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Essay: Discovering Disney’s First Latina Princess: A Personal Journey

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  • Published: 1 April 2019*
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  • Words: 1,785 (approx)
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  • Tags: Disney essays

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As a child I never truly fit in with any social group. My “friends” were the books that I loved to read and the movies I loved to watch. Most of my favorite movies were Disney ones. I still remember trying to roar like a lion at the end of Lion King. Also, I would try to find myself in the princesses. I would be asked what my favorite princess was and why, and I would answer with; “well it depends, I love (to this day) Belle from Beauty and the Beast, because she reminds me of me in her passion for reading and adventurous soul. Ariel from The Little Mermaid, because I too wished to be a mermaid, if dreams would just come true. Finally, Snow White, because she reminds me of myself in a way, because of her looks. The final one would always be received with a comment of “sweetie, she truly isn’t like you, because she isn’t Hispanic or Latina. It almost never failed, true I was a very light skinned Latina, with black hair and brown eyes, but I wasn’t truly white.

I grew up and I still see myself in my favorite princess, but I always kept asking myself when would Disney make a Latina princess? A Latina princess for all of those little ones who just can’t find a princess who resembles them. I read about the first Latina princess on People TV Watch, on the January issue of last year, who supposedly would show up on the show Sofia the First, and then in 2016 would have her own show called Elena of Avalor (Tauber). I was actually happy with the news, but I recently found out that in reality Elena isn’t the first Latina princess. In reality the first Latina princess as explained on The Disney Wiki first showed up in her pilot episode on November 18, 2012 and premiered on January 11, 2013 (“Sofia the First”). Sofia the First was supposed to be the first Latina princess, the executive producer of the show, Jamie Mitchell was quoted on CNN entertainment, when he said that Sofia was Latina (Rodriguez).

Truth be told I had never heard of this show before, I don’t have any children of my own to be watching this, but after finding out this little bit of news I had to see for myself who this Latina princess looked like. I was totally floored when I saw that instead of black hair, like most Latina women have, Sofia had a reddish to auburn color, her eyes were blue and her skin was white, maybe even whiter than Snow White. In a way I was totally disappointed in the way Disney had portrayed the princess. If I thought for a second that I had finally found a princess that resembled me in more way than not, I was totally wrong. True that just because of her complexion it didn’t mean that she was Latina at all. While reading Think Progress I was reminded that Cameron Diaz herself is an example of how Latina women can be of fair complexion and still be of a Hispanic origin, such as Diaz herself, who is half-Cuban (Rosenberg).

Doug Brode who is the author of Multiculturalism and the Mouse said that, “it was about time that we had an animated Latin princess (Strochlic). I imagined that I wasn’t the only one disappointed at Disney for such a letdown, and I found out that I was correct. Afterwards, it was explained that the happiness that the people had for this princess was quickly received with the same confusion that I had, because of the way she looked. A commenter actually was quoted to have said that at the age of 22 she still didn’t have a princess that remotely looked like her (Strochlic). In the end, Strochlic explained that Disney completely change their story by saying that what they had meant to say was that Sofia would bring in “elements familiar to kids from different backgrounds including Latin America and Spain. Disney also explained that the reason Sofia had certain looks was because, she is of a mixed heritage, since her mother is from a land “inspired by Spain”, and her father is “inspired by Scandinavia” (Strochlic).

How could such a confusion come out of the mouth of the executive producer, Jamie Mitchell? From what I understand, and have read, an executive producer is the person that is in charge of looking everything over. The executive producers are the ones that make sure the timelines are reached, that the budge agreed on is used, and that the standards that were agreed on are used. Sometimes the executive producer of big projects can be the CEO or representative of the film studio. Executive producers can sometimes also be involved with the script, cast and crew (Media Match). So, if an executive producer is so involved with a project, how could Jamie Mitchell have been so confused? Why did Mitchell just say that she was the “first Latina princess, and not explain her mixed heritage? In reality this causes more confusion, because if the executive producer himself doesn’t know what the show is about, then how involved has he been?

