Well, thanks for clearing that up, Disney. Despite multiple and glowing reports that Disney would be debuting its first Latina princess, Sofia the First, Disney has clarified that Sofia is “a mixed-heritage princess.” It would appear that the Disney staff is pretty divided on what it means to be Latina in the first place. That and some other potential racial pitfalls appear to be in store judging by an awkward disclaimer for the new series.
It was only last week that executive producer, Jamie Mitchell, openly declared that Sofia was the first Latina princess to appear on a Disney animation project, telling NBC news plainly, “She is Latina.” Joe D’Ambrosia, vice president of Disney Junior original programming, followed up with a more softening statement, saying that he and his fellow producers “never actually call it out.”
But despite initial insistence that Sofia was Latina, potential fans took to Sofia’s Facebook to voice concerns over the little girl’s complexion. Some fans posited that Sofia’s light skin made her a little less Latina than they were hoping for. Ruth Iorio wrote on Sofia’s Facebook page that Disney’s attempt at a Latina princess was “pathetic”:
She’s white. She looks white because Disney caters to a predominantly white audience and white people like watching other white people, or brown people who can pass as white people. Fuck Disney and fuck anyone who thinks this is anything more than a pathetic and patronizing dismissal of ethnic diversity and equality.
Farah Chanteuse Belliard also seemed disappointed:
They don’t actually SAY she’s Latina, and they admit as much…. call me when she starts speaking Spanish.
Deya Diaz insinuated that Sofia was a start towards diversity:
She’s HALF? I’ll take it! Any where we can get some fame – I’m with it! LOL…No but seriously, I am with the majority of you…There is no set way of Looking Latina! My older bro is a dark shade and my younger bro is blonde hair hazel eyes, while i’m in between. We have the same parents, but all look different. That’s being Latino! We are all different shades…
But just today, Disney backtracked on all that Latina princess press, assuring excited fans that it’s Sofia’s “fairytale” background that’s most important. Craig Gerber, co-executive producer/writer on Sofia the First, clarified the “is she or isn’t she?” with a simple detailing of her parents:
“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.”
Fictitious kingdoms inspired by true nations is sticky territory when drawing up actual origins for press releases. That I understand. But in a suspicious-looking “check in,” Nancy Kanter, Senior Vice President, Original Programming and General Manager of Disney Junior Worldwide, further obscures the issue by stumbling through some very concerning wording regarding “various cultures and ethnicities.” Apparently, “none are meant to specifically represent those real world cultures.” Come again?
As we approach the premiere of ‘Sofia the First’ on November 18, I wanted to check in here and thank you once again for your warm welcome for our new little princess. Some of you may have seen the recent news stories on whether Sofia is or isn’t a “Latina princess.” What’s important to know is that Sofia is a fairytale girl who lives in a fairytale world. 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. The writers have wisely chosen to write stories that include elements that will be familiar and relatable to kids from many different backgrounds including Spain and Latin America. For example, Sofia’s mom comes from a fictitious land, Galdiz, which was inspired by Spain. There are wonderful stories coming up in which Sofia and her family celebrate a winter holiday called Wassailia (reminiscent of a Scandinavian Christmas), and go on a picnic in Wei-Ling, an Asian-inspired kingdom. 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. It’s one where we can have flying horses, schools led by fairies, songs that have a Latin beat and towns with markets like those found in North Africa. Together, this creates a world of diversity and inclusion that sends just the right kind of message to all children — “Look around you, appreciate the differences you see and celebrate what makes us all the same.” I am eager for you and your children to meet Sofia and experience her world together!
Translation: we’ll be culture jacking from many countries but don’t hold us responsible for anything potentially racist, because you know, it’s all a fairy tale! So that makes it okay! Also! Please tune in to see Sofia! Please!
Despite the utterly offensive disclaimer on racial plucking, working with a “fairytale girl who lives in a fairytale world” doesn’t give Disney license to distort anyone’s culture for mass consumption free of criticisms. And if Disney is just going to be putting on the racial stereotype parade for kids, then I could be spared the whole “world of diversity and inclusion” talk.
Why a half-Latina little girl is somehow no longer Latina in Disney’s eyes is equally problematic. I get that the marketing of a new series means wanting as many kids as possible to see themselves in the racially ambiguous face of the heroine. But presenting a half-Latina princess as white is fraught with an array of complex and potentially hazardous identity issues for children too, if that is indeed Disney’s plan. “Mixed-heritage” can still be Latina. Latina can still be “mixed-heritage.” But I guess not if you’re Sofia the First and Disney is behind the wheel.