Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Sofia the First: The Full Contoversy on Disney's Bi-Racial, Possibly Latina, TV Princess.

We do know she doesn't have a nose from the front. So she represents girls without noses at least?
So, Today in Identity Crises of Fictional Characters; Disney's Princess Sofia. Whose ethnicity has been causing quite the tumult in the entertainment blog-o-news-o-sphere.


From Entertainment Weekly:
Sofia (voiced by Modern Family‘s Ariel Winter) is born a commoner but steps into the royal life when her mother (Grey’s Anatomy‘s Sara Ramirez) marries King Roland II of Enchancia (Ultimate Spider-Man‘s Travis Willingham). Throughout the show and the movie, the young princess is adjusting to life with her new step-siblings and in her new school, Royal Prep. The TV movie features some familiar faces from Disney classics; Cinderella, Fauna, Flora, and Merryweather all make an appearance.

During a recent press tour of the Sofia the First production offices, one blogger pointed out that in concept art, Sofia’s mother, Miranda, the newly crowned queen of Enchancia, had a darker complexion than the other characters. “She is Latina,” executive producer Jamie Mitchell said of the character, acknowledging that this makes Sofia the first Latina princess to appear in a Disney animation project.

“We never actually call it out,” said Joe D’Ambrosia, vice president of Disney Junior original programming. “When we go into schools [to talk to young students about the show], what I find fascinating is that every girl thinks that they’re Sofia.”

Mitchell added, “It’s sort of a matter-of-fact situation rather than an overt thing.”
It’s also not as much of a clear-cut milestone as the introduction of Tiana to the Disney family. Tiana is African-American, and she lives in New Orleans, a real place. Sofia is half-Enchancian and half-Galdizian. The two kingdoms are in a world where a few real countries like France exist, but they’re still fictional, making words like Latina and Hispanic less clearly applicable.
So, a girl who is of a mixed fictional identity is having identity problems?  I'm sure that no modern young lady can relate to an ethnic and cultural identity crisis. That is as valid a character choice as a girl who is purely Latina, which is of course, a complex multicultural and fascinating starting point to begin with.

Mashable's coverage of the controversy is probably my favorite, in that like most Internet conversations you can find both sides of the argument somewhere and don't have to report just one side. 



Of course, the simplicity of describing a race to begin with is compounded by the races being described being in fictional kingdoms, but, once headlines come out, of course the outrage, points and counterpoints become more important than the content (and let's face it, no one has seen this story publicly to begin with, so comments and conjecture are what we have.)

From Fox News Latino:
When Disney first announced they were unveiling their first Latina princess named Sofia on November 18, Hispanic audiences immediately voiced their concerns.
While many celebrated the network’s attempt to create a Latina royal who does not bear a stereotypical dark complexion, many used social media to express their outrage toward the news. Some insisted Sofia looks “too white” to actually be Latina, while others were angry toward Disney’s decision not to emphasize Princess Sofia’s Hispanic roots.

Now, Disney is responding to the backlash.

Friday night, Senior Vice President of Original Programming for Disney Junior Worldwide Nancy Kanter, as well as Co-Executive Producer/Writer Craig Gerber, took to Princess Sofia’s Facebook profile to discuss the character’s controversial roots.

“Princess Sofia is a mixed-heritage princess in a fairy-tale world,” explained Gerber. “Her mother is originally from an enchanted kingdom inspired by Spain (Galdiz) and her birth father hailed from an enchanted kingdom inspired by Scandinavia. Sofia was born and raised in Enchancia, which is a make-believe ‘melting pot’ kingdom patterned on the British Isles. Sofia considers herself a normal Enchancian girl like any other. Her mixed heritage and blended family are a reflection of what many children today experience.”

Fox News Latino previously reported that the Disney team could have drawn inspiration from real-life Queen Sofia of Spain, who bears similar light features as Princess Sofia. There has been speculation that Disney princesses, like The Little Mermaid and Pocahontas, could have been influenced by real-life women.
 Of course, the headlines are reading "Princess Sofia is "NOT HISPANIC" Says Disney" and "Disney Backpedal? Mouse House Now Says New Princess Sofia Is Not Latina After Controversy Erupts"

Which is after a week or so of press finding ways to address the outrage that Sofia may be too light skinned, her hair too auburn, and of course, the fact that it's a slap in the face to Hispanics that she's a TV princess not a Film Princess.

"That decision doesn't bother Alex Nogales, President and CEO for the National Hispanic Media Coalition.

"That really doesn't matter," he told me. "The Latino community is in a place right where they need strong role models and doesn't matter whether it comes from film or TV."

What does anger him is the way that Disney is going about debuting Sofia. When asked directly, Disney officials have confirmed Sofia's ethnicity, but, according to Entertainment Weekly, the Disney team is purposely downplaying that fact in its marketing, an approach that offends Nogales.

What if we actually look at these quotes and take out the words that were actually said,  the controversy may reflect an interesting theme that actually comes up in the story that will be on screen. I'll certainly circle back to tell you all about that in November, what marketing materials I've found seem to imply that not only is Sofia from a mixed race family, she's actually becoming a princess for the first time because her mother married the king, so it's The Princess Diaries meet The Brady Bunch in a kingdom of highly diverse secondary characters ( I dare you to count the ethnic types in the trailer: I found 11 in the 90 second spot) and a greatest hits of other Disney Characters.


After all the discussion, it might be a disappointment if the topic ISN'T any part of the narrative. Of course, that's always a part of the production/roll-out process. Unless you do a lot of work to understand your themes and messages, you won't necessarily know what will resonate most. Even if you have, audiences may surprise you. Ultimately, it's probably a blessing that a discussion of multi-ethnic families would come up relating to a TV show, there's actually a production opportunity to address it if the TV Movie turns into a full-fledged series. If something about the experimental narrative of the televised movie resonates it can be identified and added in a way that might take less response time than say, an internationally released film with a full twisting marketing layout.



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