Commentary: Finally, a black Disney Princess

Walt Disney Pictures introduces its first African-American princess, Tiana, in 'The Princess and the Frog' Pictured are characters Frog Naveen, left, and Princess Tiana. (Courtesy Disney Enterprises, Inc./MCT)
Walt Disney Pictures introduces its first African-American princess, Tiana, in 'The Princess and the Frog' Pictured are characters Frog Naveen, left, and Princess Tiana. (Courtesy Disney Enterprises, Inc./MCT) MCT

In recent years, our daughter has retrieved names of foster children who need someone to help make their Christmases merrier.

This year, I asked her to pick a boy, a gender I'm familiar with. I would know exactly where to go to buy the items on his wish list. It's my way of satisfying the shopping jones I have had since my family ordered me not to buy them any gifts. They wanted to draw names this year, meaning I could buy for only one person. I'm sure they will be sorry, but I am going along with it.

My sister, who also has no one to buy for, and I checked off many of the items on the boy's list. There were a couple of things I wouldn't have bought my own sons, so I didn't buy them for him either.

Because of our efficiency, however, my daughter had no one to buy for. She then selected the name of a girl.

I was totally out of my element.

My daughter insisted we shop together to finish the list, and I agreed.

We bought girls' reading and coloring books and puzzles. I felt comfortable with that.

But the little girl on our list needed clothing.

That's why we found ourselves in my second-favorite discount department store. And that's when "oohs" and "ahhs" escaped our lips.

We were thrilled to find items featuring Princess Tiana, Disney's first black princess, the lead in The Princess and the Frog, which opens nationwide Friday.

We have no clue as to the race of the child we were buying for, and it didn't really matter to us. We assumed that white parents and black ones would want their children to have something depicting the newest princess movie. The little girl would be trendy.

But besides giving the child something to treasure, my daughter and I bought the items to please ourselves.

Neither of us has ever been able to buy anything featuring a black princess. I've bought Cinderella stuff, and Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and Princess Jasmine items and even stuff from the Pocahontas and Mulan movies, but never anything depicting a black girl.

At that store, we came upon pajamas sprinkled with images of Princess Tiana. There was no way those pajamas would stay in that store.

While admiring our discovery, another black shopper said she was going to redecorate her little girl's room in a Princess Tiana theme.

None of us has seen the movie. It didn't really matter.

The Princess and the Frog is a familiar fairy tale about a princess who kisses a frog to reveal a prince who is under the spell of some wicked person. The kiss ends the curse, and the couple live happily ever after.

The Disney movie is a more modern version of that.

The Princess and the Frog is a hand-drawn movie set in New Orleans during the 1920s. It features Tiana, a young black waitress who is saving her money to open her own restaurant. Her best friend is a young white girl who is being presented to visiting Prince Naveen, in hopes she might marry royalty.

Naveen is transformed into a frog by a voodoo doctor, but he persuades Tiana to kiss him so he can return to his former self. Unfortunately, because she is not a princess, Tiana turns into a frog, too.

Both frogs then race through swamp elements to regain their human stature.

When I wrote in March 2007 about Disney having a black princess, the movie then was titled The Frog Princess, and the lead character's name was "Maddy."

Obviously all that changed. But what remained was the image of a pretty black girl for whom dreams can come true.

Black parents have yearned for that image. Black children need to see themselves represented in a positive way in all aspects of their lives so that they foster a good self-image.

That's not happening right now. It really never has.

So to look at a screen filled with make-believe characters and see a black face can only help parents convince their children that they all have merit.

That magic also works on adults.

For one old black woman and two younger ones that evening, the idea that all little girls will finally have an opportunity to admire an animated black character was enough to bring smiles to our faces and loosen our wallets.