Disney and the End of Innocence: A War Going On No Kid is Safe From

In March 2007, Disney announced early preparation for a new animated production, The Frog Princess. Maddy (as in: Mammy), in true “American fairy tale” tradition, would be a Black chambermaid slaving away in the New Orleans pit of a spoilt, White débutante, only to be rescued ultimately by a voodoo priestess fairy godmother who helps her clutch the heart of a White prince who rescued her from a Black Magic villain. Civilization!

But soon as the 40 million Black people in America got word of Disney’s latest exploits in the realm of racial imagination, holy hell let loose, and the plot and title were at once scrapped: revised as The Princess and the Frog: the tale of Tiana, a fatherless 19-year-old Black waitress (and aspiring restaurant owner), set in Jazz Age New Orleans, who tries to snap a wicked spell placed on a not-quite-White prince, and thereby restore his humanity—only to be transformed herself into a frog, then having to hop through life’s animated twists and turns until arriving at the inevitable ending where both regain their character, fall into sensual bliss, and live happily ever till the credits roll.

The embarrassing effrontery of Disney’s first proposal is in many ways emblematic of the media/merchandise giant’s decades-long anachronistic approach to reality, and stubborn disregard of cultural sensitivity: a characteristic synonymous with corporate hubris. But it also extended a ritual Disney has, since inception, strived to keep secret—injecting highly educational-political-pedagogical shots into the social realm, all the while claiming Innocence as prime and final motif.

How fortuitous for Disney that as it sought to assure the world Black girls belonged better in kitchens and laundry rooms (rather than restaurants and board rooms), a Black family was ascending the podium of international acclaim, and Michelle Obama, wife of the current President, was arousing curiosity from all ends for refusing to recline in the back-seat while her husband ran laps across the country, hoping to convince citizens he could do the job just as good as any of his White opponents/predecessors.


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