When Disney set out to make history by creating the first black animated princess in “The Princess and the Frog,” there were plenty of early critics and naysayers who questioned whether the studio would get it right. Now that the film is out — reaching No. 1 in its opening weekend — the naysayers have been all but silent.
“The reason for the critical silence is the film doesn’t fall into the trap that people expected,” Mia Mask, the film department chair at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., told ABCNews.com. “Because the film was in production so long, people were expecting (Disney) to mess it up and reproduce stereotypes in some way. But the folks working on this really had a clue and managed to avoid the pitfalls that people expected they might fall into.”
“(Disney) did a good job in not being controversial,” Michael Baran, a Harvard University cultural anthropologist, told ABCNews.com. “With this one, they had to be a lot more careful.”
“It certainly was important to make sure we were creating the next Disney princess who could stand with all the other Disney princesses,” Peter del Vecho, the film’s producer, told ABCNews.com.
After deciding to set the movie in New Orleans and make the main characters black, the filmmakers solicited feedback from prominent African Americans along the way.
“We wanted to make sure we got it right,” said del Vecho, adding that the film was never delayed and the release date was even moved up by a month.
But while the film was in production, rumors and criticism threatened to tarnish Disney’s first black princess even before she made it to the screen.
After “early speculation,” del Vecho said the filmmakers were confident that “once people saw the movie they would be very pleased and embrace Tiana.”
Teresa Wiltz, senior culture writer for TheRoot.com, said she understands the reason for all the early speculation.
“There are still so few images of black people in the media that we come armed to the multiplex with all these expectations,” Wiltz told ABCNews.com. “It’s a very high, high bar.”
Wiltz said she thinks Disney met the challenge. “I thought it was lovely,” she said, “beautifully done.”
Baran agreed. “Any issues one can find with representations are not really blatant,” he said. “They were careful to portray African Americans. More than anything else they make the white folk look ridiculous.”
Time magazine voted the film one of the best of the year.
Source: ABC News
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