In reality, it seems that Sofia the First wasn’t the first film that changed the way most people from the same race look. In reality in 2010, Disney’s Prince of Persia was released, and instead of an actor who looked more Middle Eastern, Disney chose Jake Gyllenhaal (Hope). Actually, if we go back to 1992, when Aladdin was released are able to find another example of characters being whitewashed. If we truly look at Aladdin and Jasmine the protagonists of the movie they are lighter skinned and have less of an accent than, for example, the merchants in the marketplace. It has even been said that Aladdin, at first was based on Michael J. Fox, but then Jeffrey Katzenberg decided to change those sketches. Katzenberg changed Aladdin by aging him about 5 years and taking off his shirt, also he changed the models Aladdin was now being sketched to resemble Tom Cruise and models from Calvin Klein (Moviefone Staff). So, if Disney is truly trying to show different cultures, then why not choose models that are more similar to the culture they are trying to portray?

Even though the news was upsetting, and it would have been truly the best to have a full on Latina princess. I decided to give Sofia the First a try and watch a few episodes of the show. Unfortunately, I was only able to watch 2 episodes before deciding that Disney in a way had done a very poor job with this series. The show came out in 2012, but some of the messages that the show portrayed were completely outdated. In episode one of Sofia the First, “Just One of the Princes”, Sofia is super excited about trying out for the team, and riding a flying horse. These news are received with surprise by everybody who hears her, because in their words: “there are many things princesses can do, like hosting balls and dances too, or wearing gowns of pink and blue… We do princess things and we do princely things, and no one crosses in between. We stick with our routine” (Sofia the First: Just one of the Princes). The message of the first episode in my perspective was laughable, because I thought we had long passed the time when it was questioned if a woman was doing boyish things. If this was truly the case, and I think it is, because many of us don’t still expect for the women to be in the kitchen and the men bringing the bread, then why have to teach little ones about “boundaries”?

Also, I visited the parks a few times the last time being on March 31, 2016. I could barely find anything on Sofia the First. I downloaded the Disney app to see if Sofia would be making an appearance at either park, and I found out that she does make an appearance at California Adventure. The day I was there, she made an appearance from 2:00 – 2:30 and from 4:00 -4:30, a total of an hour for a whole day. I decided to track her appearance on other days, with the help of the Disney app, but she barely made an appearance on any of the other days. I compared her appearance times with other Disney characters, and realized that she isn’t out as much as others. Some examples of this are: Cinderella, who is out from 8 AM to 7 PM, and you can find her at Disneyland Park in the Royal Hall. Belle from Beauty and the Beast, who is out at different times in different parts Disneyland. Anna and Elsa can be found at Disney California Adventure Park in the Disney Animation Building from 8 AM to 9 PM. I decided to look for merchandise of Sofia the First, and I couldn’t find anything. I was at Disneyland that day from the moment they opened, 8 AM, to 10 PM. I looked everywhere in Disneyland and California Adventure. I even went into the junior and infant section, because it made sense that there should be something there. The only times I saw Sofia the First, was first when I went to the Disney Junior Live on Stage, Sofia was actually on the stage, for five minutes.

In the end, I finally did find some merchandise of with her face on it. The only thing I was able to find with Sofia the First was a pin. As most of us Disney fans know, other than going to Disney for the rides and shows, the other fun thing is to trade pins with the employees, and buy new ones for the collection. It may seem that the huge disappointment that many fans received with Sofia the First, and maybe the outdated lessons, has truly affected her popularity. So, I started thinking why they would try and make a pin of her, and in the end it totally made sense with how Disney works. Since trading pins is fun and a hobby for many people, why not start with a small pin of Sofia to try and make her popular again? If this is the strategy that Disney is going with it might just work. We will just have to wait and see if Sofia’s fans will finally start populating more, or maybe we are about to see the end of Sofia the First. In reality Disney didn’t completely think about the consequences when they promised the first “Latina” princess, and then changed her looks completely.

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