Disney revealed its first Latina heroine this week.; Princess Sofia will make her debut in the TV film Sofia the First: Once Upon a Princess in mid-November and will be the star of a 2013 series to air on both Disney Channel and Disney Junior. Unlike other members of the iconic brand’s band of princesses, Sofia is young and her target audience is children aged 2-7.
And now the inevitable downside: Sofia looks kind of like, well…Beauty and the Beast’s Belle as a tiny little child: medium-colored brown hair, fair skin and blue eyes. Adorable, but not identifiably Latina by any stretch of the imagination.
Before anyone hops up and reminds us that Hispanic people come in all shades and colors, well, duh. However, when the first Latina Disney princess looks like the White women who make up the majority of the Disney kingdom, there’s some serious room for disappointment.
It seems that there will be some color diversity in the show; Sofia’s mother Miranda, queen of the mythical Enchacia, is darker than the other characters according to Entertainment Weekly (the picture on the site makes it seem that she is only slightly browner, for the record.) It seems safe to say that Miranda is not a villain, which is a relief–you know how the unsavory ethnic character is often depicted as darker than the But one can help but to wonder: why not give Sofia a little color, too? And why did she have to have blue eyes?
Inevitably, many will complain that those of us who demand diversity and then dare to be critical of it when it comes are simply incapable of being satisfied. DAMN THEY GAVE US A LATINA PRINCESS, WHAT DO YOU WANT NOW?
Well, I personally want to see a challenge poised to the traditional beauty standards that are upheld by Disney, Nickelodeon and the other corporate owned forces that have so much sway and influence over the tastes and preferences of our little ones. Your parents can tell you about beauty and diversity all they want, but when they rarely see that reflected in meaningful ways in the media, there can be some unfortunate dissonance.
Remember the debut of Princess Tiana in 2009? The beautiful brown girl star of The Princess and the Frog found love in the arms of handsome Prince Naveen of Maldonia: a lighter-complexioned man with a Spanish-sounding accent of unidentified origin. He was still a man of color, but you didn’t have Disney audiences exposed to images of a Black couple. Someone thought about that. It wasn’t an accident. A Latino man in early-20th century New Orleans was not the most obvious choice of Tiana’s suitor.
To make Sofia even more trustworthy and familiar, she gets a visit from one of Disney’s most iconic characters—Cinderella—who is said to appear mid-movie to help the little girl transition into princess life. OH. And Sofia’s heritage is never discussed. We just know that she’s Latina because it’s been announced in the pre-show press; in the show, she is described as ”half-Enchancian and half-Galdizian. “This is a big difference from The Princess and the Frog, where the Blackness of Tiana was touted and bragged about in press conferences.
This is what I like to call ‘diversity light:’ Disney gets to say that they’ve moved into the modern world and can curry favor with the ever-growing Latino market, yet they still aren’t challenging their most important audience with the jarring image of an ‘ethnic’ looking heroine. White girls can look at Sofia and still find their reflection, even if she sounds a little different.
Joe D’Ambrosia, vice president of Disney Junior original programming tells Entertainment Weekly “When we go into schools [to talk to young students about the show], what I find fascinating is that every girl thinks that they’re Sofia.” I can’t help but to hear “The White girl weren’t scared away by her ethnicness, halleu!” in that statement.
Jezebel’s Caity Weaver agrees that having such a undiscernibly Latina character for something as significant at Disney’s first Latina princess is an odd choice, hilariously offering “African Princess Heidi, a solemn blonde from South Africa,” “Native American Princess Virginia, a spunky white girl who was kidnapped by ‘savages’” and “Jewish Princess Alexis Cahill, a straight-talking teenager whose great-great-great-grandfather changed his name from “Cohen” at Ellis Island. (She is Methodist.)”
So the Disney princess world is a teeny-tiny bit more diverse, and that’s swell. However, the need for true diversity in youth-focused media remains great. Hopefully, Sofia will be joined by more characters of color in the near future–characters who don’t look like the same White girls kids have been idolizing forever.