What Disney’s Lack of a Black Disney Prince Reveals about America’s View of Black Masculinity

We’ve got Aladdin. We’ve got Kokoum. We’ve got Shang. We’ve got Kuzco. We’ve got Naveen. We’ve got Maui, who is technically a demigod. But where’s the animated black Disney prince? Inquiring minds want to know, but inquiring minds also want to understand why the majesty of the black man has been erased from Disney’s range of thought.

Disney has had some explaining to do about this issue, but the problem became glaringly apparent with the development of The Princess and The Frog, which included a belabored creation process for the prince character that would eventually become Prince Naveen. Originally, the prince character was going to be, from what I remember, a charismatic “Cary Grant” type. According to the old, old description from The SuperHeroHype forums:

[PRINCE HARRY] A gregarious, fun-loving European Prince, in his early twenties. A young Cary Grant. Charming, witty but irresponsible and immature. Loves jazz. Dialect: British upper-class.

This was met with criticism, because why couldn’t a black prince be created? The other princesses get princes of their own races—why not Tiana? Disney met this criticism by changing Prince Harry to a beige, non-white, but also non-black Prince from…Maldonia? Needle scratch.

Let me already say that this statement goes against the fact that this film, despite its flaws, is a representation of interracial marriage, something that is rare in entertainment. But The Princess and the Frog reveals how Disney failed even that narrative. 1) Why make Naveen from a made-up country? Why have the love interest for the first black Disney princess, a character set in a real place, literally be a person who couldn’t exist in our world (because where is MaldoniaNowhere.) Wouldn’t it be easier to just make a character from an actual country if Tiana’s from New Orleans? 2) If Disney set out to create a film focusing on an interracial relationship, it would have been nice for them to include such a focus in their marketing plan. The creators never focused on the type of impact such a story could have on its audiences, so they never showcased it in any interviews or press information. They were only focused on marketing the film as the first black Disney princess film. This is not to say that value can’t be taken from The Princess and the Frog having an interracial relationship, but it would have been fantastic if Disney had actually recognized the story they had on their hands (and thus, the story they could have fleshed out and made even better and more meaningful).

The questions I’ve always had are 1) what prevented Disney from creating a black Disney prince, and 2) why have they not created a black Disney prince before? Why are we still relying on The Lion King for the closest thing we have to a black Disney prince?

I thought I’d take to Twitter to ask this question. Here are the results.

https://twitter.com/smoothfuego1/status/764126650879672321

https://twitter.com/NilesAbston/status/763870650486317056

As it turns out, that while there are some men who aren’t particularly moved by the lack of a black animated Disney prince, there are many others who are upset, to say the least, about the lack of a black Disney prince.

Disney’s silence on not creating a black Disney prince reflects how America at large views black men, black masculinity, and the desirability of black males.

1. Black masculinity is still seen as dangerous: It is telling that the only black man that exists throughout the entirety of the film is Doctor Facilier. If you recall, Tiana’s father, the black man that is a good father, good husband, and all-around upstanding guy, dies during Tiana’s childhood. First, there’s the question of why Disney would even hire a big name like Terrence Howard to say just a couple of lines. But the more serious question is why does Disney feel more comfortable seeing black male villainy on screen rather than a positive portrayal of black fatherhood and manhood?

Despite the fact that Doctor Facilier was designed to be scrawny (and that Disney decided to hire their former long-time animator and Jambalaya Studios creator Bruce W. Smith to oversee his design in order to give the film representation behind the scenes), Doctor Facilier still embodies latent ideas that could be in the subconscious of the film’s white creators and are definitely in the collective consciousness of America at large. On the whole, America still treats black people, uniquely black men, as inherent, born criminals. There’s still a dangerousness that people expect from black men, which explains why so many black men have been stopped by police no bogus claims, thrown in jail for petty crimes (or no crime at all), or killed at the hands of police, even when they’ve done nothing wrong. This idea of “dangerousness” is also inherent in the amount of Latino and Native American men killed by police; there seems to be an “us against them” mentality with some police officers, and that’s not how policing is supposed to be.

The idea of dangerousness goes all the way back to slavery. I wrote in my Michael Brown post that Brown, Trayvon Martin, and others like them have been killed at the ages that they would have been sold for the highest price if they existed during slavery times. That age range is also the same range that they would be (and have been) considered the most dangerous.

