9 Controversial Disney Princesses
Disney tried to add to the diversity of its royal family in 2012, with the introduction of its first Latina princess, Sofia. Immediately, the character drew outcry due to her light skin, light brown hair and blue eyes. According to Latina, Disney execs responded to the concern, explaining: “Princess Sofia is a mixed-heritage princess in a fairy-tale world. said writer Craig Gerber. “Her mother is originally from an enchanted kingdom inspired by Spain (Galdiz) and her birth father hailed from an enchanted kingdom inspired by Scandinavia. Sofia was born and raised in Enchancia, which is a make-believe ‘melting pot’ kingdom patterned on the British Isles.” Hmm.
Sofia wasn’t the first princess to raise questions about her heritage. Even Belle from Beauty and the Beast has a complexion that hints at alterations made for more commercial reasons. Although not commonly remembered, the character is from the South of France, an area where residents generally have olive complexions, according to International Business Times. Belle, on the other hand, has a much lighter skin tone.
The 1993 film, Aladdin, had its fair share of controversies—a character possibly whispering that “all good teenagers take off their clothes” and a “barbaric” stereotype, to name a couple—and the character of Princess Jasmine did not escape unscathed. Although Jasmine is supposedly of Arab descent, critics complained her facial features and light skin did not reflect her background, according to International Business Times.
In 2009, Disney finally released a film starring its first African-American princess, Tiana. Although the company attempted to tiptoe around controversy, there were still questions. Asks Time, “Why was Tiana’s prince given an ambiguous name and suspiciously light skin? Why set the film in New Orleans, home to a largely black community still reeling from Hurricane Katrina? What’s with the voodoo theme?”
Snow White the character has had an image makeover in recent years, with somewhat stronger portrayals by the likes of Ginnifer Goodwin in Once Upon a Time and Kristen Stewart in Snow White and the Huntsman. However, feminists have long criticized Disney’s take on the character. In the 1987 New York Times re-review of the film, author Janet Maslin calls Snow White a drip, and a victim with “no distinct personality.” She goes on: “If some of this film’s lessons trouble the mind, they go straight to the heart for each new audience, and they always will. Snow White will always make scrubbing and scouring seem the pleasantest of chores. She will always make marriage seem a girl’s only option.” Ouch.
A Venezuelan plastic surgery ad, using The Little Mermaid’s Ariel as a model, drew criticism last year by sexualizing the character first intended for little girls. The company insinuated that it “make[s] fairy tales come true,” so apparently Ariel’s fairy tale involved bigger breasts, more curves and skinny legs stuffed into high heels, according to Christian Science Monitor.
In the midst of 2006’s princess explosion, Peggy Orenstein published the widely circulated, “What’s Wrong With Cinderella?” in the New York Times. Her answer? A lot. Princesses—most notably, Disney’s most quintessential princess, Cinderella—were teaching little girls to conform to stereotypes, and sending messages “perilous” to their “mental and physical health.”
After Princess Jasmine in 1993, Disney continued with its second non-white protagonist, Pocahontas, in 1995. In terms of controversy, this heroine did not fare much better than her predecessor. According to Time, Native American groups claimed the studio diverged from Pocahontas’s real history far too much. She never had romantic interest in John Smith, and there was no lovely, cinematic goodbye with the man she viewed as a “father figure.” Pocahontas was actually kidnapped by colonists in 1613, married to tobacco man John Rolfe and baptized a Christian, changing her name to Rebecca—none of which makes the cut in the Disney version.