Ready for the most preposterous crap you will read all day? It comes to us via Vince Mitchell, in a piece for the Times Of London, arguing that The Princess and The Frog is "capitalizing" on "The Obama era."
…Why has Disney brought out a black princess now? It's not as if the black population of the world has suddenly increased in size or spending power to attract its attention. No, it is sheer, commercial opportunism on the part of Disney.
"…The high-profile nature of President Obama and his First Lady means that this princess is being launched against a heightened consumer awareness of the dreams of black people coming true and it will receive lots of press coverage."
Now, Mitchell is a professor at Cass Business School in London. So he's looking at this from a business perspective. But the concept of The Princess And The Frog — originally titled The Frog Princess — had been kicking around at Disney/Pixar since at least 2006. In fact, the decision to put Randy Newman in charge of the music of the film was made in November 2006; casting for voices started in December 2006. Barack Obama was sworn in as a Senator the previous year. It doesn't quite add up. Plus, Disney's first princess, Snow White, was "born" in 1937. So the question shouldn't be "why now" but "why so late?" Why, for an all-American movie company, does the black princess come after an Asian princess and a Middle Eastern princess?
Is Disney interested in making money? Clearly. But the company is also interested in telling interesting stories, and a fairy-tale set in America, with black characters, qualifies. Even more troubling is this, from Mitchell:
With the increasing rise of successful black American women - think Tina Turner strutting her stuff at 70, Whitney Houston's recent comeback, the Oprah phenomenon and now Michelle Obama all being seen as "princesses" in their different ways - the aspirations of black American women to transform themselves have never been higher.
Really? black American women aspire to "transform themselves"? From what? Into what? This man writes as though every black American woman is living a gangster life in a ghetto, dreaming of being Princess Michelle Obama. There are millions of successful black women in this country, with millions of different journeys. Ms. Obama is not the sole role model black women have. Plus, she is admired by women of all colors. And if any black woman "aspires" to "transform," what the hell do Tina Turner and Whitney Houston have to do with it?
Upon showing parts of this article to Anna, she declared over IM:
"Heightened consumer awareness of the dreams of black people" is the stupidest thing I've read in a long time.
I can't agree more. If you want to argue that black Americans are being covered more by the media, I'd say duh; our president — and his race for office — did call a lot of attention to "being black in America" and resulted in lots of articles about How Black People Live Today and Who Black People Really Are and What Black People Want. But consumer awareness of dreams? The black experience is not a monolith; not a product. Dreams vary, and ONE black Disney character doesn't — and isn't meant to — represent them all.
Don't worry, though, Mitchell expects that any excitement about black people will pass:
Tiana is likely to be a niche as opposed to a mass market product in the long term. So, just as black American first ladies have a finite period of office, so, too, will Tiana.
Look, admittedly I have not seen the film, but it's so dismissive to think of this project as "niche" because it's a black princess. Time will tell, of course, but it's upsetting to assume that mass-market = white. Was The Cosby Show niche? Is Oprah niche? Is Beyoncé niche? Is the wise Latina known as Dora The Explorer niche?
But you know, arguing about Mitchell's ridiculous essay is pointless, really — the man is OBVIOUSLY a little… off. To wit:
…Depending on how many hearts she wins over, someone is bound to make the connection between Princess Tiana and Princess Diana, which will resonate even more strongly with consumers and give the character an added dimension of stardom.