In the spirit of Tiana and Mulan, there's a new princess joining Disney's ethnic princess roster: a Latina. And, not surprisingly, people are already at odds over whether she's, well, Latina enough.
The new character is Sofia, a young girl whose mother marries the king of a place called Enchancia, making her a princess. She's to make her debut Nov. 18 on the Disney Channel in an animated television film titled "Sofia the First: Once Upon A Princess," in which she navigates the commoner-turned-princess life.
Sofia is adorable, but there's a two-folded flap evolving over her introduction. First, while the character is supposed to be Latina, Disney execs say they don't plan to make a point of her ethnicity. Here's what one of them told Entertainment Weekly:
“We never actually call it out,” said Joe D’Ambrosia, vice president of Disney Junior original programming. “When we go into schools [to talk to young students about the show], what I find fascinating is that every girl thinks that they’re Sofia.”
An executive producer added, “It’s sort of a matter-of-fact situation rather than an overt thing.”
OK. Viewers will know that Sofia's mother's name is Miranda, and that Miranda has a darker complexion than her daughter, nothing out of the ordinary in multi-hued Latino families. Sofia herself has medium-brown hair and blue eyes — again, there are Latinas who look like this.
But she'd not representative of the darker-skinned, darker-eyed majority, say some critics, who also don't understand why Disney isn't more overt about her ethnicity, like in the case of Princess Tiana of "The Princess and the Frog," a black princess from New Orleans. (Who, by the way, also happens to look like many Latinas.)
"Why call her a Latina and not say anything about it?" said Alex Nogales, president of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, a Pasadena-based media advocacy group. "Nobody had any problem with Dora."
He added, "Her mother is Latina, but the chid is white. Yes, we do come in all colors, but the majority of us are brown."
So will there be any way of conveying in the film that Princess Sofia is indeed Latina? Will the denizens of Enchancia speak Spanish or have accents? A Disney spokeperson emailed this explanation:
The range of characters in ‘Sofia the First’ — and the actors who play them — are a reflection of Disney’s commitment to diverse, multicultural and inclusive storytelling, and the wonderful early reaction to ‘Sofia’ affirms that commitment. In the story, Sofia’s mother, Queen Miranda, was born in a fictitious land, Galdiz, a place with Latin influences. Miranda met Sofia’s father, Birk Balthazar, who hailed from the kingdom of Freezenberg, and together they moved to Enchancia, where Sofia was born.
Sort of like Mexican/Puerto Rican/Salvadoran/etc. mom meets dad from somewhere other than Latin America and they settle in Los Angeles, or something like that. Only that he's a king.
Sofia will be voiced by teen actress Ariel Winter of "Modern Family." Here's a little more on the film and the character from a Disney press release:
Sofia's royal adventure begins as she prepares to move into the castle with her mom, starting a new family with her step-father, King Roland II, and step-siblings, Amber and James. Helping Sofia in her journey are the three headmistresses of Royal Prep Academy — Fauna, Flora and Merryweather (the beloved fairies seen in Disney's classic "Sleeping Beauty") and royal steward, Baileywick, as well as a group of cute woodland creatures led by a wise-talking rabbit, Clover.
Señor conejo? No wait, that would be a rabbit on "Dora the Explorer."
Thoughts to share, anyone? Should a Latina princess be more overtly ethnic? And what should a Latina princess look like, anyway? Please post your comments below.