Why I won’t see “Precious”
  • A baby-girl pink Sky Princess tricycle
  • An ‘overwhelming’ array of Disney & Mickey collectibles
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    Auction Finds

    Long road to a black (Disney) Princess

    The black woman standing before us was agitated. Did you see that picture on the wall over there, she asked my auction buddy Janet and me. Janet had seen it. I hadn’t. I always miss something when I make my first round at the auction houses.

    I followed the woman – a regular bidder here – to a wall in the back. Hanging in a frame was a black-and-white drawing of a bare tree with little black children on the branches. The title was blackbirds, or something to that effect. I looked at it slyly; it was painful to see. It’s not the type of picture you want to look at face-on because it’s degrading and derogatory.

    princess1

    Why would they sell this, the woman asked. I told her that auction houses sell anything. Why would anyone make such a picture, she also asked. I told her that she has to remember the times, that black people have always been portrayed as less than human, and that included our children. I also told her the story of another auction house, owned by a Jewish couple, that sells Nazi memorabilia. I couldn’t do it – and I’m not even Jewish.

    That drawing was not the only destructive one I saw at auction that day. The other was a September 1924 cover from Pictorial Review magazine of a little black girl eating a watermelon and exaggeratedly seeming to enjoy it. It was a reproduction, framed, lying against a wall on a table in another corner of the room.

    princess2

    A woman told me she bought it for her brother. I’m not sure if her brother collected Black Americana or if she thought he would find it adorable. I wonder if it occurred to her that people like me consider it offensive. But Black Americana sells, just like Nazi paraphernalia.

    Review history and you’ll find many instances of the negative portrayal of black children and black people. In my auction forays, I’ve found them on Old Maid playing cards, postcards and old photos.

    That’s why I’ve found the controversy over Disney’s “The Princess and the Frog” movie very interesting. While some have congratulated Disney for finally creating a black princess, others have complained that she spends most of the movie as a frog, that the prince isn’t black, that New Orleans is a city of black people battered by the floods. (The thing that bothered me in the movie was the snaggle-toothed firefly Ray. So why couldn’t he have a full set of teeth? I loved the ‘gator Louis, though, who could play!)

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    Compared to what has come before her, Disney’s Tiana isn’t perfect, but she’s a much better representation of what black children – and black women – are. The photos on this blog are a reminder. I haven’t seen the movie “Precious,” but the previews gave me the impression that it perpetuated the stereotypes. Princess was a good antidote.

    I saw a screening of Princess last weekend in a movie theater full of African American girls, their fathers and mothers, and brothers. After the movie ended, I realized that the theater was amazingly quiet during the showing, nary a peep from any of the children. I guess they were captivated by the story and the little girl who grew up to get her prince and her dream.

    It was a cute Disney tale, with a lovely princess who is black, not a Cinderella or Snow White in black face. Her lips, her voice, her no-nonsense attitude, her determination. I don’t know who wrote her, but she was right-on. The movie ended like most fairy tales: The princess married her prince, but this time she also got the restaurant she had always longed for. So, she combined marriage and career.

    And the city of New Orleans? I loved the booming music and culture that permeated the screen: the rainbow of colors, the jazz and zydeco rhythms, the sassiness, the characters. Mardi Gras, Bourbon Street, voodoo, the bayou. 1920’s New Orleans.

    Tiana arrived about 72 years after the first Disney Princess, Snow White, in 1937. In between – and decades later – two other dark-hued ones appeared: Pocahontas (1995) and Mulan (1998). There was also the TV version of Cinderella played by the singer Brandy in 1997.

    The movie appears in theaters this Friday. Take your daughter. Take your niece. Or go see it yourself. It’s as much an adult film as a child’s. And just enjoy it.

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