'The Princess and the Frog': Disney's Mixed Race Royalty

For what seems like forever, I have waited for The Princess and the Frog. This is the first Disney animated film about an African-American princess, and this delightful fairy tale couldn't come at a better time, what with the two little African-American princesses who live in the White House. The newest Disney royal is named Tiana, and she's a young woman with pools for eyes, a figure straight out of a fashion magazine, and a big dream. Tiana wants to own a restaurant—she makes a mean beignet—but she's so busy working to save money for it that she barely notices when a prince comes to her corner of 1920s New Orleans. Like every Disney prince, Naveen seems completely unattainable, though for reasons that have less to do with his station or his dreamy French accent than with our own, more modern concerns. Prince Naveen has a tannish complexion, but he clearly isn't African-American. My fear is that for many in the black community, the fairy tale may just end right there. (Article continued below…)

Since the 1960s, marriages between black men and white women have been steadily increasing—14 percent of all black men are now married outside the race. Yet only 4 percent of black women do the same. Why? Black women, for better or worse, have always seemed to maintain a loyalty to the ideal of the black family unit. That's understandable, even noble, but it doesn't make a whole lot of sense when so many black men don't feel the same way. Combined with the disturbing number of black men in prison, that means 47 percent of all African-American women today never marry. With those numbers, I say it's time for many black women to start thinking, and acting, like Tiana.

I'm certainly not suggesting that we all follow in the steps of a fictional character, but I am proposing that we take a good, long look at what the fairy tale is trying to teach the children of the world—and us. In The Princess and the Frog, we see a young girl not inhibited by the color of her skin or her suitor's. Of course, the film makes that easy by changing them both into frogs—it's a long story—so that color becomes the least of their concerns (after, say, the whole eating-flies thing). This gives them the opportunity to get to know each other without the added pressure of who comes from where and who looks like what. The don't-judge-a-book-by-its-cover idea may be a Disney cliché (see also Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, etc.), but it comes at a time when, as Prince Naveen might say, Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. Just last month, a justice of the peace in Louisiana was forced to resign after he refused to marry an interracial couple. It would be wonderful if the black family could stay together to face down society's prejudices, but black women can't shoulder that responsibility by themselves. And they certainly shouldn't be consigned to a lifetime of loneliness. Princess Tiana is able to find happiness by wishing upon a star, but all that black women have to do is open their minds.