Disney pictures released The Princess and the Frog in November of 2009. The excitement and anticipation of the first African American Disney princess were palpable. Ratings mirrored that in communities of color, young girls and their families purchased Tiana merchandise, patronized the film, and supported the products in large numbers. The Princess Tiana Doll was nominated for the "2009 Girls Toy of the Year" by the Toy Industry Association. Although it did not win, the merchandising was a definite success for Disney, selling almost 15,000 in one week prior to movie release according to Disney reports. Now almost 8 years later, Tiana is becoming a distant memory in the Disney line up. If you go to most major toy stores, the section for Tianamaterials is dwindling quickly.
This may mirror the natural progression of most Disney films; they run a cycle and then are retired like other cartoon productions. The importanceof the characters only elevated by die-hard fans or very vigilant Disney fanatic families. We can think of characters like Snow White, Cinderella, Pocahontas, and even for a time Arielle, all characters whose time came and went. Disney periodically will re-visit older figures with a new release. For example, Belle from Beauty and the Beast. This is a reintroduction to another generation but for the most part, these figures are not mass produced to become limited incirculation.
One could argue this is just the normal progression of the princess cycle. However, there is a much more profound impact on a character like Princess Tiana disappearing from the mainstream. The problem with Tiana fading into the Disney animation historical landscape is that she is the only princess that is black. Her absence, therefore looms large. It is magnified when she is absent in merchandising or film. The reflection of little black girls in Disney animation is completely gone.
You may think this is trivial -- we are talking about Princesses from animated film after all -- however, let us not downplay the huge impact that these characters have on the self-esteem of young girls. Unfortunately, media images are tied up even at the tender age of pre-school with self-worth. All young girls need characters they can identify with. This was the foundation of the initial stir and excitement Princess Tiana created when she arrived on the scene eight years ago. Brown women of color finally had a character to identify with. Furthermore, it helped women and little girls of all other ethnic backgrounds appreciate diverse beauty in all its forms.
I have seen an increase in latina characters in Disney animation, which I applaud; Sophia the First and Elena of Avalor for example. These characters are necessary as well. I applauded Moana, the most recent Disney release, for its impact on cultural diversity in animated films and lessons about Polynesian cultures. Disney is still missing a major Asian American heroine/princess and that needs to be addressed as well.
As mothers, aunts, uncles, fathers, cousins we should continue to share the story of the Princess and the Frog with our children. We should purchase Princess Tiana merchandise to let the industry know there is a fanbase, and access to these characters matters. We must use our consumer dollars to advance the importance and value of diversity in animation. The toy and film industry responds to the financial pull of consumer interests. We must further demand that these characters not just be "one and done". Why must Princess Tiana be the only black princess, we need more diversity. Princess Tiana was a start, but animated films need to continue forward addressing this. Yes, Disney can safely check off the "to do" box for one black princess but that is not enough. As consumers we need to hold them accountableand keep pushing the diversity discourse. It matters for all of our childrenand programming will be better for it.
So next time you are in a major toy store, take a long look aroundat the Disney section and you will see what I mean. Consider ordering more Tiana merchandise online if it is not available in your local toy store, writea letter to Disney about the need for these characters, and share the stories with your children.