Even much of the language used to describe Brown, Martin, and others depict a stereotype of savagery and fear in the mind of the killer. Brown’s killer, Darren Wilson, called Brown a “demon” and as someone who was basically hulking up the more he got shot. George Zimmerman described himself as being in fear for his life. That narrative goes back to the idea that black men are brutes that need to be broken like horses, otherwise, they provide a danger for “good” people.

If a black man is considered dangerous by America, then could America accept the idea of a black prince? Could a positive portrayal of a black prince exist in a culture that still fears a section of its citizens? I implore Disney to disrupt the stereotypes facing black men by creating such a character.

2. Black wealth is a buried secret in America: Like how outsiders simply view Rio’s black population as living in favelas, America itself still views its black people as living in poverty. Such an idea is clearly not true, but it’s an idea that still resonates with America’s racist view of black Americans. Just look at how Donald Trump is trying to win over black Americans–by telling them they’re in poverty, they have no jobs, and they’re surrounded by crime. “What the hell do you have to lose?” he asks. A LOT.

But if we look at American history as a whole, there has been black wealth. Take for instance Greenwood, the area of Tulsa, OK called “Black Wall Street” in the early 20th century. That area was then burned down in 1921 in what is called the Tulsa race riot, which was started by neighboring white citizens who felt Greenwood was growing in status and political clout. They felt that to secure their own hold on American wealth and politics, they had to burn down a positive representation of black success.

African-American culture is also removed from pan-African culture, which holds the history of many black princes, generals, etc. The richest man in the world of all time is 14th century African prince Mansa Musa. However, such history, including American history such as the Tulsa race riot, aren’t taught in school.

With such representations of black wealth destroyed, the myth has persisted that black wealth–and therefore, rich black people–doesn’t exist. Such thinking could have taken place when it came to the idea of creating Tiana’s prince. Did the team behind the film not consider the fact that there have been and are, indeed, wealthy black people? Or did they think that was impossible?

3. Black men are seen as unfeeling and emotionless: Again, to go back to slavery, black people were considered to have no feelings at all, thereby partially justifying slavery in the minds of white Americans at the time. Stereotypes like the smiling Sambo and the brutish, hypersexual creature who lives to take white women portray black men in two dynamics, both of which being untrue; either they’re cartoonish buffoons without realistic cares, or they’re an insatiable animal.

There’s also another reason black men are seen as emotionless: the emotional toll some black families put on their black men. Many boys are taught growing up that it’s not okay to show emotion, especially cry. To “be a man,” it’s thought that bottling emotions is the way to go, because showing emotions is “girl stuff.” However, the double whammy of society and familial pressures affects black men in a way that I feel is still unexplored in modern media.

In Disney animated films, we often see princes with a wide range of emotions. Aladdin’s entire story focused on his emotions about being a “streetrat” hoping to impress Princess Jasmine. Tarzan’s story is a classic coming-of-age tale. Shang, a captain in the army, has to deal with the pressures of leading a battalion to glory while processing the death of his father (a moment that probably happens too quickly in the film). Kokoum, who doesn’t express much emotion (which is also a stereotype of the Native Brave), shows reverence for Pocahontas, concern over her safety, and eventual anger at what he thought was John Smith taking advantage of Pocahontas. Even Eric, who is possibly the most wooden Disney prince of all time, has a couple of moments of feeling, even if it’s just confusion as to who rescued him. If Disney created a black prince, would they be able to give him the emotional beats he deserves?

Which leads me to the final point:

4. Disney’s think-tank doesn’t understand the black male experience (and of course they wouldn’t): John Lasseter and his crew have an inclusion issue that must be addressed. Why is it that there isn’t a person of color in these higher ranks? Why is it that Disney acts like Silicon Valley in how they exclude POC voices in its animation ranks? ABC, Lucasfilm, and now even Marvel seem to have a grasp on the idea of including diversity to meet audience demands. Disney, the parent company, still lags behind.

Do I think Disney would eventually make a black prince? Perhaps. But do I think they could really make a black prince that speaks to the black experience on a macro-scale? No. I recommend for Disney to hire black male animators into their ranks, and specifically hire thinkers and, as they call folks, “dreamers” who can be given carte blanche to direct films, much like how they give themselves carte blanche to create films. If a Cars franchise can be created, then an animated film starring a black Disney prince, a film created with sensitivity, intelligence, and a root in the black experience, can be created as well.

What do you think about this? Give your opinions in the comments section below, and if you give your opinions in Twitter, use the hashtag #BlackDisneyPrince. The more people who comment and hashtag, the higher the chances Disney might actually see this post and our hope for a black Disney prince might come closer to a reality!