Demonstration and representations of race within Disney movies is a topic with plenty of subject matter. Movies that immediately jump to mind in regards to this subject include Aladdin, Mulan, and of course, Princess and the Frog.
When this movie came out in 2009, it was considered incredibly revolutionary in the world of children’s movies. A black princess was something that had never before been seen in these fairytale films. While I LOVE this movie, I also think it’s also a good representation of white privilege in the United States. Before we go any further, we must first define what white privilege is. The term “privileged” is often lumped together with the term “racist”, but they’re not the same thing.
One of the best explanations I’ve ever seen of this concept is in a blog titled “What My Bike Taught Me About White Privilege” In which the author expertly alludes privilege and transportation. She talks about being a bicyclist on a road built for cars. While there are drivers who harass bicyclists, they’re not the main problem because even if they all disappeared, it doesn’t change the fact that the road were still built for cars, and the drivers of these cars don’t have the same worries and fears as the bicyclists.
If you have time, I would definitely recommend reading this article here: http://alittlemoresauce.com/2014/08/20/what-my-bike-has-taught-me-about-white-privilege/
To put it simply, being privileged means you are in a group that the system was defined to benefit, and in this country, that means white people. From the time of the founding fathers, our country was designed to cater to and benefit white males.
Now let’s get back to Princess and the Frog. For those who have not seen the movie, it features a young black woman named Tiana living in New Orleans in the 1920s Who has always dreamed of owning her own restaurant. Now bear in mind, this was before the Civil Rights movement and in the midst of the women’s suffrage movement, so being a black woman was definitely not a privileged position to be in. I’m sure this movie doesn’t truly represent how blacks were treated during this time, but it does shed some light on the different opportunities that are available to black people and white people in the United States.
The movie starts out with young Tiana and her mother at Tiana’s best friend Charlotte La Bouff’s house. Charlotte is a young white, blonde girl whose family is obviously fabulously wealthy. In fact, the only reason Tiana and her mother are there is because her mother is a seamstress who constantly sews beautiful and extravagant gowns for Charolotte. Right off the bat, there is an established dynamic of the black character being the server and the white person being the served. And as soon as Tiana and her mother leave, you watch them go from a wealthy neighborhood with huge mansions to the poor area where they live with almost exclusively other black people.
The entire movie, there is this parallel between between Charolotte and Tiana’s lives. Tiana works two jobs, non stop, just trying to scrape together enough money for the down payment on a restaurant location. And in one scene, Charolotte pulls all the money Tiana needs out of her father’a wallet and hands it to her in exchange for her cooking services at a ball Charolotte is throwing. And even after Tiana brings the money to the realtors, they tell her they will be selling to another buyer and and that a woman of her background was better off staying where she’s at.
Now since its a Disney movie, and it needs a happy ending, Tiana eventually gets the money she needs and obtains her dream restaurant, but the bliss of the ending seems to pay no attention to the endless hoops she had to jump through to get there that the white characters never would have had to. I mean even the villain of the movie, who’s supposed to be the antagonist, is just a poor black man trying to compete with the wealth of the La Bouffs.
And truth be told, this sugar-coated ending is a perfect representation of the post racism and post Obama way of thinking in our country which is the idea that simply because we have a black president, there is no longer a glass ceiling for people of color in this country. So forget that Tiana grew up in a poor neighborhood, forget that she lost her father in a war and her mother most likely received no help afterword, forget that she literally had opportunities ripped away from her; She worked hard and got what she wanted because none of those obstacles supposedly had any bearing on her ability to succeed.
This is the same attitude that prompts people of privilege to criticize things like affirmative action by saying its unfair. This is based on the idea that just because they are at the same finish line competing for the same prize, that their starting lines were at the same place. And the truth of the matter is, in the system that we have, that’s just not the case. Life is not a fairy tale for everyone in this country.