Discussion

{DISCUSSION} Disney’s Supposed White-Washing

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.

Examples

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

31 thoughts on “{DISCUSSION} Disney’s Supposed White-Washing”

  1. YES TO ALL OF THIS!

    I got soooo annoyed about people complaining about Frozen, in particular. Like, hello! Would there really be any black people in medieval Scandinavia??? I feel like complaining there are no black people in Frozen is basically the exact same thing as complaining there are no black people in Moana, but nobody did THAT. Also, Frozen was a beautiful depiction of a culture completely different from the one we’re used to seeing in the movies. News flash, white is not a culture. Insinuating that Scottish, Irish, American, Scandinavian, French, and Russian people all have the same culture is equally as insulting and ignorant as lumping all of Africa together.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I do agree with you that it would be wholly incorrect to add black people to the old Western European fairy tales because black people were not (commonly) in those parts at that time. So, in that instance, it makes sense. However, I do agree that Disney has not made a legitimate effort to be inclusive of other cultures by finding their stories. They are out there and they are not that hard to find (especially when you have a name as big as Disney. Like come on. Don’t be lazy.) I think Moana was a step in right direction, but I think we still need more.

      As to the culture aspect, most of the cultures in Western Europe were actually severely watered down, or completely eradicated because of constant conquering. America does not have a culture in my opinion, at least not one that we should promote, but that is my opinion. And the previous Disney stories did not actually have culture. They had a time period, yes, but there was nothing in there to explain the culture of the country at that time period so I do understand how people could lump the all together. They are not truly that distinct if you sit down and look at them.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post!
    I wasn’t aware that people were upset that characters were white in the stories that are based on European culture. I mean, that’s kind of obvious that the princess set during those times in a german/danish story is going to be caucasian.

    I understand how people are looking for stories that includes their own culture and characters they can identify with. But they do exist. I think Disney is catching up on them as well, slowly but surely. Not that i watch many disney stuff, but i’m aware of the most popular princesses.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I also found it very strange that people were upset by Caucasian princesses being written into Caucasian stories. However, I believe they were more trying to prove a point that all the stories Disney had chosen up until that point were from Western European backgrounds. Which is sad because that is a small portion of the world’s population.

      And while Disney has made attempts to be more inclusive, they are still falling quite short by ignoring the cultural aspects of the princesses they are creating. And based on news about the live-action Mulan movie, the message is apparently not getting across because Disney still made completely inappropriate choices (and so is most of the movie industry.)

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Well you have Jasmin, Mulan, Pocahontas, Tiana, Moana…. do I need to go on? So no I don’t think Disney is white washing (anymore) 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, there have been many strides over the past two decades to add more princesses from different cultural backgrounds. However, the problem with half the princesses you just mentioned, though, Sophie, was that each of them were highly altered from their original story (except for maybe Moana and Mulan).

      Jasmin was dressed inaccurately for her culture and time period. Pocahontas was completely inaccurate from the historical version. Tiana (according to a good source as I have never seen the movie) spent most of her screen-time as a frog, instead of as a black woman.

      As such, this goes back to a piece of my argument: while disney has made attempts to add more representation, their attempts to do so have often been for naught as they still managed to screw up by not paying attention to the cultural aspects of the princesses they are including.

      Like

  4. Amazing post! I definitely agree with your statement that Disney’s princesses are mostly white because from where they originate, it’s a predominantly white community. That said, I like how Disney’s stepping out and giving representation to other cultures, even though I don’t know how accurate the representations are. Then it’s more important for Disney to portray it correctly!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, it is very good to see Disney making some serious changes to be more inclusive of people from around the world. However, at least half of those princesses have had serious inaccuracies or problems and Disney’s latest attention (the live action Mulan movie) just goes to show that Disney hasn’t figured anything out. They are still making the same stupid choices they did in the past. If Disney wants to continue making progress, they need to stop making stupid, white-biased choices, but I am unaware of who is in charge of writing the stories and doing the casting at Disney so perhaps that is half the problem.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. True, and since Disney is such a big name and not everyone (esp kids) has had previous knowledge of other culture, the responsibility they have is a lot bigger. Hope they fix that for upcoming movies :/

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Yes, the original princesses are white because of their origin stories and that’s fine. I want you to look up “Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child” because they made the cultural adjustments to give children of color representation and they did a very good job. I absolutely understand that at the time no one was really thinking about representation but watching those stories while I was growing up was a big deal for me.

