Last week, we got word that Disney was introducing its first Latina princess, Sofia, in a television special. But unfortunately, rather than using this occasion to tell a culturally specific—and as a result, less generic and more interesting—story, Disney decided to put Sofia in a European fairy-tale setting and use her as a marketing vehicle for other Disney products. And now Disney is backtracking on the idea that Sofia is Latina or Hispanic at all:
“What’s important to know is that Sofia is a fairytale girl who lives in a fairytale world,” Nancy Kanter, senior vice president of original programming and general manager of Disney Junior Worldwide said in a post on the Princess Sofia Facebook page. “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.”
Kanter said that most importantly, Sofia’s world reflects the ethnically diverse world we live in “but it is not OUR world, it is a fairytale and storybook world that we hope will help spur a child’s imagination.”
Craig Gerber, co-executive producer/writer on the project says, “Princess Sofia is a mixed-heritage princess in a fairy-tale world. Her mother is originally from an enchanted kingdom inspired by Spain (Galdiz) and her birth father hailed from an enchanted kingdom inspired by Scandinavia.”
This isn’t just cowardly: it’s all kinds of boring. The idea that you’d create alternate universe that’s like our own not to comment on reality by giving people a framework that lets them consider issues that would be painful to discuss directly, but to escape actual problems and painful issues like the lack of representation of people of color (Latinos are the most underrepresented ethnic group in American popular culture), you’re giving up not just a chance to make a difference, but a chance to do interesting story work. I get the appeal of a fantasy world shorn of our problems and our most uncomfortable history. But that’s also a fantasy that strips characters of the things that make them specific and unique, and of and chances to exhibit specific kinds of heroism that are deeply moving to the people in the audience.