Dr. Toon: Two for the Show
This is truly one of Disney’s strangest mysteries. As noted, Tiana is black, Pocahontas is indeed Native American, and Mulan was unmistakably Oriental. Not only that, the female protagonists of Lilo and Stitch sported authentic Hawaiian physiognomy. Now, it may be true that Latinos are widely diverse. Some can sport shades of blonde, possess blue eyes, or have very light skin. However, a combination of all three, along with no cultural signifiers (mythological kingdoms don’t really count, do they?) are more suggestive of an Anglo princess, despite what Jamie Mitchell tells us. Dora the Explorer makes Sofia look like Snow White, and her design is far simpler than Sofia’s.
Would it have been that difficult to given Sofia a skin tone at least more in line with her mother’s? There are no mistakes using digital paint, after all. Might she at least have had brown eyes, slightly darker hair? It would have been supremely possible for Disney animators to design a realistic Latina princess without resorting to crass stereotype, so…why didn’t they?
Hispanics are the fastest-growing, largest minority in the United States today, and that is not news that is kindly received among some. Anger over immigration issues, jobs allegedly being taken, and English (rather than Spanish) becoming a second language have fired up many a conservative jeremiad. Some sociologists suggest (perhaps inaccurately) that Hispanics may eventually become the majority in this country due to their greater fecundity. Fear, much of it irrational, more easily finds a home in times of economic uncertainty. As Alex Nogales points out, “We’re in a time when Latinos are taking the blame for everything that is wrong with America.”
In past columns I have smiled benignly upon the Disney Princesses, at the same time noting that they are a billion-dollar industry fueled by countless preteen females. I find myself wondering whether Princess Sofia the First is some sort of bizarre compromise, one in which a Latina Princess is introduced in a watered-down, less threatening form to the white majority in America. Perhaps Disney felt that some sort of transitional step was needed, all the while making Sofia more marketable (and profitable) among Anglo girls. Is this wild conjecture on my part? Could be, but I am drawn to an interesting quote by Disney Channel Vice President of original programming, Joe D’Ambrosia. After averring that Disney deliberately did not play up the idea that Sofia was Latina, D’Ambrosia stated:
“We never actually call it out. When we go into schools [to talk to young students about the show] what I find fascinating is that every girl thinks they’re Sofia.”
Every girl? If so, doesn’t that make Sofia just another Disney princess? What, then, is the point of Mitchell’s confirmation that Sofia is Latina?
There appears to be an element of confusion here, and it is not helped by looking at Sofia the First. For my part, I wish that Disney had simply given young Latina girls the animated princess they truly deserved, not some compromised version. To paraphrase D’Ambrosia, they should have called it out, loudly and proudly. ¡Basta, Disney!
--Martin "Dr. Toon" Goodman is a longtime student and fan of animation. He lives in Anderson, Indiana.