January 28, 2014

Can't They Imagine That Too?

Both eyes welled up and I blinked back the throat-lump that, if released, would send me into an ugly, snotting, snorting cry. Darnit, Disney did it again. How could they have made me cry over a little egged shaped robot crying over the death of another trash compactor robot? Outisde of a WALL-E or Eva said in robot voices, I don't even think they actually had a conversation during the entire movie. But there I was, on the verge of boo-hoo-crying in a theater over them.

Another Disney movie had me believing a house could fly if only enough balloons were tethered to it. That same movie had me seriously considering the plausibility of science developing a collar that could translate dogs' thoughts into words...and wondering what our Charley would say once we got such a collar for him. That one made me cry too.

Yet another movie had me enchanted by the absolute beauty of paper lanterns floating up into a dark, star-spangled sky to commemorate the birthday of a lost (actually kidnapped) princess who didn't realize she was a princess -- or lost (actually kidnapped) to begin with.

Then, the sigh of relief rushed through me when the princess realized who she was. When she married her Prince, I almost danced in my seat along with the entire city in celebration. I couldn't help it. The music, the joy jumping off the screen, the people -- each painstakingly animated and...

Wait a minute. Stop the seat dancing. Stop it now.
Are there any brown people in that scene?

Not one?
In the whole city?
I would've even been happy about a brown person stereo-typically break dancing or poppin' & lockin' in a ten-second cameo to hip-hop music.

No brown people exist in the imaginations of the folks who made this movie?
Insert tired, exasperated sigh here.
And it was such a good movie.

Imagination is Disney's specialty. The stories that sucked me in and pulled this middle-aged psyche out of all the day-to-day stressors and reality into crying over a robot and believing the dog has the ability to talk, it was all about imagination.

It was what's woven throughout these stories. It's at the root of why we've seen enough Disney flicks in the past ten years to finance Georgia's post-secondary education twice over. 

After the dancing scene, I swore off Disney for a while...until the Princess and the Frog.

A black princess! The first Disney black princess! So, okay, maybe it was like fifty years coming, but she was here. The movie didn't disappoint: compelling story, fantastic musical score, death, rebirth, a few tears -- some sad, some triumphant -- what's not to love? Still, I left feeling a little flat.

But I couldn't figure out just quite why.


Enter Frozen. Georgia and I saw the trailer. Audible gasp from her: Mahhhhm! We hafta see this.

No. No we don't. The words spilled out of my mouth before I could self-censor.

A puzzled look from her.

Seriously, Georgia, there's only white people in this. Look at the princess: white. Look at the prince: white. It's all white -- heck, it's about snow, for crying out loud! (Okay, I didn't say the snow part, but I wanted to)

Now, before you think Hey Rochelle, aren't you married to a white guy? What's with all this teaching your daughter to hate white people business? Of course that's not it. Our daughter is white and black. I just want her to have an awareness of how media sometimes -- in this case, Disney -- defaults to white only, while putting brown folks in context when and if brown folks are in a lead role.

I explained the concept of context to her.

In Mulan, we had an Asian princess. Glorious! But it was as if Disney needed us to understand that she's Asian. So the plot -- the context of the story -- is in...CHINA, and Mulan is a warrior fighting to save her country. She's a brave, legendary figure. But is there any reason an Asian princess just couldn't be a walking-around-someday-my-prince-will-come princess? We can see that she's Asian without a megaphone screaming SHE'S ASIAN! SEE, SHE'S IN CHINA! 

In the Princess and the Frog, we had Tiana, a black princess. Now this was huge, considering Disney's history of Uncle Remus and the Dumbo crows who sounded like this. Big leap forward. But again, it was as if we needed context to understand her otherness -- her blackness. The movie's set in New Orleans in the mid-thirties, and of course, Tiana's family lives in a Jim Crow segregated south. We were treated to songs about gumbo, voodoo and swamp culture. Okay, well, that was enriching, but again: couldn't a black character just as easily have been a generic old Disney princess?

Then there's Aladdin with Princess Jazmin. Ooooh! A Middle Eastern Indian Princess...whose context is the Middle East and sailing around on a flying carpet with a prince who is being counseled by a genie in a bottle. Did you hear me? A genie in a bottle.
I can't even ask the question again here, Disney.

Lest Native Americans feel left out, we had
[insert heavy sigh here]: Pocahontas.

*bangs head on the table*

Beautiful songtrack, charming love story, singing raccoon, blah-blah-blah and loosely -- loosely based on a historical figure.
A Native American princess couldn't have been Sleeping Beauty? Or Belle?

Or that chick from Frozen?

Listen, I know Disney has fictionalized these characters, and they won't ultimately impact my child's life in a meaningful way. As a matter of fact, I loathe the whole princess-gotta-find-a-man-and-get-married-live-happily-ever-after fairy tale concept.

What I just can't understand is why, if Disney can be imaginative enough to string together stories of fancy so beautifully that your heart aches for robots that live thousands of years in the future, and leaves you considering the possibilities of tying helium balloons to your house so you could fly it out of this Polar Vortex, then...

...why can't they imagine a princess who's brown without putting her in context to help us -- or make us -- understand that she's different? That she's brown?

They specialize in imagination, and I just don't understand why they can't imagine that.


  1. What excellent points. Now if only some powerful person at Disney would read them!

    1. Thanks so much! Just knowing that I'm not crazy is plenty...a powerful person at Disney reading it would be the icing on the cake!

      Thanks for reading.

  2. Another awesome and thought provoking post!