Disney & diversity

Disney has a movie coming out in December called The Princess and the Frog. The princess will be a black female. It has bloggers and others debating whether it is sensitive or stereotypical. Here’s an excerpt from a psychologist interviewed for Does Tiana, Disney’s First Black Princess, Conquer Stereotypes?:

“Because of Disney’s history of stereotyping,” said Michael D. Baran, a cognitive psychologist and anthropologist who teaches at Harvard and specializes in how children learn about race, “people are really excited to see how Disney will handle her language, her culture, her physical attributes.”

Mr. Baran is reserving judgment and encourages others to do the same. But he added that the issue warrants scrutiny because of Disney’s outsize impact on children.

“People think that kids don’t catch subtle messages about race and gender in movies, but it’s quite the opposite,” he said.

Disney has made other attempts at diversity, too:

In 1997, the company’s television division presented a live-action version of “Cinderella” with a black actress, the singer Brandy, playing the lead. In 1998, “Mulan” was celebrated as a rare animated feature that depicted Chinese characters with realistic-looking eyes; most animated films (even those from Japan) had Westernized versions of Asian people until that time.

Not only their characters but also their creators need diversity. It’s not enough for whites or males to attempt to depict women, blacks and other groups. I was dismayed recently to learn, for example, that Oxygen and Women’s Entertainment (WE) have more male producers, directors and writers than female – and these are so-called women’s programming. In the case of the Princess & the Frog, the article mentions two men directed it. We need diversity behind the scenes, too.

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