The Walt Disney Company claims to be a leader in corporate responsibility, but with the release of its new movie, The Princess and the Frog, the media giant shows just how irresponsible it can be when it comes to showing respect and appreciation for cultural and religious diversity. Its new release, which features the first African- American Disney Princess, is tainted with old racist stereotypes from wicked witchdoctors to weird Vodou dolls.
The central villain in the movie is the shadow-man, an evildoer who uses his “friends on the other side” to get what he wants.This manipulator of humans and of spirits transforms a handsome prince into a frog in order to enrich himself. The frog-prince must kiss a true princess in order to become human again.
For a Disney story, this is a standard plot, but with the added elements of African American culture and Spiritualism, Disney goes astray.Instead of delivering entertaining and inspiring magic for children and families, Disney becomes a charlatan, much like the movie’s villain, recycling hateful and painful stereotypes from the past. Despite a half- hearted effort to bestow some dignity on the Vodou priestess, Mama Odie,the overall tone of the movie is one of disdain for a spiritual tradition embraced throughout the African Diaspora from Haiti to Harlem, from Cuba to Miami, from Bahia Brazil to the Bayous of Louisiana.In making a villain out of the charismatic Vodou man, Disney perpetuates the racist practice of vilifying West African religious traditions.
Could it be that Disney just does not have a clue when it comes to religious practices that are not Judeo- Christian, or does it simply not care?Surely, a corporation of its reach can afford to hire informed consultants to guide its efforts to appeal to diverse communities. Disney’s reckless behavior can spur witch-hunts and religious persecution - activities that still go on in many less tolerant parts of the world. As Disney strives to be more socially responsible, it should take care not to demonize or offend other faiths solely for entertainment.
In the Princess and the Frog, Disney falls short of its stated goal to “instill confidence and appreciation of cultural, ethnic, and other differences.”However, having the first African American Princess in a Disney production shows that Disney is making an effort to embrace everyone. This warms the heart and adds soothing comfort to a movie that otherwise wounds the soul.