The Disney Cycle

Disney Princesses.jpg
Quick! Someone re-imagine them as something stupid.

Recently, I asked my wife to make me roasted pecans. She doesn’t make them very often, you see, so I thought it might be a nice change of pace. As they were cooking, though, I realized that they didn’t smell quite like I wanted them to. And that’s when things started to go wrong.

I mean, sure, they smelled like they were supposed to – warm and cinnamon-y. But that wasn’t really how I envisioned them. I was thinking more of a light vanilla scent maybe. Seriously. How hard is it for her to make a slightly less accurate version of the thing I wanted, based entirely on my incorrect preconceptions of what it was supposed to be?

Then she changed them. A little. Just to get rid of the things that most irritated me. Frankly, I think that made the final product a lot worse, but I stand by my meddling.

Anyway, long story short, she made them and I just didn’t eat them. Yuck. I mean, I realize that I was the one who asked for them in the first place and all. But surely enough other people will enjoy them to ensure she makes more in the future even after my non-stop complaining.

It’s just so unfair! The one time she makes this thing for me and wasn’t exactly what I wanted, even though she followed the recipe perfectly! So, yeah. Long story short, I’m already asking her to make them again, but better this time. I’m sure she has lots of other things to cook that people have requested. Still, I think the best use of her time is to make something for me that I’ve already shown her I’m not likely to touch.

The previous four paragraphs brought to you by “Satire” (TM) – catch the fever!

But yeah, that’s pretty much every single Disney movie these days. My wife’s roasted pecans are, for the record, amazing. And if I were eating some by the time this article was finished, that would actually be pretty great…just saying.

So here’s about how it goes.

1) One culture or minority group or another is outraged they don’t have their own Disney Princess. Yes, this is an actual thing that actually happens. Apparently the bar for outrage is currently set so low that we’re getting angry at Christmas-themed cups and not-Christmas-enough-themed cups. So why not Disney movies?

Now, I’m all for inclusivity, but this often leads to a few problems. The first is that, well, there are just a lot of ethnic groups. Have you ever heard about ethnic Iraqi Kurds complaining that they didn’t have a movie about them? Of course not, because those people have real problems to deal with.

The second, as much as I hate to say it, is that some cultures have really lame stories. For reasons that will be abundantly clear in a bit, Disney doesn’t want to take too many liberties with these stories. So when they’re researching Ukraine’s ethnic Tatar population (sorry to single you guys out – I’m sure you’re very cool) and find out their best folktale is about an invisible spirit who wears red dresses and pulls women’s hair to warn them of abusive husbands, you’ll understand why Disney gets a bit nervous.

(Yes, that’s a real Tatar folk legend. And it’s a totally real thing. Look it “Bichura.” I’m not kidding.)

2) Outrage eventually reaches the point that Disney is forced to placate one of these groups or else face the mobilized rage of white college students with nothing better to protest. I don’t know how they make the final choice on what group’s folk legends they use. I like to think they just throw darts at a globe.

Which would explain why they made not one but two movies about Atlantis.

3a) Disney researches the culture more than most people living in it and yet, somehow, always gets it wrong. Now, when I say “wrong,” I don’t mean “inaccurate.” If anything, the problem is that they’re usually too correct.

There was a lot of outrage over the cast of “Frozen” being white, despite the actual culture they were referencing being mostly white. Why? Because a bunch of college students with a Sami great-grandmother (allegedly) got upset that the characters in the film were white when real ethnic Sami were…also white.

This is where the issue with preconceptions comes in. The issue isn’t that Disney is mangling the truth. It’s that people have certain assumptions about things without the benefit of any evidence that “feel” correct. It would be like Disney making a movie about a culture that was made up entirely of overweight people with bad breath. Inevitably, cultures appreciate the truth about as far as your dinner date does – it’s only a good thing as long as you’ve got nice things to say about them.

3b) Disney’s accurate historical portrayal of minorities is viewed as racist because reasons. As much as people don’t like to admit it, minorities traditionally had it pretty bad until very recently. (Not to mention the ones still getting the shaft.) So people shouldn’t be surprised when the plucky young Gypsy is hated by the local townsfolk. Or the black girl is literally a slave.

Look. I want to be perfectly clear. I’m not condoning these things in any way, shape or form. (Read by people who want to be angry at me as: “I like being racist and white people are super awesome.”) But these things also happened. Hey. Nobody wants the black girl to overcome adversity and become President of the United States in the early 1800s more than me. As long as we all realize that it’s a total fantasy.

4) Disney makes token changes to their movie’s plot that make the movie historically less accurate and less true to the folklore. A vocal minority (as in, a group of protesters – not the ethnic kind) is often harder to ignore than a happy and quiet majority. So despite most people having no issues with what they see in the previews, changes are made.

The best example I can think of here is Tiana from “The Princess and the Frog.” Originally, she was a servant who cooked for a wealthy family. Racist? Absolutely. Racist in the early 20th century? Still absolutely.

But, sadly, not an uncommon living situation for a black girl with no living relatives who would have probably just been trying to get by.

Since people couldn’t stomach this, they protested until she was given a job as a chef. Is it impossible to conceive that this could’ve happened? Absolutely not. The issue isn’t so much that either occupation was unrealistic as it was that people just didn’t like one and had to change it to the other. But consider this. If she’d started out as a chef and been demoted to cook, the Internet would’ve collectively emptied its bowels in rage.

The question, in the end, is whether it’s better to white-wash the unpleasantness out of history than it is to be a bit of a bummer. And the truth is, I don’t know.

5) The same people pushing for the movie in the first place, now outraged at the movie portraying them accurately, boycott the film. Not all of them do, mind you. But enough that it seems sort of trivial in the end.

I remember one of my friends, a black mother of three girls, complaining after the release of “The Princess and the Frog.” “So, I want my girls to think the best they can do in life is cook? No, thank you.” She then proceeded to say that she’d wait for the next Disney movie and hope it had a better black role model for her daughters. Which given the time it took them to do that movie and then have you crap on it because it wasn’t exactly what you wanted, should be any day now, right?

6) And…repeat. What’s that? We’re already bitching about “Moana” because the giant demigod doesn’t have the physique you wanted? Oh, good. I was afraid we were starting to get upset about totally reasonable things.

Do people automatically have to like Disney Princess with skin like theirs? Of course not. But discounting a movie because it wasn’t exactly what you wanted or because they were “too mean” to someone of your culture or any other nitpicking reason is just silly. Especially when some of these people are on social media the next day wondering as to why their particular group is so underrepresented in media.

Judging by the number of hedging statements I had to use in this article just to avoid looking like a racist (and still probably coming off that way to some people anyway) should be all you need to see to understand why some companies just don’t bother with the controversy.

And, if it helps, I personally most identify with Mulan, who was a tough-as-nails girl who saved her family by kicking ass. I know, right? Her skin is different than mine. How is that possible?

It’s almost as if we could find heroes and role models without them looking exactly like us.


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