Photo: Disney Enterprises, Inc.
In a country that just elected its first African-American president, one would think Disney's decision would be embraced, if perhaps chided for taking too long. But no good deed goes unpunished, and six months before the film's release—before the official trailer had even been blessed—the company fell under fire for a number of its artistic decisions. Based solely on photographs and written descriptions, Disney took hits for not portraying the movie's Prince Charming as African-American (Prince Naveen from the fictional Maldonia is voiced by a Brazilian actor). It was criticized for choosing New Orleans as the story's backdrop. After critics caught wind of an early trailer, Princess Tianna's sidekick Ray the Firefly was attacked for sounding too stereotypically uneducated. It seemed Disney couldn't win.
"I understand that people are frightened because history hasn't been kind to black Americans in the land of animation," Rose says, likely referring to "Jim Crow" and his flock in Dumbo, and the Jungle Book monkeys who are dying to become "real people" and talk in jive while the other characters have British accents. "But this is something that Disney has been wanting to do for a long time. They certainly don't want to offend anyone, least of all me. I'm in the studio! So there's been a lot of care put into this project. I know there's deep-seeded pain within the culture about the way we've been portrayed onscreen throughout the years, but I think this is made only in love and with the desire to kick off the shroud that has been sitting over Disney for so long."
Plus, Rose points out, this movie is for kids. Though it shouldn't ridicule, it should make us laugh. "The firefly is funny," she says. "It's not in ugly jest. He's Cajun and he makes fun of himself, and there are lots of different portrayals in the movie. I am not one to sit up here and boost buffoonery. You really have to see it in context. It's not something that's meant to denigrate in the least."