“Every mother deserves a daughter.”
– Melissa Harris-Lacewell
I had already heard some of the criticisms, feminist and otherwise. “Why does the princess have to turn into a frog?,” “Why do the character’s sound like that?,” and my personal favorite, “Where is her magical kingdom?” If any little black girls deserve their own hometown princess, Post-Katrina New Orleans black girls do.
I know, I know, I know . . . this is the moment of the black girl. Indicated first and foremost by the “hope,” and eventual realization, of a black First Lady and two black First Daughters, and followed by several Vogue covers with black women, including the controversial Vogue Italia . . . hell, even Pottery Barn Kids had more varieties of black dolls in Holliday 2009 than I could find at my local Target. However, I went to see the movie anyway, with my little princess in tow.
Two and a half-decades and running/supposedly ending? Oprah, voices Tiana’s mother in Disney’s The Princess and the Frog. Is this our mother’s fairy tale? She wants her daughter to marry, give her some grandkids, stop “dreaming” and start courting. Tiana solely desires to open her own swanky New Orleans restaurant instead. She starts off the movie with savings (as well as a penchant for her profession)! This is not a Cinderella story.
All the men in the movie, at least those survived by Tiana’s late father, are uninspiring. Dr. Facilier, the villain, is a capitalist conjurer who wants to run the city. The Prince himself is “lazy,” as Tiana rightfully admonishes. Even Bruford, Tiana’s dayshift co-worker riffs, “You have about as much chance of getting that restaurant as I do of winning the Kentucky Derby.” However, Tiana puts on her superwoman cape and keeps truckin’, believing firmly, “the only way to get what you want in this world is through hard work.”
Is Tiana truckin’ or trickin’? After all, she only kisses the frog because she wants him to turn human, marry someone else with money and share the wealth. Though she does wish upon a Disney star, she also digs into some deep pockets. Her mother is a seamstress, her daddy is dead. According to Mark Henn, supervising animator, “A lot of times in fairy tales the leading character is a little more reactive, things happen to them, with Tiana, and some of our other leading ladies, they were more proactive.”
The “problem” with Tiana is that she wasn’t loving, as her fairy godmother, Mama Odie, instructs. If she can find it in herself to follow in the footsteps of her father, who was both a dreamer (however unrealized) and a devoted father/husband, then she can live happily ever after. Of course she gets married at the end of the movie. However, her running her own restaurant is the final scene.
Legend has it that actress Anika Noni Rose, voice of Princess Tiana, asked the animators for her character to be left-handed like her. Let’s here it for “left-brained” learners/creatives! This may very well be my daughter’s feminism, a little to the left.