The United Princesses of America: Ethnic Diversity and Cultural Purity in Disney’s Medieval Past
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The moment for complaining about Disney’s ignorance of ethnic diversity seems to have passed when the release of Aladdin in 1992 proved to mainstream America that Disney’s protagonists are not always white. In the years since, Disney films and television have continued to disavow themselves of their reputation for presenting racially selective characters and culturally exclusive subjects. The question of Disney’s racial politics is especially pertinent to the Disney Princesses, who (since 1992) stand shoulder to shoulder on Disney advertising materials like a mixed-race sorority whose philanthropy consists of cheerfully role-modeling a racially diverse America. Disney’s nonwhite Princess movies— Aladdin, Pocahontas, Mulan, and The Princess and the Frog—have yielded a variety of critical responses, from arguments that Disney represents non-white people and non-Western cultures only in pursuit of an economic bottom line to more critical assessments that find an abiding racism in Disney’s representation of minority cultures and races. In considering Disney’s presentation of young female protagonists and their racial and cultural identities, it is important to note that all Princesses come from their own specific fantasy pasts that are symbolically “medieval” in the sense that, for all of them, the modern world has not yet arrived. Even The Princess and the Frog, the most “modern” of the Disney Princess movies, is set in a fantasy version of New Orleans-of-the-past: an American medieval fantasy where a prince, an evil wizard, and a mystical shaman are as likely to appear as a jazz band or a steam boat.
KeywordsInitial Inability British Accent Female Protagonist American Accent Initial Page
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