I was 12 years old when The Princess and the Frog premiered. I remember how big of a deal it was; the first black princess. I didn’t end up seeing it until my 13th birthday when I got the DVD as a gift. Because I was so young I didn’t realize the importance of this film. This film means a lot to the African-American community. Hence why I am writing this post. I’ll admit the first time I watched this film I found it rather lackluster. I didn’t think that it was bad, just-not that interesting.
My family and I have had discussions about this movie (yes, we’re an African-American family). I was surprised to find that for the most part they didn’t like it. I really didn’t understand why. So I asked them to state their problems with the movie. And they did. I then went back and watched it a 2nd time and I was in awe of this movie. I think I love it so much now because I am older. I now possess the mental capacity to understand symbolism and themes and all of that which lies beneath the surface of this beautiful Disney film. I write this post in defense of this movie.
This blog post will address my family’s complaints about the movie and probably some other peoples’ as well.
-Tiana should have been prettier/lack of “wow”-factor
-Tiana grew up poor
-Tiana didn’t start out as a princess
-No “culture” about her
-Villain should have been scarier
-Stereotypical black name, Tiana
-A lacking soundtrack
-Prince wasn’t “princely”, non-regal
-Setting should have been different (example-Africa)
-Tiana’s mother worked for a white family
-No mention of Tiana’s beauty
-Tiana was a hard-working black character
-Was a frog for most of movie
That is quite a list. Lets begin with the first point. Princess Tiana not being pretty. Now It was never that Tiana was ugly but it was implied that the other Disney princesses were prettier than her. I almost didn’t include this because this opinion is purely subjective. I truly do believe that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. There are some factors to take into consideration explaining Tiana’s look. Tiana is the first American Disney princess. Thus she is supposed to look like African-American women from the U.S. Don’t get me wrong I’m not saying that all black women look like Tiana but she has that look about her and it is these exact features that make her beautiful. This movie was made for black American women and girls. A lot of black women have Tiana’s same features similar to how a lot of Asian women have a lot of Mulan’s features. It is to let these women and girls have someone to relate to. To let them know that they too are beautiful.
Now onto the second point. Tiana grew up poor. Tiana’s childhood played a HUGE part in her becoming the princess that she became. Looking back at Tiana’s childhood she was a total daddy’s girl. Her father cooked and taught her to cook as well; gumbo being the specialty of course. They even shared the same dream of opening up a restaurant. Her father was an extremely hard working working man who loved his family and his community. In the movie it states that he worked two-sometimes three jobs at a time to make sure that his family had all that they needed. When Tiana told her parents about what her best friend Charlotte said about wishing on a star her father instilled in her a valuable lesson. That making wishes and dreaming will only get you so far, you have to work hard for what you want and earn it. This is something that Tiana carried with her for the rest of her life. Tiana is not a typical princess because she is so hard-working. This is crucial character development.
The third point. Tiana didn’t start out being a princess. I personally don’t see the issue with her not being a princess from the start. Mulan wasn’t a princess, she never even had the opportunity in the movie to become a princess. Cinderella didn’t start out as a princess. In fact that is the draw of the Cinderella story, rags to riches. The difference is that Tiana worked for her riches. Belle also did not start out as a princess. In fact you could even say that she too was poor judging by her house. This once again speaks to the theme of hard work in The Princess and the Frog.
The fourth point. Culture. This movie portrays a lot of black culture (and no I don’t mean being poor). For example she grew up in this impoverished neighborhood where the houses were smaller and the streets looked unkempt. But none of that seems to matter when little Tiana announces to the neighborhood that she made gumbo. You are then able here hoots and hollers of excitement about getting to taste her food. You can even hear a man shout that he has some hush puppies to go with the gumbo. This is something that I see a lot of in black culture and even in my own family. Things may be bad however we have good food and this brings people together and gives you something to smile about; especially in harsh times.
Now onto the fifth point. The villain. Dr. Facilier. Now I personally found him quite frightening for a Disney villain. He was the first villain to outright murder someone on screen and it was the comic relief (Ray the firefly) at that! The person who complained about this said that Scar was a scarier villain. I asked them why and they said that Scar was more evil. Some could argue that Scar killed Mufasa and he did, pretty much. Technically it was the wildebeests that ended Mufasa’s life however Scar being as crafty as he was set all of that up. Dr. Facilier saw Ray interfering with his plans and he almost nonchalantly steps on him and kills him. I suppose both of these of these villains are evil but Scar is unwilling to get his hands dirty. Both of these villains are after one thing, power. Both willing to do anything to obtain it. With Scar he kills his brother and lets his nephew, Simba, think that he is responsible. With Dr. Facilier he turned to demons and evil spirits for help. If I were a child I definitely would be more frightened of whatever spell or curse Dr. Facilier would put on me than if Scar sent a hyena after me (not that that is not scary).
Point number 6. “Stereotypical” black name, Tiana. Now I will say that statistically there are more black women and girls names Tiana than any other race. But I will also say that the name Tiana is fit for an black, American princess. The name Tiana as I read is Cherokee for the name Diana which means divine. The Greek meaning of the name is princess. Disney wanted her name to close to Tiara or to mean something regal. So naturally they picked Tiana. This, to me anyway sounds pretty good.
The seventh point. The soundtrack. Watching the movie for the first time, I’ll admit the only song that I really liked was the song played during the ending credits; Ne-Yo-Never Knew I Needed. When I watched it a second time I really enjoyed the soundtrack. My new favorite song on it in fact is Evangeline. Music is very subjective. I really love heavy metal music but it’s not other people’s cup of tea. That is understandable. I honestly think that perhaps if they watched the movie again and gave it another listen they wouldn’t have such a distaste for it.
