There’s great news in the world of Disney Princesses: We’re finally getting a Hispanic (Latina?) princess, Elena of Avalor. She’ll be coming to a screen near you July 22 on the Disney Channel.
I know what you’re thinking: It’s about time! Disney has had princesses for, like almost 80 years, and their diversity record is abominable. Heck, the first Disney princess was actually named Snow White. It does not get more problematic than that.
You may also be thinking: Wait a minute . . . didn’t Disney already do a “First Latina (Hispanic?) Princess?
Why yes. Yes, they did.
You see, back in 2012 the Disney Channel launched an animated series called Sofia the First and revealed that the titular Sofia was their First Latina Princess.
It didn’t make a lot of logical sense, because Sofia and her parents live in a made-up fairytale world called Enchancia, which is geographically and culturally further removed from the recognizable world than the settings of Mulan, Frozen, Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, or most of the Disney canon. For instance, in Enchacia they do not celebrate “Christmas,” but rather a day called “Wassailia.” Which is exactly like Christmas, but isn’t Christmas. So where, in this made up land, are Latina influences supposed to come from? Meh, who cares. Because diversity.
But it turned out that Sofia the First was kind of great. The show was made with the same vibe as an ’80s sitcom. The characters were just complicated enough to be interesting. And Sofia herself was a totally winning princess. It was basically impossible not to like Sofia—a fact so self-evident that even the show’s villains humorously struggled to maintain their animosity toward her.
The only people who didn’t like Sofia, it turned out, were some folks from the Hispanic (Latina?) department of Grievance Central. Princess Sofia, bless her heart, might have been the first Latina princess, but she wasn’t Latina enough. Here’s a CNN account of the controversy from 2012:
Some criticized what they saw as a lack of cultural signifiers or ethnic identity in the Sofia character.
“If Disney were truly to finally step out and directly cater to the Latino community that has been crying out for decades for a Latina princess to represent our girls,” said Ana Flores, blogger for Spanglishbaby, “She would be as Latina as Tiana is black or as Pocahontas is Indian-American.”
Alex Nogales, president and CEO for the National Hispanic Media Coalition, a nonprofit organization that promotes Latino equality in the entertainment industry, believes the Latino community needs more heroes right now that are very identifiable.
“Latinos are taking the blame for everything that is wrong with America. This is not a time to pussyfoot around. If you’re going to promote this to the public, and Latinos in particular, do us a favor and make it a real Latina.”
Elsewhere in the grievance shop, people complained that Sofia had blue eyes and auburn hair, which is, evidently, impossible for someone of Latin heritage.
The agitation spooked Disney so badly that within a matter of days the company memory-holed the entire idea of Sofia being Latina and disavowed the notion that she was ever intended to be Latina in the first place.
It’s crazy, right? But rather than scorning the folks at Disney, you ought to have a tremendous amount of sympathy for them.
Can you even imagine being a creative type at Disney, a sweet progressive artist who genuinely believes in diversity? You get almost no credit for Mulan or Jasmine, because Chinese and Persian aren’t important identity boxes to check on the diversity list. So you do The Princess and the Frog with an African-American lead. And then you get beat up for having her love interest be a Caucasian prince—and you thought inter-racial couples were supposed to be envelope-pushing and laudable. (“A lot of moms had issues with that,” one blogger told CNN. “It felt like it was a slap in the face to black men.”) So you create Sofia as the first Latina princess. She’s really great—her show’s a hit and she goes on to sell metric tons of merchandise. But the backlash is so strong that the company says that you “misspoke” when you said that Sofia was Latina in the first place.
It must be exhausting. That Disney is able to produce good characters and stories in an environment like this is just short of miraculous.
I’m not sure just what Elena of Avalor will need to do to qualify as Latina enough for the SJW set—what if she’s a fan of Rafa Nadal and a Catholic who goes to Mass every day? Would that be okay? (Spoiler alert: It would not.) But however Disney signals that Elena is their (sort-of) First Latina Princess, someone on Twitter will find something wrong her.
The fact that Disney keeps trying to please these malcontents is either a sign of enormous charity or Stockholm Syndrome.
Sofia, of course, would assume the former.