Princess Problems: Cultural Appropriation and Representation

“Oh yes, the past can hurt. But the way I see it: you can either run from it, or learn from it.”- Rafiki, 1994 Disney's the Lion King

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Ever since I was a little girl, I knew I was a princess. Not wanted to be, but knew. I was a walking cliche of how people thought little girls acted. I adored anything that had the three “S”’s. If it was sparkly, sweet or swished when I walked, it needed to somehow be in my possession. I was a princess every year for Halloween, except my first for which I was the world's cutest pumpkin. Disney was an easy way to keep me occupied and out of my mom's hair for hours and a tiara was the only accessory I truly needed. To this day, I fully believe my skills of knowing every word from any and all song from a Disney animated Princess movie is going seriously under-appreciated. There are some movies I can quote word for word and there is a rule in my house that I am allotted only one full belt out moment if I am watching a Disney movie with my family and significant other. An unjust rule in my opinion.

Yet, when I was growing up, only two of the princesses looked like me. I only ever truly looked like a princess when I was either Jasmine or Pocahontas. I never really noticed or cared until I was about six years old. My mom had bought me an Aurora dress for my easter basket and matching accessories, (wig and all). After the day had ended I went into my room and immediately began my transformation. Except when I looked in the mirror, I didn’t feel beautiful like I had so many times before. The blonde hair looked weird on me and my big brown eyes were nothing like Aurora's. When I looked at all my dresses, I realized something no little girl should realize: I didn’t look like a princess. 

Years later, I was sitting at home flipping through my phone when I saw an ad for Elena of Avalor. She was wearing a red dress, she had long flowing brown hair, big brown eyes and brown skin. She. Looked. Like. Me.  I started to tear up but instead squealed with joy. There were two girls of color coming out in the same year. Elena in July of 2016 and Moana in December. Moana with a soundtrack done by one of the most influential composers (and arguably the new Disney Darling) Lin-Manuel Miranda who also happens to be a proud Latino, and Elena a hispanic princess. I could think of only one thing: my future daughter will never not be a princess. She will be able to go to Disney parks and wear an Elena dress proudly. I can curl her long dark hair, and put flowers in her hair and she can look in the mirror and say proudly: “I look just like Elena,” and for once she will. I won’t have to worry about her wanting a blonde wig or blue contacts to look like Cinderella or feel awkward when she dresses up like Snow White and not have milky white skin. She will have more than just two options (neither of those past options having a sparkly ball gown which every little princess wants).

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When I started working in the princess industry, I was excited to see more women of color playing the princesses of color. But I was heartbroken to find the opposite. Almost every Princess company used brown face and cultural appropriation for their darker princesses except Tiana (except some companies just didn't offer Tiana at all and that's another problem in and of itself for another blog post for another time). I had one mother tearfully thank me after a party because she was worried that the company I worked for would send a white Elena because a previous company for her friends daughter had sent a white Jasmine. She thanked me in Spanish and I thanked her back. I cried all the way home that day. With so many talented women of color (Latina, Afro Latina, African American, and Asian) who work in the theater, there was not one they could hire into their company to play an ethnic princess. Princess Ever After in Denver has seven women of color on their 20+ person company and seems to be the only other princess company in Colorado who casts women of color but unfortunately they don’t travel to Southern Colorado. Which is why when the amazing Rachel approached me about starting one exclusively for Southern Colorado, we decided to be inclusive and never ever ever ever ever ever ever black/brown face. Now don't get us wrong: we think it is beyond wonderful for little girls who aren’t girls of color to dress up like Tiana, Elena or Pocahontas. We think it means you’re doing it right as parents to teach your children about different cultures (because they do so by watching these princesses) and showing them that everyone is beautiful. But we do believe that as women of color, Elena/Moana/Pocahontas etc should be played by such in order to respect the cultures these princesses represent.

We vow to strive for every little girl or boy to feel culturally represented and included and that when we promise a Latina princess, we will provide a Latina Princess. In this day and age more people are aware of how important it is to respect other cultures and Premier Princess promises to be a part of that beautiful movement. Thank you so much for your understanding and being a part of making every child feel seen and represented.

Magically yours,

Lina