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Disney Modifies Princess Tiana in ‘Ralph Breaks the Internet’ Amid Whitewashing Criticism

Color of Change advocacy group campaign and increased pressure on social media platforms spurs studio to reanimate character in upcoming ‘Wreck-it Ralph’ sequel. 

Responding to ongoing social media pressure as well as an online campaign by the advocacy group Color of Change, Walt Disney Animation Studios has reanimated the character of Princess Tiana in their upcoming feature film, Ralph Breaks the Internet, according to reports by the Wall Street Journal and The Glow Up. When reached by AWN, the studio offered no official statement or comment about the controversy or published reports detailing efforts to modify Tiana’s appearance in the new film, which is set to hit theatres November 21.

Tiana, the heroine of Disney’s 2009 animated musical, The Princess and the Frog, was the studio’s first black princess -- she returns, along with other princesses such as Ariel, Cinderella and Snow White from Disney’s venerable animated movie archive, in a set of scenes from the new film the studio has been promoting going back to last July’s D23 Expo in Anaheim, California. At the heart of the controversy were noticeable changes from the 2009 depiction of Tiana’s facial features, including her nose and lips, skin color as well as hair color and style, to those seen in the first trailer for the Wreck-it Ralph sequel set to open November 21. The Glow Up summarized the outcry as a response to “the appearance of their formerly dark-skinned, wider-nosed and full-lipped princess, who, through the unfortunate magic of CGI, had been homogenized into a button-nosed, sandy and curly-haired pixie who basically looked like a super-tan version of all the other Disney princesses.”

After visiting Disney last week to view the reanimated scenes, Color of Change’s senior campaign director Brandi Collins-Dexter issued a statement, saying, “Disney’s decision to restore Princess Tiana’s image to that of an unapologetically Black princess with full lips, dark skin and dark hair in Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2 is a victory for Color of Change members, Black children and their parents, and Black audiences who want to see the variety of shades, shapes and sizes of Black characters accurately represented in the arts.”

She went on to describe to The Glow Up that Disney went back to the drawing board, putting in considerable manpower - a reported 650 hours per shot - and even bringing on illustrators from The Princess and the Frog in their efforts to return Tiana’s features to their original design. The studio has removed the trailer in question and also was reported to have enlisted input from Anika Noni Rose, the actress who voices Princess Tiana.

“[T]o Disney’s credit, they were super responsive, and had seen [The Glow Up’s] article, had been aware of what people were saying online, [and] had also received criticism around some of the other Disney princesses of color like Mulan and Princess Jasmine and Pocahontas,” Collins-Dexter commented. “And so, we really impressed upon them this importance of Princess Tiana as this pivotal character, as the first and only, at that time, black Disney princess, and that we wanted to see her features remain true to her original character. They really took the time and care to ensure that her and all the other Disney princesses of color were restored to the form that we came to know them.”

Color of Change, with 1.4 million members, is one of the largest online racial justice and civil rights advocacy groups in the country. The non-profit organization was formed in 2005 in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Dan Sarto's picture

Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.