The eighth point. Tiana’s prince was non-regal or non-prince-like. This is true. But this is a part of the story. When we meet Prince Naveen he comes off as a playboy or a party boy. He’s wooing the women and seeking attention as soon as he gets off of the boat to New Orleans. He comes off as irresponsible. This is all to build up his character. This is actually a part of why I love this movie. He isn’t a copy of all the other princes, he is imperfect. He doesn’t always do the right thing or make good choices (hence making a deal with the Shadow Man aka Dr. Facilier). Tiana and him are polar opposites. She is hard-working and has a goal and is willing to work for it. He relies on his parents money, he doesn’t work or know how to work. He’s also lazy and only wants to have fun. That is why this works so beautifully.
Along their journey she teaches him how to work hard and what the advantages are of working hard. He teaches her how to enjoy the fruits of her labor. He teaches her that it is okay to relax and have fun sometimes. They balance each other out. Along the way he learns and changes just like regular people do in life and I love that about this movie. Also there are other Disney princes that are guilty of being non-regal. Aladdin- an impoverished lier. Shang (Mulan)- he wasn’t even a prince. He had his chance to “get the girl” at the end after she had saved China but what does he say? “You fight good.” That wasn’t even proper grammar. The Beast (Beauty and the Beast)- dude was a jerk hence why he was turned into a beast. He was in no way, shape or form regal until Belle taught him how to be. Flynn Rider (Tangled)- he was an arrogant bandit. Doesn’t sound very regal to me.
Here’s point number nine. A different setting, maybe Africa. This movie was made for everyone. Even more so however for black women and girls. Notice how I said black. Not African. A little black girl in America wouldn’t relate to this movie had it been set in Africa. Plus let’s be honest. African women and Black women are two sides of the same coin. Our skin colors are similar sure, but there is a reason that most African people don’t consider themselves black. I for one thought that the setting was perfect. Especially for the time period that it was set in; the 1920’s. The south is where the highest black populations are and that is where most Africans immigrated to or you know…that’s where a lot of them were…”placed”. Louisiana makes perfect sense. That is also where gumbo originated from. I like this historical accuracy. It wouldn’t make much sense if it were set in some place like Montana, that is far too random and careless.
10: Tiana’s mother worked for a white family. Once again I do like the historical accuracy of this movie. I’ll bet a lot of black people worked for white families back then. There was a serious power imbalance. This is also seen in the scene where little Tiana is going home on the bus from Charlotte’s house. Charlotte’s house was much bigger than Tiana’s and much grander looking while Tiana’s house was the opposite. Also this is important because it introduces us to Charlotte, an important character. Sure there are other ways that Charlotte could have been introduced but I think introducing her the way that they did they did puts even more emphasis on the time period and the class and racial disparities. This is a big part of Tiana’s childhood and why she is the way that she is. Hard-working and she doesn’t want to work under someone else.
Point 11. No mentions of Tiana’s beauty. This right here is a false claim entirely. I watched the movie again and there were a lot. I will list them:
- In the opening song, Down in New Orleans, during the line “where the women are very pretty” the camera pans down to Tiana.
- The man beside her during the above sees her. His eyes widen as he notices her beauty and he prepares to woo her. He takes the flower from his pocket and is prepared to give it to her. But alas she doesn’t notice him at all.
- During the beginning after Prince Naveen steps off of the boat he tries to woo Tiana after he notices her beauty. She gives him a look signaling for him to go away.
- Charlotte even acknowledged Tiana’s beauty
So yeah. There were plenty of mentions and even more sprinkled in throughout the movie. It’s just not as in-your-face as Belle having an entire musical number dedicated to her beauty.
The twelfth point. Tiana is a black hard-working women. This also ties in a little with the thirteenth point. Black stereotypes. Now I personally did not take issue with the theme of hard work. However unbeknownst to me the “hard-working black women” is a stereotype. This doesn’t sound like a bad thing right? Here’s the thing though, I come from a VERY traditional family. Where ideally the women stays at home and doesn’t work at all. Yes, very anti-feminist. I am in no way, shape or form a feminist but I also don’t take issue with this hard working black female character. Being productive and hard-working is a great trait to have regardless of your race or gender. That is what I like about this movie. The main focus of the movie wasn’t this girls face but it was her character. She is willing to work hard for what she wants. I think that this is an important lesson to learn early especially in this increasingly lazy world that we live in. Working hard got her her dream and shut up any naysayers. The first time she tried to buy the lot she was told that she was out-sold and she was told that “a women of her background would have her hands full”. She overcame these struggles.
I’ll talk more about number thirteen here. I think that I’ve covered everything in the points above. Or I’ll at least cover the rest with the last point.
The 14th and final point. She was a frog for most of it. I don’t find this complaint valid. The only reason being that had she been any other race no one would have complained. This is a fun and new twist on a fairy-tale classic. Plus this means that they actually fell in love with each other. I say actually because it wasn’t love at first sight like most Disney movies. As frogs on their journey to becoming human again they got to know each other. Also if you watch the movie you will notice Naveen dreamily staring at Tiana a lot of the time. Meaning even as a frog he found her beautiful (another mention to her beauty). This is a couple that would stand the tests of time. Unlike most couples that would most likely fall apart after a few months with each other.
So after reading this post I would encourage anyone who disliked this movie to give it another chance. If you still don’t like it then perhaps it’s just not your cup of tea. My family doesn’t like Tarzan either which is absolutely insane in my opinion. But it speaks to the point above.
Thank you for reading,