Disney Has a Latin Princess, Kind Of.

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Twitter: @BarbotRobot

I recently wrote about Disney’s Latino past, but here’s a little bit about Disney’s Latino future. Meet Princess Sofia.

Cute, huh? From Entertainment Weekly’s coverage:

Princess Sofia will make her debut the Disney Channel on Nov. 18 in TV movie Sofia the First: Once Upon a Princess, ahead of a 2013 TV series on both Disney Channel and Disney Junior. The TV movie and the show are geared toward viewers age 2-7.

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.

Great. But then this sort of sticks in my craw:

“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.”

No fair.

This means nothing if it’s not explicit, even if it is matter of fact. You’ll recall the hullabaloo surrounding Princess Tiana back when The Princess and the Frog was released, but that movie isn’t just about an African American princess, it’s very firmly set in a fictionalized New Orleans in the first half of the 20th century. The whole point of diversity is acknowledgment, and therefore it is only significant that “every girl thinks they’re Sofia” if we’re acknowledging her culture and ethnicity and the girls identify with her anyway. To restate an argument I’ve made before, when something is “universal,” it doesn’t mean that it might as well be white, or that it should be wishy washy; “universal” means that, despite (or even because of) firmly entrenched cultural references and setting, people see themselves in it.

After all, the movie wasn’t called My Big Fat Culturally Nondescript Wedding. But, I mean, wasn’t that totally your family?

Make no mistake: I am not criticizing her appearance. She may well only be half Latin, but more the the point, there are plenty of Latinas that look like this. My issue is that I’m hoping they’re understating how Latin this movie is, because just sweeping it under the rug makes this nothing special whatsoever.

I’ll watch this, but I’m still looking forward to Disney/Pixar’s Day of the Dead Movie. That’s probably going to be awesome.