Why are so many Disney princesses Caucasian?
*sigh* I cannot even recall the number of times I have seen someone complaining about how all the Disney princesses are white (though, many leaps and bounds have been made by Disney over the last two decades to remedy this.) There are also tons of images across the internet where our favorite Disney princesses are re-imagined as having darker skin and wearing clothing that is commonly found in Eastern cultures. These re-imaginings are gorgeous, too! I love the authenticity of the cultures portrayed in them, but despite everyone’s complaints, there is a very good reason why Disney princesses are traditionally Caucasian.
These princesses’ stories originated in European countries.
More importantly, the stories are from a time when those European
countries were predominantly (if not entirely) populated by Caucasians.
Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty were all written by The Brothers Grimm. The Brothers Grimm lived in Germany during the mid-1800s. Now, I did not do very well in history class, but I highly doubt there was a surplus of Indian, African, or Chinese people wandering about at that time in Germany.
The Little Mermaid and The Snow Queen (ie what Frozen was adapted from) was written by Hans Christian Andersen, who also lived during the early- to mid-1800s, and he resided in Denmark.
Brave was set in Medieval Scotland, which was centuries before The Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen.
As you can clearly see, it only makes sense that the princesses in these stories are Caucasian. Anything different would not make sense nor be historically accurate (or story accurate as the characters were white in the originals, as well.) That being said, I do not condone the lack of inclusiveness seen in Disney over the years. I do believe that all young girls should have the opportunity to see themselves in these adorable movies. But we cannot simply add color to a character’s skin and call that representation or equality. In fact, that is exactly what should be avoided.
Over the last decade, this exact concept of putting dark-skinned characters into YA fiction has become quite common. However, in too many instances, those characters do not have any personality or cultural characteristics that would typically go along with their skin tone. As a result, the story is not actually diverse. It’s simply the author attempting to appease the readers and follow a trend. This is wrong! And it is the very reason why I do not support people altering the ethnicity of the many already established Disney princesses. The color of a character’s skin is not what makes a story diverse. Rather, it’s the cultural representation, which has been attempted a bit within Disney recently.
Unfortunately, however, Disney’s attempts at inclusion have not always been accurate. The most obvious point of this is Jasmine in Aladdin because, as it has been discussed across the internet, Jasmine’s attire is completely unrealistic for the time in which the story takes place. In fact, what Jasmine was wearing in the movie was thoroughly scandalous (and still is in many cultures, which has me wonder why Disney would do this in the first place). While incorrect, it was at least a step in the right direction.
While we can sit around all day and talk about how Disney is white-washing it’s princess brand and how those princesses should (incorrectly) be of other descent, there is a very easy way to offer representation to young women from all backgrounds. What is that, you ask? It’s called learning about other cultures. It’s called taking the time and effort to explore the stories and heritages of another part of the world and offer them a voice, and I know this can be done.
Another thing I can’t count is the number of times I have heard about cultural stories (much like the fables of historical European countries) from various locations around the world. Caucasians aren’t the only people who write stories. Everyone does. And those stories express who those people are and what they value. I, for one, would be ecstatic to learn about another culture through a fun, Disney rendition, and see the amazing impact such representation could have on young minds.
But what do you think?
What should Disney do to be inclusive?
Leave your thoughts below!
And check out my discussion from last week:
“Dystopian vs Scifi“