Fans were excited to hear that Princess Tiana, Disney’s first African-American princess, would be making a cameo appearance in the “Wreck It Ralph” sequel coming to theaters in November. However, when trailers for the movie were released, there was immediate outcry on social media from audiences calling out Disney for “white-washing” the princess.
In the original film, “The Princess and the Frog,” Tiana was depicted in a 2-D style cartoon animation. Since “Wreck It Ralph 2” is 3-D, animators were tasked with translating the princess’ appearance into the new style. The results, however, were less than satisfactory.
Tiana can be spotted in one scene of the trailer sitting among the other princesses drinking a coffee in her pajamas. Unlike how she was depicted in her own movie, audiences were quick to notice that this new version of Tiana had significantly different features. Her nose had been slimmed, her lips thinned, her skin lightened and the curl pattern in her hair had been relaxed.
Although the changes made to Princess Tiana’s character design has sparked much controversy, it has also opened up a national dialogue regarding colorism and the importance of representation of POC in media.
When asked whether or not he believed that this was an intentional act of colorism on behalf of Disney, Student Diversity Initiatives Director José Rodriguez said, “Of course. Disney is a huge company, one of the biggest in the world. Whether it be in animation or otherwise, the people who are making the decisions, they know exactly what they’re trying to target… There are still a lot of prejudices embedded in our communities.”
Among those outraged by the changes is Anika Noni Rose. Rose not only voices Princess Tiana, but the character was originally animated in her likeness. Along with support from Color of Change, the nation’s largest racial justice organization, together they challenged the company and successfully convinced the animators to render Tiana back to her original design.
In a recent Instagram post, she said, “[The animation team] explained how CGI animation did different things to the characters’ color tones in different light compares to hand drawn original character, and I was able to express how important it is to the little girls (and let’s face it, grown women) who felt represented by her, that her skin tone stay as rich as it had been, and that her nose continue to be the little round nose that Mark so beautifully rendered in the movie. The same nose on my very own face and on many other little brown faces around the world that we barely get to see represented in fantasy.”
This is not the first time Disney has been involved in racially-driven controversy. Last winter, the company was in hot water for admitting to using makeup to darken the skin of white background actors during the filming of the live adaption of “Aladdin.”
Cabrini professor Usame Tunagur recently gave a presentation on the subject of diversity in film.
“When it comes to representation there are 2 essential things that are at play, quantity and quality,” Tunagur said. “The quantity refers to whether or not there is proportionate diversity. Quantity in recent years has definitely been a bit better because there has been a constant push for it. At the same time, the more important discussion is in the quality. Just because you are being reflected in terms of percentages and numbers does not necessarily mean there is healthy, complex representation.”
Despite reanimating the character so close to the release date, Disney has confirmed that “Wreck it Ralph 2” is still on track to hit theaters this Thanksgiving.