “This was not about a conscious decision to say we need an African-American princess.”

Of course, the wildly popular First Family and demand for diversity in the marketplace won’t hurt …

Tiana could have hit the shelves before Obama hit the White House, but her earlier incarnation introduced in 2007 wasn’t met favorably. The film’s initial story line had her originating as a chambermaid named “Maddy”. There was an outcry that she started out in a role reminiscent of a slave, and apparently “Maddy” sounded too much like Mammy. So changes were made.

And at last, all little girls will be able to see themselves in the faces of the beautiful princesses peppered on every piece of merchandise imaginable.

“We did a lot of work internally to make sure that the product that we were developing would speak to a really broad range of moms,” Franklin said in an article in Black Enterprise. “We don’t see Princess Tiana product as being just for African American girls at all. But we want little girls who have not seen Disney Princesses who look like them to see Princess Tiana and be thrilled that they have a character in our franchise who speaks to them and how they see themselves as a princess.”

Of course then there’s the question of if little girls should be seeing themselves as princesses at all …

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