Recently on my Facebook timeline, I saw a post about Disney Princesses. Somebody had claimed Disney to whitewash, whilst another person went through various characters and said the backgrounds and setting of each film would not fit a mixed race or black princess. Brave being set in Scotland and Frozen being a take on Hans Christian Anderson's Snow Queen (set in Scandinavia). After reading the post, followed by an argument between my friend and her friend in the comments, I formed my own opinion. And although I was going to comment on the post, instead, I decided to turn it into a blog post. Before I begin, I hope I don't cause offence to anyone in this post and despite being a huge Disney human, I do not tolerate racism or any kind of discrimination in the slightest.
First off, I would like to throw it out there and say Disney, was without a doubt, racist. Walt Disney was a middle class white man who grew up in the early 20th Century. Disney started as a company in 1923 and in those days being white was the 'superior' class. Segregation and racism was at its height, and although slavery had been abolished, servants were all people of colour. I am in no way saying this is right, but for a film Director and creator, Disney's target audience were millions of versions of himself, so having princesses of anything other than a white ethnicity, would've made no sense. This does not, in any way, make it right to use only white princesses, I'm simply explaining the reason behind the prior racism.
Since the first Disney princess film, Snow White, princesses are actually in the minority of films. Not including remakes (who really cares about Mulan 2 or The Little Mermaid 2- no one? Exactly) there have only been 14 Disney Princess films made since 1937. And there was a 30 year gap between the release of Sleeping Beauty in 1959 and The Little Mermaid in 1989. Culturally speaking, the 1950's and late 1990's are a completely different world. With laws against discrimination in housing, employment, social services and public coming into play throughout the 1960's and 70's, although racism was (and sadly still hasn't) left the UK and America, as a society discrimination is a lot rarer and multiculturalism is everywhere. With this in mind, since 1990, there have been 9 'Disney Princess' movies. And out of those 9 there has been Mulan, Aladdin, Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Princess and the Frog, all of which have leading ladies of different ethnicities.
As a middle class white teenager, I think it's really easy for me to sit here behind my computer and say 'they've thrown in a few ethnic minorities, Disney aren't racist'. But that is not what I mean at all. I know there is complete and utter blatant racism in films, and by using black or mixed race characters, it does not make Disney any less racist. In my opinion using the setting as a basis for discrimination doesn't really work, if Elsa has magical powers and Ariel is a mermaid, surely Disney can add characters from all over the world no matter the historical accuracy. Thankfully, being American or English does not mean you are white middle class anymore (how boring would the world be).
As a huge international organisation, Disney should be moving with the times, and I think in terms of a new era, Disney has proved itself to be far more inclusive. Saying this, as an organisation with such a big hold on the world, it should definitely branch out and use fables and stories from other cultures. Given time, hopefully Disney will restore faith from all humans of all ethnicities and portray them accurately and with actors and actresses suitable for the role.
I hope this has given you some food for thought, next time you settle down to Love is an Open Door!
Ciao for Now!