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Disney's Princess Sofia: Not Latina but 'mixed-heritage'

Disney Junior

Princess Sofia from Disney's "Sofia the First: Once Upon a Princess," which debuts on the Disney Channel Nov. 18.

After a Disney executive producer commented to press recently that a new Disney princess to be unveiled next month was to be Latina - and public reaction to her fair looks turned heated - Disney is now clarifying her ethnicity. Or perhaps making it murkier still.

NBC Latino reported today that a Disney executive stated on Disney's Princess Sofia Facebook page that “All our characters come from fantasy lands that may reflect elements of various cultures and ethnicities but none are meant to specifically represent those real world cultures.”

A Disney producer/writer interviewed in the story described Sofia as "a mixed-heritage princess in a fairy-tale world," with her mother coming from a fictional kingdom "inspired by Spain" and her birth father from a place "inspired by Scandinavia." In other words, Sofia is bicultural.

But last week, after the comment from another Disney exec that Sofia and her mother were Latina charaters, a digitally-driven public outcry ensued. Critics of the new princess were upset not only because Disney executives said they didn't plan to make Sofia's ethnicity an overt part of her character, but because of how she looks. Sofia is fair-skinned, with medium-brown hair and blue eyes. 

In long strings of comments posted under news stories (including on this site), some people said they welcomed Sofia's appearance as affirmation that not Latinos look alike (we don't); others made the accurate point that however, the majority of the population of Latin America has darker eyes and skin, and a Disney attempt at including a Latina princess among its ethnic princess ranks should take that into account.

One critical reader posted on this site, "Come on, Disney, you didn't even make Tiana dark enough," referred to Princess Tiana of "The Princess and the Frog," who is black.

Will Disney's attempt at clarifying Sofia's ethnic identity help? It makes it muddier, but perhaps it makes her more real in a way, at least in the sense that the culturally mixed families that we see all around us are now living in fairy kingdoms, too. Sofia might as well be a princess from L.A. 

The animated film "Sofia the First: Once Upon a Princess" debuts Nov. 18 on the Disney Channel.

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