To The Left

“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.

9 thoughts on “To The Left

  1. I remember your fb status said you thought the movie was delightful. But from this post, I’m getting a different vibe, a more critical vibe, perhaps a more neutral feeling. Am I getting it wrong?

    What you bring up about black men in the movie is interesting too – do any of the Disney movies portray male characters in general in a positive light? (I’m not big on Disney so I can’t say. And I still haven’t see this movie, though the kids have.)


  2. I did think the movie was extraordinary. I left feeling like Tiana was my kind of Princess. I think I actually like that none of the men are inspiring characters, it lets her have a moment to shine and black girls and women need more images like that on the big screen.

    You have inspired me to revise and include a line that I originally had in the piece. I was trying to achieve academic critical distance 🙂 But I left the movie gushing like I was standing in front of the magical kingdom for the first time.


  3. I’m invested in this movie–for academic purposes (presenting on it at a conference in April) and because I have a daughter. Like LaToya, I’m not big on Disney (their pedagogy on race, class, gender in movies isn’t exactly benign, if you know what i’m sayin’). That being said, I haven’t seen the movie yet! Will do so today. I will say that as a feminist mother, I am concerned about the implications of princess-mania, though I think it’s great in a lot of ways that Disney finally has a black/Creole princess.


  4. I don’t have the answers, but I certainly think it speaks to what so many of us speak about nowadays…the dilemma of the single woman, especially the single black women – resting on the crux of independance and solitude. Bell Hooks talks a lot about this in (can’t remember which title) but says that patriarchy is truly the blame. So if we understand patriarchy and how it uniquely relates to the black experience in america, I felt I could very much so identify with the movie AND everything that I think you accurately stated above from Tiana’s focus and the less than stellar men in her life after her father….
    I do think it is not benign…but certainly worth discussing


  5. I haven’t seen it yet. Haven’t really had much interest in seeing it. I know, weird huh? Not really. I, too, am so over the princess thing. I have a 7 year old step-daughter who is all about princesses and I’m princessed out!

    However, from your review, it seems that there is a strength to Tiana’s character. One that we’d like to use as an example for our cocoa daughters.

    But here’s the rub…

    Isn’t that stereotypical of a Black woman? To have this spirit of doing it all by herself, being “strong”, outspoken, in the company of lesser men? What is Disney saying about Black women? Are they merely reflecting the truth that is the Black woman? Independent, strong-willed, determined, able to handle everything on our own? Or are they saying something deeper, like, we’re not cut out for the traditional fairy tale fantasy of damsels in distress being rescued by dashing princes? Better yet, what is that saying about White girls? Because Jasmine was strong, Mulan was a fighter, Pocohantas was fiesty, Nala kicked ass. All of these “colored” female leads are strong, defiant, challenging while the White female leads/princesses are seemingly weak-willed, codependent, and worth nothing without their men?

    Maybe we should be less concerned about whether or not Disney “finally” gives our girls someone to look up to and more focused on the fact that our daughters’ (of color) have been spared such pathetic portrayals.

    I dont want my step-daughter aiming to be anybody’s princess or waiting for some man to come along and validate her existence. Go Tiana!


  6. “Isn’t that stereotypical of a Black woman? To have this spirit of doing it all by herself, being “strong”, outspoken, in the company of lesser men? ”

    That’s the thing, she isn’t desiring the company of lesser men at all. She is fiercely independent. Listen to the song lyrics from “Almost There,” “look out boys I’m coming through.” Though I know that we have to be critical of the myth of the Superwoman, I do not feel it is problematic to present one as a representation of a possible image of black womanhood.

    All of the women in the film are not like Tiana, including her mother in particular. However, she puts aside the clubbing and works a day and night shift to save for her dream. Furthermore her white, rich, BFF is completely is the exact opposite, she’s spoiled and wide open for a Prince. You have to see it to believe it, but I’m telling you, it was progressive as hell.


  7. No, I didn’t mean she desired them, but merely she is In the company of them. That is saying something.

    And having her White friend be that way speaks to my point about what Disney believes is the White female’s fate.


  8. I was excited to see the first black princess, growing up i was never a make believe or princess type of girl. I was excitYeed because I got to see someone that looked like me in be a disney princess. I like to see blacks in the media and especially in a positive light. I feel as though disney could have done a better job but this was simply better than nothing. Yes the male characters could have been shown in a better light or at least had a positive male character there throughout the movie. No it wasn’t much of a fairy tale other than she married a prince and a little magic here and there but I enjoyed the fact that it was a little more realistic Tiana believed min hard work and she had to learn to live a little to open her heart. These are traits I would love for my kids to grow up learning.


  9. Tanji, I loved this movie so much! The thing is–I knew the “terms” of Disney going into the movie, and I was not disappointed by the stereotypes of my hometown I’ve grown accustomed to. Quick disclaimer: this absolutely does not absolve Disney’s for its egregious characterizations of the ‘Other.’ And as a black feminist spectator, I’m always aware of the intersections of race/class/gender and how this awareness illuminates certain elements of film,and how it challenges assumptions about representations of people, for example. That said, Tiana, on so many levels, is very iconic of black women workers; if we wanna theorize on race, class, and gender, man this movie is perfect for that. The thing is, it’s never black or white, is it? Discussing this movies in term of binaries, i.e.–whether it’s racist or not, whether it’s sexist or not, is reductive and could limit the possibilities of illumination.

    Tanji, for reasons-not known-yet, I also did not mind that Tiana was a frog for most of it–the resulting fellowship in the swamp among all the animals was something to be experienced!


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