    While I also agree that Disney has made some steps in the right direction, I’m glad you called them out with Jasmine. I also want to make a note that they could have done WAY better with The Princess and the Frog. Disney’s first Black Princess movie not only supports harmful tropes and stereotypes about Southern Louisiana/Creole culture but she’s a damn frog for the majority of the movie. She has hardly any facetime as a princess so we as black women didn’t really get representation as a Disney princess….we got a frog.

    Lastly, with the live action Mulan that was supposed to come out, they were originally going to give her a white love interest but they’ve since changed that and said that all primary roles will be held by Chinese actors.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I definitely understand the need for every child to be able to see themselves in a character. I think ‘Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child’ is great (and Disney should take some notes)! And while it may have been acceptable back in the day to only have white princesses, it is no longer acceptable. THAT is the kicker and yet it’s like Disney hasn’t managed to figure out how to offer representation for everyone. I swear they must have old white people writing all their storylines or something. sigh

      I have never seen The Princess and the Frog so I am very happy you brought this up, Rae! I had no idea she spent most of the movie as a frog. While an adorable story it may make, it definitely does not offer representation for young black girls. That is such a shame. I can’t believe they botched that up too. (I mean, i kind of can and that’s just sad.)

      I also haven’t heard much in news about the live-action Mulan, so thank you for letting me know. Frankly, that’s just despicable. Why would you do that? Even the animated version had an all Chinese cast. Why? Because there were next to no white people in China during that time! Good God! It’s like we need to beat the Disney writers over the head with a dang history book or something! It’s truly abhorrent that Disney (with all its resources) has to be scolded by its fans to realize that what they are doing is wrong.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Great discussion! I completely agree that it is quite unfounded to complain about these old tales not having any diversity when historically, they didn’t. Finding stories that originate in other countries about other cultures is the key here.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Exactly! Disney needs to step out of their dang comfort zones and find the stories that developed in other countries, but more importantly, they need to not alter them to be more white. Altering a cultural story to fit your idea of what a story should be is actually worse than continuing to only select Western European stories. Hopefully Disney will pull their heads out of the sand and empty their ears because people have been crying for change for years now. It’s about time they start listening.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Right. So, the complaint of white washing would be more valid if the stories had taken other cultures with different skin colors and placed white characters as the main characters. People are failing to see that the issue isn’t “white washing” it’s just lack of exploring diverse stories in general.

        Like

        1. I have to disagree with you there. There is a validity behind Disney’s white-washing because Disney hasn’t taken the time to explore other cultures and the few they have explored were not well done. Aladdin is a perfect example of screwing up another culture to modernize/westernize it. And a lot of the white-washing discussion comes down to representation. Girls of other races are unable to see themselves in these characters and that’s really the big issue here that needs to be rectified.

          Like

  7. YES. Holy shit YES. THANK YOU. It’s like people complaining about there being no wealthy manor-owning black people in movies or shows like Downton Abbey or Jane Austen and it’s because unfortunately that was simply not really a thing at the time (i’m sure there are always exceptions that i don’t know about tho). HISTORICAL ACCURACY. Instead of wanting your minority to be injected inaccurately into white people stories, why not just write/film a story from within that minority’s experience/culture/etc.? MAKE the world see YOU. The Disney princess movies are from old stories and yeah they’re mostly white but that’s just because the original characters and people from that story and time were white. If you want less white-centric books/movies/etc. then start looking for stories that originate in other cultures. I 100% agree with you YES you cannot simply change skin-color and claim it as “diverse”. That is COMPLETELY missing the point! And honestly those who push this often border the line of white-shaming. Like Europeans have folk tales. They were white. Sorry, but get over it. But if we really truly want diversity then start reading folk tales and such from other cultures. Don’t just paint white stories/views with a darker skinned girl and go HOORAY DIVERSITY. Find a story from a different country and culture and allow those characters to shine in that truth. Race/skin-color is the least important detail, although it’s definitely still important (like don’t trying making a movie about Mayans and use super light-skinned Mexican actors or some bullshit like that. ACCURACY PLEASE). Ethnicity/culture is what the real point of diversity is (or at least I think it should be) and then keeping a fair and accurate range of skin colors within that ethnicity comes next. Appreciating the beauty of different skin colors is absolutely important but like don’t forget to go deeper than that. Technically shoving a Russian, a Dane, a South African, a Spaniard, and an American into a room and claiming they’re all the “same” because they’re all “white” is complete and utter bullshit. I’m Mexican but happen to have white skin so then what the hell does that make me?? I’m definitely here for more diversity in Disney princesses 100% but like do your damn research and quit fixating solely on skin color (because that’s really just trying to put a bandaid on the issue) and instead help showcase different cultures. Heroes and villains come in all shapes, colors, and sizes. They come from ALL walks of life and from EVERY corner of the world and I am so ready to see that shit.

