#FeministFriday No. 34

Attention all Disney Darlings, we have a new princess.

moana

Meet Moana Waialiki, the Polynesian princess and heroine of the upcoming movie Moana, set for release in November 2016.

The animated musical will tell the story of Moana’s epic journey to meet demi-gods, and will be directed by the creators of The Princess and the FrogAladdin, and The Little Mermaid. Dwayne Johnson has signed on as the voice of Maui, Moana’s father, and rumors for the voice of the titular character include Hawaii-native Makamae Kailani Auwae, as well as Dinah Jane Hansen of Fifth Harmony.

Fans are beside themselves, particularly with the design of the character.

To quote tumblr user cronuseatsbabies, “JUST LOOK AT HER, LOOK AT HER WAIST AND BUST AND CALVES AND ANKLES SHE’S SO REALISTICALLY PROPORTIONED…DISNEY HASN’T HAD A FEMALE LEAD WITH A BODY THIS REALISTIC SINCE LIKE???? NANI??? CONCLUSION: I’M SO HAPPY”

Another user, clubhousemouse, commented, “Moana’s design is: not a straight copy and paste clone of Rapunzel, Elsa, and Anna; not tiny waisted; a woman of color; different and somewhat new; hella cute; that is all.”

This may seem like an odd reaction to an animated character, but they have a point. Disney faced a lot of scrutiny after the huge success of Frozen, with many people pointing out the lack of diversity in their female characters.

Particularly in the facial region.

Particularly in the facial region.

The Disney Princess brand is one of the biggest media franchises aimed specifically at young girls, so many parents have been glad to see more forward-thinking characters like Merida, the tomboyish heroine of Brave to balance out the passivity of the more traditional princesses like Sleeping Beauty and Snow White. In fact, when Merida was given a more feminine makeover as part of her official induction into the Disney Princess pantheon, there was public outcry to return her to her original design.

The relative feminism of recent Disney princess movies is not the only thing modern viewers are concerned about. Most notably is racial representation — or rather, the glaring white nature of most of Disney’s animated output.

Because they’re directly marketed to be role models for young girls, the Disney Princesses come under a lot more scrutiny than other cartoons. The last three movies have featured four white princesses, and failed to include any POC in even secondary or background roles — including Frozen which included indigenous Scandinavian clothing and music from the Sami culture, but no actual Sami characters. This has led many fans and parents to accuse Disney of failing to represent people of color.

The Official Disney Princesses (according to the Official Disney Princess Wiki) are:

  • Snow White (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, 1937)
  • Cinderella (Cinderella, 1950)
  • Aurora (Sleeping Beauty, 1959)
  • Ariel (The Little Mermaid, 1989)
  • Belle (Beauty and the Beast, 1991)
  • Jasmine (Aladdin, 1992)
  • Pocahontas (Pocahontas, 1995)
  • Mulan (Mulan, 1998)
  • Tiana (The Princess and the Frog, 2009)
  • Rapunzel (Tangled, 2010)
  • Merida (Brave, 2012)
  • Elsa* (Frozen, 2013)
  • Anna* (Frozen, 2013)

* Technically Elsa and Anna are Princesses-in-Waiting as they have not yet been crowned in an official ceremony at Walt Disney World. I’m told this is a big deal. 

Other female Disney characters like Lilo, Esmeralda, and Meg are not considered official princesses because they don’t meet qualifications set by Disney. There are very specific rules for this, which I’m told are also a big deal.

Here’s where it gets dicey, though. The following graph is the population of the United States by race, according the the 2010 U.S. Census:

US Population by Race

Here are the same demographics of the Disney Princesses:

Disney Princess Race

The lack of representation is disgraceful (“Other” in this case refers to Princess Jasmine, whose Middle Eastern descent does not currently have its own designation on census forms). Our second largest (and fastest growing) racial group doesn’t have their own princess, and while the debut of Tiana as the first black princess drew excitement, the character spent 80% of her screen time as a frog, and the movie contained some pretty unflattering racial stereotypes. Furthermore, while Mulan is arguably one of the better princesses in terms of independence and badassery, the Asian demographic includes 20 subgroups — the six largest of which are Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Vietnamese, Korean, and Japanese. As a Chinese war hero, Mulan technically only represents about 23% of all Asian Americans.

The lack of diversity seems even more ridiculous upon further breakdown. For instance, despite making up approximately 2% of the United States, red heads account for almost a quarter of all Disney Princesses.

Disney Princess Hair

 

Here’s my wishlist of Princesses that should be added to the Disney lexicon:

  • Hispanic Princess
  • Latina Princess
  • Black Princess that stays human for the entire movie
  • Indian/South Asian Princess
  • Muslim Princess
  • Mixed Race Princess
  • Physically Disabled Princess
  • Mentally Disabled Princess
  • Little Person Princess
  • Overweight Princess
  • Transgender Princess
  • Non-heteronormative Princess
  • Alto Princess
  • Any combination of above the above traits would also be acceptable

Obviously it’s a little unreasonable to expect Disney to create a feature length movie dedicated to every single diversity in existence. However, it’s not unreasonable to expect them to be more inclusive to their audience.

As tumblr user everything-is-broadway wrote, “As a person of Polynesian descent, I got extremely excited when Disney’s Moana was announced, and didn’t really know why…and then I realized, THIS is what representation feels like.”

Everybody deserves to feel that magic.

Leave any questions or comments below, and see you next week!

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