I recently saw the immensely popular movie Wonder Woman and it reinforced my ongoing dilemma with the Disney Princess stories and in particular, The Princess and the Frog. It also brought back a painful reminder of how difficult it was to promote a book I wrote in 2007 entitled Princess Aisha and the Cave of Judgment. So you might ask, what’s the connection between Wonder Woman a story about Diana the daughter of the Queen of the Amazon race of warriors; Tiana, the frog princess who overcomes poverty and danger to emerge as the owner of a five star restaurant; and Aisha, a royal princess who stumbles into danger and saves a prince from doom. The connection is that the main characters in all three scenarios are women who are independent, fearless and in control of their lives. The lead characters never think about someone saving them; they are the heroines who save everyone else.
Let’s begin with Wonder Woman. Finally we have a woman blazing across the sky as the superhero who single handedly saves the entire world from nuclear disaster. Diana is transformed into Wonder Woman using her powers to single out good from evil as she struggles to accomplish her mission. She has a love interest but although he is handsome, intelligent and strong, he never overshadows Diana’s presence or powers. In the movie, he saves millions of people by apparently sacrificing his own life. You never question how important he is to the storyline or for that matter how important he becomes to Diana.
Now let’s discuss The Princess and the Frog. To articulate my thoughts is almost impossible because there are several issues involved. Depending on how you view the storyline, you may or may not feel as I do. So here is my concern. All the Disney princesses, fall in love with a prince and live happily ever after in a beautiful castle except Tiana the lead female character in The Princess and the Frog. Instead of succumbing to the fairy tale that all little girls dream of, finding prince charming, Tiana aspires to open an elegant restaurant on her own.
I am delighted that Tiana is independent and realizes that hard work will allow her to reach her goal to become a restaurateur. She is not interested in finding a prince charming to sweep her off her feet and carry her off to his castle. Although I admire this aspect of the story, this is a Disney princess… supposedly. Tiana is a beautiful girl with a dream whose love interest is a lazy, disinherited, penniless prince. After spending half of the story as frogs, in the end, Tiana’s frog prince becomes worthy of her and works tirelessly to help Tiana open her restaurant. They never move into a castle amidst glamour and grandeur, they open a restaurant and live happily ever after. I am still not certain what role the prince plays in this scenario. Is Tiana a princess? I mean in this story, the princess takes care of the prince. I’m just saying. Which brings me to Princess Aisha and the Cave of Judgment.
Princess Aisha and the Cave of Judgment evolved from a desire to have a princess story for little girls of color. I wrote it as a response to my struggle with The Princess and the Frog. Aisha is a twelve-year old African princess by birth who is full of adventure and very mischievous. She is often reprimanded for not attending to her studies to ensure she develops into a knowledgeable young woman befitting a princess. Aisha finds it more exciting to pretend she is on an adventure that requires all of her mental and physical skills to be triumphant with Thaoma, her chestnut stallion.
The storyline conveys that Aisha is a very opinionated self-sufficient girl whose goal is not looking for a prince to make her life complete. Unlike most princess stories, Princess Aisha and the Cave of Judgment ends with a twist similar in a miniscule way to The Princess and the Frog, Aisha ends up rescuing the prince instead of the prince rescuing her. An additional similarity is that both princesses are determined to be their own person and make their own way in life. The irony is Tiana’s love interest is introduced in the storyline as a disinherited penniless prince who originally has no scruples and is looking for a rich maiden to marry. In contrast Aisha although too young for marriage is smitten by a prince who is loved by his mother and father the king and queen of a neighboring kingdom.
So what is my point? Wonder Woman, Princess Aisha, and Tiana are characters that have many things in common. They are determined, self-sufficient, risk takers, dreamers, brilliant women whose characters have been around for many years. Unfortunately we are just now recognizing them and, we are still categorizing them according to our own stereotypes. Unfortunately the producers of Tiana view the first African American Disney Princess stereotypically as ecstatic over owning a restaurant instead of a castle. I could write on this for hours in terms of the subtle messages given to little girls of color. However, I choose to look at the powerful messages Tiana, Aisha and Diana convey as Wonder Women to all little girls. I say let every little girl put on her princess dress and keep her tiara and heroin’s cape close by because she will soon find out that life will mold every little girl into a Wonder Woman.