Backlot Bitch: Disney's New Princess Problems

Meet Disney's Latest Princess, Sofia

I was procrastinating on some needed reading when I saw a friend of mine post a link to Disney’s new princess. I couldn’t look away, as living within 45 minutes of the Magic Kingdom during my childhood has left me with a Pavlovian response to anything Disney.

As usual, Disney’s got controversy on their hands even before the first toy has hit shelves. Sofia the First: Once Upon a Princess is set to premiere next month on the Disney Channel, a TV movie that will launch the cartoon series about a half-Latina, half-Scandinavian princess. So let’s talk Disney princesses, who up until the 1990s, were pretty much on the lighter shade of pale. There’s never been a Latina princess, a fact that disappoints the little girl in me despite the fact that, as an adult, I’m no longer in step with the damsel-in-distress storyline of Disney’s princess narratives.

I guess the upside to the introduction of Sofia is that the series will ostensibly touch on the subject of what is to have a multicultural experience: She’s celebrating a Scandinavian Christmas, with Latin music! The downside, as we might have expected, is that Sofia is as pale as her royal predecessors, with blue eyes and light brown hair. You know what a daring multicultural experiment would be? Make Sofia look not so much like Snow White’s little sister. The majority of multicultural folks (according to the last Census) were children of black and white couples. We’re not exactly facing a shortage for European-looking princesses either, and practically every other ethnicity has been granted only one princess each.

Latino groups are right to be confused about Sofia, given that she’s half Latina but looks nothing like a majority of the girls who would love to find someone on TV who looks like them. I’m not mad that Disney is tapping into the fastest-growing group on the latest Census, but I am let down that she’s not that different from the princesses of the 50’s. I hope that at least her adventures will be more inclusive, but again, this is Disney here—not letting the minorities lead, just support.

It kind of strikes me as odd that Sofia’s kingdom is professed to be this melting pot that, “reflects the ethnically diverse world we live in, but it is not our world,” according to Nancy Kanter, Disney Junion’s Senior Vice President of Original Programming. In a new article, Kanter actually disputes that Sofia is meant to be half-Latina at all, pointing out that “All our characters come from fantasy lands that may reflect elements of various cultures and ethnicities but none are meant to specifically represent those real world cultures. It is a fairytale and storybook world that we hope will help spur a child’s imagination. It’s one where we can have flying horses, schools led by fairies, songs that have a Latin beat and towns with markets like those found in North Africa.” That’s cool, I’m all for teaching everyone that salsa music is magical, but “Asian-themed” lands that the princess go to in order to picnic and “towns with markets like those found in North Africa” are based on real places. I have mixed feelings about skewing reality and fiction and teaching kids it’s all make-believe.

So is all this a moot argument over princesses? You know, the super-rich, the super-privileged, and the so overdone tales as old as time? Should I be more concerned about Dora, Diego, and Handy Manny? Yeah, it’s also kind of sad that these are the only three positive Latino kid’s cartoons I can think of (sorry, Speedy Gonzalez). Should Disney look to do the Latina version of Kim Possible? Obviously yes—because not only would that be cool, it’d be a whole lot more relatable than castles and fairy tales of yore.

What do you have to say about Disney’s new princess? Or are you sick of the subject and want to go to a magical place where we never talk about princesses ever again?

by Monica Castillo
View profile »

Monica Castillo is a freelance film critic. You can usually find her on Twitter talking about the movie she just watched at @mcastimovies.

Get Bitch Media's top 9 reads of the week delivered to your inbox every Saturday morning! Sign up for the Weekly Reader:

8 Comments Have Been Posted

Only half Latina?

So, a lot of people in Latin America do have light skin and hair, BUT.... why make her half Scandinavian--what is the point?? Why make such a fuss about her being the first Latina princess and then half ass it? Is Disney not confident enough in their entertainment juggernaut to create a 100% Latina princess for a sizable and growing portion of the US population? It makes no sense.

Disney is taking the easy route once again

I agree with the first commenter: Disney is taking the easy route by making their first "Latina" princess half European. As if they don't have enough European princesses already? --> Belle, Ariel, Aurora, Cinderella, Snow White (all European stories/characters set in Europe). I think Disney is actually daunted by the task of basing a story around a real Latina princess. I don't think people at Disney have any fresh ideas, so they're making Sofia look like their older characters, but calling her "Latina" only in name so they attract media and the public's attention.

I was a total 90s kid, and I grew up with Disney movies. My favorite Disney movies were Pocahontas, Mulan, and Aladdin, and my favorite princesses were Pocahontas, Mulan, and Jasmine. I thought those three princesses were the coolest because of their STORIES. Disney needs to invite people with fresh ideas into their team and create stories based around multicultural princesses instead of taking the easy route again. There was a book I read in elementary school about two sisters who were princesses in Africa. They encountered Anansi and other African characters of legend. I don't remember the name of the book unfortunately, but something like that would be an epic story to tell children. But Disney obviously doesn't want to push boundaries or think outside the box.

(I will give Disney some props for The Princess and the Frog. But they could have done better on that movie.)

This is a tangent, but her

This is a tangent, but her head is nearly as big as her shoulders. How old is the character supposed to be? Human heads tend to be that big until about five years of age.

If she's old enough to have a love interest (all Disney princesses have had one so far), then this is female infantilization to an extreme.

Sofia the first

She's meant to be a preschooler.

A cop out?

Interesting article!

I also find myself in a never-ending love hate relationship with Disney due to my upbringing. I constantly ponder the reasoning why our society gives so much attention to a company whose goal is to win our hearts then steal our pocketbooks. What is Disney doing? "Who cares" would be the best answer to discontinue their power over our child selves and our actual children. Of course, the reality of the matter is that Disney does have a powerful influence, worldwide, which is why it's hard to ignore.

Disney attempts at different cultural projects to gain more followers, but this news is very surprising. Bi-racial children are a growing aspect of our population, but making a Latino and Scandinavian princess seems very random...and very lazy. It seems like an excuse to maintain the Euro-centric control over the fantasy market - even though fantasy is a genre that belongs to the world. The girl in the image actually looks like Belle's sister, which means no creative thought was put into her back story or character design, which is ironic in many ways.

Whoops - I can go on bible-long tangents on this topic, so just to end it - This new princess IS a problem, but it just shows that Disney lacks the ability to progress, so their reign over children's media may be coming to an end soon.

I agree with the love-hate on

I agree with the love-hate on Disney. I have no problem with diversity, but when they do things like shove characters in that don't belong there in a lazy attempt at diversity without looking at their origins, then I gripe. (Which is to say I have a HUGE rant about "Once Upon a Time" that I won't go into.) I know this show is meant for children, but really, in the cases of both shows, they need to realize viewers and parents of viewers aren't dumb.

Support the New Anti-Princess children's Book

Please follow this link to support my new children's book intended to challenge the limitation's of princess culture:

Add new comment