    DEEP CALMING BREATH (hahaha damn you and your discussion posts! 😜)

    …sorry for ranting lol but people mixing up race and ethnicity is one of my pet peeves like who the fuck cares how pasty or dark you are? what the fuck does that have to do with anything??

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hahahahaha! I love your comments, Angela. And I literally was just having this historical accuracy conversation with a friend the other day. You won’t see black characters in the regency in shows like Reign or the Tudors because that just didn’t happen back in the day. Those shows are supposed to be relatively historically accurate. It’s sad and disappointing that such a time existed (and in many cases still exists) in society, but I don’t think it’s correct to change a show for representation. That would also be a case of skin color diversity instead of cultural diversity since I highly doubt any black character in the regency would have had any cultural differences were they actually written into the show.

      I like how you bring up that Caucasian isn’t always Caucasian. There are varieties in every race and skin color is honestly the least likely to portray race. I remember seeing an image of black women lined up ranging from the blackest skin tone to a very white skin tone, but all of them were black. Not because of their skin color. Because of their culture (and likely their other physical characteristics as well). Which is exactly why Disney needs to go find stories from OTHER parts of the world and actually RESEARCH them to portray the beautiful diversity of our world. Not just half-assing their attempts at inclusion and representation.

      P.s. Thank you for your passion on this topic and for your detailed response. Being of Western European descent, I only have so much to say and add to this topic. So it means a lot to mean that you joined the discussion and offered your point of view. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hahaha well I’m glad you don’t mind my ridiculously long comments! You always come up with great discussion posts and I guess I’m just not very good at shutting up or being concise 😜 It’s too fun to spew out thoughts sometimes haha

        Like

        1. Bahahahaha! You’re talking to a woman who doesn’t think a discussion is done until it’s at least 800 words!

          And I’m really glad you enjoy my posts as much as I do. That’s kind of the whole point of doing discussions: to quarrel and/or rant with people. 😀

          Liked by 1 person

  8. Great discussion, Melanie! I love how you brought up that the reason that many Disney princesses are Caucasian, is because that’s where their origin stories were written. If a fairy tale originated in a Latin American country, then I am all for representing that princess in accordance with her culture. Lovely post! 💕

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh! That would be amazing! I would love to see a princess from a Latin American country where that country’s culture is accurately portrayed. It would definitely be a breath of fresh air from the tired Western European stories that all end up feeling the same after a while. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  9. This is perfect. I always got upset when people would say “Disney white washed princesses” but no one bothered to check their background! It would have been wrong if you changed their culture, same way it would have been wrong to make Pocahontas of white descent. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Exactly, Stephanie. It would have been completely inaccurate and implausible to change those characters’ heritage just to make them diverse, especially since there would have been no cultural representation, just a skin color representation. However, Disney is doing quite a bit of the skin color representation only still and needs to really take the time to understand other cultures. A skin color does not make a story diverse. Their culture does and to ignore the culture is to ignore the person altogether.

      Like

  10. Wow Melanie, this is a wonderfully written post and definitely relevant!
    I definitely see how in a lot of YA books authors are taking into account various types of diversity whether it be culture, gender, etc. However, if authors choose to do this they also need to look at life through the eyes of people of other cultures instead of automatically imposing Caucasian views on everything.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Exactly, Delphine! Authors need to really take the time to understand the culture and personality of a person who comes from a different background than their own rather than just assuming to know that person’s background or imposing a background upon them that would be unrealistic. That is part of being realistic and being a good author. Anything else is simply lazy.

      Liked by 1 person

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