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“precious, precious princess of power”

June 2, 2009

So, i just got wind of this:

This upcoming Disney movie is making waves for two reasons: the Princess in question is black and it is hand-drawn.

Regarding the second, first for its simplicity, hell fucking yeah! Did you catch that: hand-drawn? Not computers, and, from what they’ve released so far, it’s gorgeous. You can see some of the images here, though the text isn’t that great.

Regarding the first, there is a lot of sensationalist bullshit on both (all?) sides of the discussion. So, go read this. I couldn’t say it better. That is, the personal parts don’t apply to me, but are well written and reasoned, and the theory parts are spot-on, i think.

I do have one…not divergent, but…additional opinion on the subject of race and racism. While Disney may do better or worse, there is no way for it to make a non-racist portrayal of race. Do not translate that as “Disney is a hopeless case!”

Any portrayal of race – particularly in mass-media – in a racist culture, will be racist. (I’m going to pretend that we all agree that we do live in a racist culture for the sake of expediency. But if you want to go, let’s go. Just, this isn’t the time.) This follows directly from the idea that the audience imparts its own experience on any piece of art. If race is a part of my everyday life, then everything i see having to do with race will be interpreted based on my experience with race, be that the Civil Rights movement, that black guy next door, affirmative action, or some of my black best friends (or, obviously, other ethnicities as well).

A semi-hypothetical example from “The Princess and the Frog”: one of the subjects that has come under fire is that the prince in question is white (Latino, it seems, but white nonetheless). So, what the fuck, all the white princesses got same-race princes (unless we’re counting mermaids as a race, but she even ended up – anyway…) Would it be so hard to show two black protagonists in one movie? Or give the little black boys some kind of Disney model? Or perhaps this reeks of eroticizing black women at the expense of both the women themselves and the black men who are being completely ignored (or trampled out of the picture)? Those are the first few arguments that came to mind.

So, it should be a black prince! What if he were? Would that make it an “ethnic” picture, negating the value of “mainstreaming” a black Disney heroine and doubling the weight of every other racial blunder in the movie? Are we saying that the black princess can’t have the same (white) Prince Charming the white princesses get?

This could go with most of the things. Is ____ “too black” (stereotyping!) or “not black enough” (anglicizing!)?

I am not saying that there is never a better choice simply because there is never a non-racist choice. As such, i am not saying that criticism (such as the above dichotomy) is overreaction or unnecessary. This is not fatalism. The more these issues are discussed, dissected, even simply noticed, the smaller they get. 

That is the reason that, while we don’t know exactly what Disney is going to give us, we know it’s not going to be Dumbo’s “Jim Crow”.

But it would be stupid(ly white) to pretend that is all it takes to not be racist.

Lady Brett

"Princess Of Power" - Two Nice Girls
3 Comments leave one →
  1. June 3, 2009 1:27 pm

    Re your point: “Any portrayal of race – particularly in mass-media – in a racist culture, will be racist.” I respectfully disagree. Perhaps I’m misunderstanding you but it sounds to me like you’re saying that there is no way to rework/critique/subvert racist ideologies. Surely we cannot simply escape or transcend racist institutions and the ideologies that support them, but cultural representations do not only or merely reflect dominant ideologies.

    Also, why “particularly in mass media?” Why would a mass-mediated form of representation–a Hollywood film, TV, whatever–be inherently more racist–or more likely to be racist– than a low budget indie production, a literary work, or a blog (!)?

    For the record, I’m the last person to defend Disney. They have a long history of labor abuses and human rights violations in China (where their factories are) and they have not become more socially responsible in recent years despite their continued growth and financial success. They are now the second largest media conglomerate in the world but the factories that make their toys have appalling and unsafe working conditions, including excessively long hours (often 16 hours a day), high injury rates, illegally low pay, nonpayment of wages, forced overtime, and forcing workers to sign blank contracts.

    I wish that those concerned with Disney’s racial politics would also consider the part that racism may play in the corporation’s inhumane and often criminal treatment of Chinese workers.


  2. June 22, 2009 11:20 am

    oh my, i’m sorry it’s taken me so long to respond! (i haven’t been ignoring you – or, rather, i’ve been ignoring everything, not you particularly.)

    you are, of course, correct. that’s what i get for using absolutes!

    i think, perhaps, i ought to have said “will be open for interpretation as racist.” my main point there is that, because of the important and volatile role that race plays in society, there can’t be a “right” way to deal with race. there can (certainly!) be better and worse ways, but even positive efforts to rework/critique/subvert generally will also contain negative racial aspects, though they may be minor in comparison to the “good” side of an idea. i hope that is a bit clearer?

    oh, and that about mass media was terribly said! all (i think) i really meant was that, by virtue of being “mass” it’s – in some respects – more important because it will have a broader audience. (which, i realize, is not at all what i did say – sorry!)

    also, thanks for bringing up the more real world issues concerning disney.

  3. June 25, 2009 4:24 pm

    Hi Lady B, No worries. I certainly agree that there’s no “right” way to address questions of race and ethnicity. Which is one reason why I don’t find it particularly helpful to focus positive or negative representations in the first place.

    Hope you’re having a good summer!


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