weber_dubois22: (Allison Dubois)
[personal profile] weber_dubois22 posting in [community profile] disney_pocs


Nathyn/Nome recently posted a commentary on zan blog about how Disney is going to go off princesses, but we really don’t need any more of their princesses anyways. One of the commentors disagrees with zan complaint of Mulan, but added “I’m more worried about the ethnocentrism. In America, we love to read Woman Warrior at college and make fun of how sexist they are in China and how enlightened we are in the Occident. We also love to appropriate oriental stories, both mythological and contemporary, to give them the Hollywood treatment.”

This is something that is definitely important to notice. China is not the only country to have problems with subjugating women. The US did it, and there are still problems in the present (trigger warning: rape, rape apologism). China also doesn’t have a homogenous history of constantly oppressing women, they also had Empress Wu who improved the status of women, had scholars write history of women, invented entirely new characters to show her greatness, and declared herself Maitreya Buddha, 900 years before Queen Elizabeth. The point- everywhere has good and bad parts of its history, and it’s problematic to think otherwise.

But, despite the fact that China, being a country populated by humans and having the kind of history that being populated by humans who interact with other places populated by humans has (aka: varied), we also see blatant sexism in the context of China- a non-European, non-White country. The sexist ideas of Beauty and the Beast are downplayed, it’s more depicted as “Gaston is a jerk and you can tell because he’s sexist”, and the problematic idea that Belle is only worthwhile because Gaston likes her isn’t really made a big deal of. Ariel’s view of “Bet’cha on land they understand/That they don’t reprimand their daughters/Proper women sick of swimmin’/Ready to stand” is never pointed out to be a romanticized view of Europe at any point. It isn’t pointed out that it’s very likely that Cinderella had to live with her stepmother because, at that time, she wouldn’t have been able to get a good job and be able to support herself so she ultimately ended up in slavery (that she was saved from by a rich man and which she sang through).

Bethany Khan talks about race and Mulan, Jasmine, and Pocahontas and points out something that I have never noticed but disturbs me- all the disney princess of color have arranged marriage. Nala and Simba are also betrothed at the start of the movie- and while they aren’t exactly people of color, Nala is the closest we have to an African Princess. It isn’t really there in the Princess and the Frog, but even that has her mother trying to push her to date because “I want grandkids!”. White Princesses getting that kind of pressure? We have to go back to 1959′s Sleeping Beauty. The closest beyond that is King Tritan being excited to hear that Ariel is in love (with, he thinks, a merman) and Belle’s father suggesting, when Belle says she has no one to talk to in town, Gaston because “he’s a handsome fellow”. No talk of marriage there, just suggestions of talking. Yes, Gaston does assume that Belle will say yes to his proposal- but that isn’t really an arranged marriage, just overdeveloped sense of entitlement. Yet princesses of color from the late 90s are having marriages arranged for them. There’s also a scene in The Emperor’s New Groove (2000) which has Kuzco completely dismissing a line of women based on their appearances, with them looking visibly upset to not be chosen (as opposed to visibly upset at being insulted by a spoiled brat)- Kuzco, if you don’t remember, is supposed to be in the Incan Empire, or South America, or non-White non-Europe. And, again, he is set up for an arranged marriage.

Although arranged marriages occurred in Europe, particularly among the royalty (the most commonly shown thing in Disney), Disney only shows them in non-European cultures. Today, at least in America, love marriages are so common that we don’t even know that term and assume all are. There’s the idea that arranged or forced marriages only occur in backwards, barbaric places. So associating them so widely with people of color is pretty problematic. It’s also problematic that sexism is only okay to talk about in the premise of people of color, as if it’s a problem of “them”, not “us”, “backwards people who we’re so much more civilized than”. Essentially, “Sexism isn’t a problem white people have- it’s just further proof that we’re so much better than those people“. Simultaneously erasing male privilege and furthering white privilege, a veritable two-fer.

One thing that Bethany mentions is something that Shannon at Racialicious mentions about Hunchback of Notre Dame, “I felt, rightly or wrongly, as though Disney had made Esmeralda’s eyes green to keep girls like me from identifying with her, to thwart us, to show that in order to be beautiful or worthy of headlining a Disney film you had to have at least one European feature, and animators were determined to provide Esmeralda with one even though it clashed alarmingly with her other features. I felt as though Disney were saying to whites, “Yes, Esmeralda is non-white, but not really.””- which she calls “Esmeralda’s Eyes Syndrome”. Bethany says the same thing about Jasmine, “An interesting topic is the artists’ decision to color her eyes blue instead of brown. Why would the designers do that for any other reason then to ensure that Princess Jasmine isn’t too ethnic for the typical American audience? It would seem that the animators strived to make her exotic and foreign, but made sure that White children could still identify with her, what is she then, if not a White princess with a really good tan?”. Thankfully, Tiana, Mulan, and Pocahontas didn’t have this problem and there is a basis for Esmeralda’s eyes (although, Disney being Disney, that’s something they could have easily overlooked- it’s not like they stayed 100% true to the story).

Also, the origins of the characters (aside from Esmeralda, as her story was written by a white European) is something to consider. Yes, almost all of the Disney princesses are loosely based on either fairy tales. So it may seem normal to take Jasmine from an Arabic folktale and Mulan from a Chinese legend/historical figure (she may or may not have existed). But there is a difference as well- white Americans have been brought up with European fairy tales for centuries. For the most part, we have not been brought up with the 1001 Arabian Nights or Chinese legends. There is a very fine line between appreciation and appropriation, and it’s not always easy to tell which side you’re on.

It also doesn’t really explain Pocahontas- who was a living, breathing person whose life was greatly misrepresented- since there are Powhatan Legends as well as a very good number of legends from various tribes. It doesn’t explain Pocahontas, unless we absolutely had to have white people there, unless we absolutely had to positively portray what ultimately ended in Genocide. It also doesn't explain The Lion King, which is based off of Hamlet and the Story of Moses. Again, wealth of legends from various parts of Africa that could have been used.

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