Whilst many people eye-roll at petitions and write online activism off as the “work” of “keyboard warriors”, holding organisations to account continues make tangible change. After an online backlash, Disney has decided to overhaul their depiction of Princess Tiana for the upcoming Wreck-It Ralph sequel, after campaigners drew attention to the animators whitewashing of the character.
Tiana, the first black Disney princess who starred in The Princess and the Frog in 2010, appeared with her 13 fellow princesses including Ariel, Cinderella and Mulan in a teaser image for the upcoming film, where they are shown meeting racer Vanellope.
Fans initial excitement at Tiana’s depiction with her natural hair soon turned to disappointment, when it became clear that her curls came at a cost. Whilst her 3b hair was a win in terms of representation, her skin was simultaneously made several shades lighter in exchange. She was also given thinner lips and her nose was substantially slimmed down. It was a slap in the face for fans, especially given that the character was in part created in response to Disney’s abysmal lack of black characters – Disney didn’t have a black princess for 86 years.
Campaigners weren’t necessarily angry at the casting of yet another fair skinned, black female character (given it’s usually the default, most hardly even bat an eyelid at this point) but as one of the rare positive, non-bit part depictions of a dark-skinned black woman, especially in children’s media, she is one of the most important Disney princesses to many. A longing for a black, especially dark skinned Disney princess is a shared memory for most black millenials – the thought of the next generation having had one, only for her to have been made lighter, felt like a large step backward.
A longing for a black, especially dark skinned Disney princess is a shared memory for most black millenials
As diversity continues to improve in film, it was particularly tone deaf given the fact the character helped pave the way in terms of black women’s portrayal in films, and given that all the 3D renderings of the other princesses didn’t suspiciously get much paler in the process, particularly hard to defend.
In response to her reveal, Color of Change, an anti-racism charity, set up a petition calling on Disney to “stop whitewashing” black characters. According to The Wall Street Journal, Disney’s choice to reanimate the scenes in question were partly due to feedback from representatives from Color of Change (who met with the animators and reviewed the changes to help ensure the problems were addressed properly, and Tiana's voice actress Anika Noni Rose. One senior campaign director from Color of Change, Brandi Collins-Dexter, reportedly went to Disney's headquarters, describing the changes to Tiana as giving her character, "darker hair and a wider nose and mouth" and the change was confirmed last Friday via the Color of Change’s twitter account.
“The creation of Princess Tiana, @Disney's first Black princess marked a defining moment for how Black women and girls are presented in media, specifically in animated movies.” their statement read. “We’re glad @DisneyAnimation has committed to restoring Tiana to her original form to ensure authenticity.”
“Now when Black girls watch #WreckItRalph2, they’ll see Tiana and other [sic] princess of color that actually looks like them on screen #BlackGirlMagic” Color of Change president Rashad Robinson added in a tweet. Finally, some much-needed good news.