Disney’s ‘Frozen’ Left Out Little Girls of Color…Again
My family went to see Disney’s hit movie Frozen this weekend. It was really amazing. And by amazing I mean the little four-year-old girl inside of me put on a princess dress and crown, grabbed a magic wand, danced around in circles and swooned for an hour and a half. It was that good from start to finish. But, at some point, I glanced around the theater and noticed the two other brown or black families. Then I became an adult again. And I got sad.
The movie’s powerful messages of self-acceptance, overcoming bullying, succeeding in the face of stigmatization, and remaining true to one’s self seemed to fit almost perfectly with the conversations us brown and black mothers have to have with our little girls almost daily. I think Disney may have missed an opportunity to really make a difference with this film. Or, they just chose not to touch it. Either way, little black and brown girls continue to exist on the periphery of the American fairytale.
During the movie, my two-year old tuned in an out. At times she was fully engrossed in the popcorn rather than in the giant screen in front of us. But, whenever the singing geared up, she was at full attention. She was wide-eyed and absorbing every moment of it.
The signature ballad for the Snow Queen, performed by Wicked‘s Idina Menzel, was gorgeous, instilled hope and wonder, and was sung flawlessly. During the song, there was a moment when I could see the same youthful exuberance and inspiration in my little one’s eyes that I must have had when I first saw Cinderella a quarter of a century ago. Like me, she was seeing not just the animation but the messages of hope it imbued. Those messages, however, were coming from a gorgeous blonde character surrounded by other sparkly-eyed white figures. None of them looked like us. So, was the message really for us too?
Part of me just wanted the character struggling with this burdensome existence to be brown or black. Not only for the little girls of color out there but also because it was hard to see how someone with literally one (really cool) flaw could carry such a heavy message and really sell it. All it took was a new hairstyle, a dress, and a smidgen of love to fix Elsa’s problems. It just isn’t that simple for little girls of color. When Elsa sings “the perfect girl is gone,” it really doesn’t translate given the fact that she embodies all of the standards of perfect beauty even with her awesome malady. While Elsa’s plight likely resonated with young white girls, I imagine that Elsa’s stark differences from brown and black girls would leave many of them chasing a unicorn.
Parallel this with Sesame Street’s head on confrontation with the black hair saga. Their “I Love My Hair” song received criticism but the overwhelming response was positive. My daughter and I watched it recently. She saw cornrows like her own, braids like her mommy’s, and the same kind of afro puff she wears right after her hair gets washed. She saw some of herself in this jolly little brown puppet. The message of self-love seemed that much more powerful when relayed by a brown character.
Her social identity justified her declaration to love her hair. And, the song itself acknowledged a known struggle for little girls of color.
Disney really could have challenged some social norms with this film and ballad. I know they are in the business of telling stories but wouldn’t it be awesome if that story could align with real, lived experiences? If the royal family had been an interracial family or perhaps black or Hispanic, the messages would have been that much more powerful. A lot was left unrequited after Princess Tiana’s epic debut was marred by like an hour of froggy-ness. Because Disney owns the market on children’s entertainment, they also set the tone for the media imagery our kids soak up. They have done a great job diversifying on their networks. But, Frozen proves that there is still work Disney can do for people of color and representation in their films.
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