Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A few more thoughts on "Princess and the Frog" (SPOILER ALERT!)

Warning: unlike my last post, which was just a general review, this one contains quite a few spoilers.

These thoughts are about the ongoing discussion of Prince Naveen's race. First, to the objection of some that by making Naveen "other," the movie missed a chance to portray a positive black male: I wholeheartedly disagree. The most important role model in Tiana's life is her father, and although he only appears in the beginning of the movie (he dies in WWI), his memory, his love, his life lessons, and his dreams stay with Tiana throughout her life, motivating her in all she does.

Second, and this came up in a discussion I had on another blog: at the end of the movie, you see Tiana and Naveen, now married, fulfilling her dream of opening a French Quarter restaurant. I think the filmmakers' intent was to once more reverse the "princess" stereotype: instead of Tiana giving up her dreams in order to get married and live happily ever after as simply a princess bride, Naveen instead becomes part of her life, helping her to fulfill her pre-marriage dreams.

Whether or not the filmmakers realized this (and they may have, given that the movie's screenwriter is black), there is something else significant about this ending besides the feminist reversal. By remaining in New Orleans and helping Tiana open her restaurant, Naveen basically made a decision to become a black man. What I mean is, in the eyes of the law and society at the time, once he married Tiana and stayed in NOLA, he would have been considered black. The privileges he had at the beginning of the movie due to his ambiguous ethnicity and royal status would have disappeared. He gave them, for her. And that's romantic!

Update: another blogger discussing this was offended that Tiana and Naveen are shown at the end doing the manual labor to refurbish the building that becomes the restaurant. To her, that showed that Tiana ends up just as poor and struggling as she was at the beginning of the movie, unlike the other Disney princesses, who end up pampered and wealthy beyond dreams.

As you might guess, I disagree with this interpretation, too. First, I think the purpose of showing them doing the labor is to portray how much Naveen had changed from the lazy, spoiled young man he was at the beginning. And second, the manual labor (on a building they own) is just an intermediate step on the way to having a very successful restaurant, as you also see at the end. I suspect that while they'll always have to work hard, Tiana and Naveen would end up making quite a bit of money with their restaurant. (And there is quite a precedence for some hardworking black entrepreneurs becoming very rich and successful, even in the Jim Crow era, despite humble beginnings: Madame C.J. Walker, John H. Johnson, among others). So, being a black woman from that era in American history, Tiana would probably never have the "fairy tale" ending of the typical princess tale (and she didn't expect to), but she wouldn't end up poor and struggling. She'd find herself squarely within the black bourgeoisie.

Update 2: I really liked the fact that the movie showed a little of Tiana and Naveen's married life, with him even having a line where he refers to her as "my wife." I don't think any of the other Disney princess movies show that, even in their direct to DVD sequels, with one exception: The Little Mermaid 2, which is about Ariel and Eric's 12-year-old daughter, who, in a reversal of her mother's story, dreams of being a mermaid.

Yeah, I'm thinking way too hard about this, LOL!

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