During the earlier days of Disney, their princesses followed a standard: long-haired beautiful damsels who needed saving. Most notably, most of them were of white descent: Cinderella, Belle and Aurora were French, Ariel was Danish whereas Snow White was German.
Today, Disney’s pool of princesses still includes beautiful white women but the company has become more diverse with its royals.
We all know Princess Jasmine, the royalty of Agrabah and the People’s Princess. But she’s not the only person of color princess in Disney. Mulan (Chinese) and Pocahontas (Native American) are not the only princesses of color. Esmeralda, Moana and Tiana join the Disney Princesses of Color Group.
These princesses add color to the world of Disney princesses with their personalities, culture and story. So, before you watch the Disney princess movies in order, get to know our favorite princesses of color first.
Tiana (Princess and the Frog)
Tiana of Disney’s “Princess and the Frog” is a 19-year old waitress known for being the first African-American princess of Disney. Tiana, similar to her hand-drawn predecessors Snow White and Cinderella, looks beautiful in her dazzling green gown, diamond tiara and her classy upsweep hairdo. Like the other Disney princesses before her, she is also a strong-willed songstress who kisses a prince and gets her happily ever after.
Unlike her predecessors, however, Tiana is a cause for a bigger celebration since she is someone all little girls, especially young black girls, can relate to. Disney’s Tiana struck a chord with little girls of color because this Disney princess finally shared their skin color. Whilst Cinderella, Belle, Ariel and the other Disney princesses have a piece of every little girl’s heart, Tiana proved anyone can be a Disney Princess
Despite the controversies surrounding “Princess and the Frog’s” tackling of diversity, there’s no doubt that its protagonist still received plenty of love. And how can you not love Tiana? She’s a small-town girl with big dreams of opening a restaurant. She started as a simple waitress who was friends with the rich and very loud Charlotte and ended up kissing a frog (who turned out to be Prince Naveen).
Turning to a frog herself, Disney princess Tiana was determined to become human again by living out her dream while Prince Naveen bugged her to kiss him again. It takes a whirlwind adventure with voodoo, frogs and princes before Tiana realizes her dream of being with her love instead of having money.
Of course, Tiana followed every Disney princesses’ path: she kissed the prince, became human again and got her happily ever after (plus she looked stunning in her royal princess wedding dress).
The New Orleans culture in “The Princess and the Frog” emphasized the impact Disney’s Tiana had on diversifying the princesses. If there’s anything we have to pick Disney on, it’s Tiana spending most of her screen time as a frog. Fortunately, Disney plans to expand Tiana’s world by releasing her sequel show to Disney+ in 2022.
Esmeralda (The Hunchback of Notre Dame)
Esmeralda is still a Disney princess in our hearts, even if the company cut her from the group due to her “mature” nature. This lovely Romani gypsy is the very definition of sassy, outspoken and streetwise. She may not have the sparkling gown other Disney princesses have, but Esmeralda looked alluring in her purple and white ensemble.
The best thing about Esmeralda is her heart. She does not judge a person by their looks. Her greatest wish in life is to see her fellow gypsies and outcasts like Quasimodo be accepted into society and receive fair treatment. Though she seems free-spirited and sultry, Esmeralda is a woman of faith. Her song “God Help the Outcasts” shows her turning to a higher being, asking for a better life for her people.
Despite being the first character to be sexualized in animation, Esmeralda is a Disney princess who rallies for the people, no matter what their skin color is. Her movie is an iconic Disney movie you’d watch for Christmas, summer — no matter what the season is.
Despite the issues surrounding the film, Pocahontas is a crowd-favorite for many reasons: the film’s animation is rich in warm “Colors of the Wind” (as the song title goes), the story is compelling and the characters of Pocahontas were the first of their kind to actually look human. If you compare Pocahontas to her predecessors, which received criticism for their failure to represent non-Western cultures, she didn’t have the stereotypical Western eyes.
Pocahontas was no damsel in distress; she was bold, brave and willful. She was one of the first Disney princesses who were willing to sacrifice herself for the love of her life. She was also connected to her environment, very much one with nature. Pocahontas believed in the importance of herself as a person, the larger society she lives in and the universe as a whole.
The Powhatan Princess respected her culture and traditions without letting them limit her heart. Plus, she was not xenophobic to her invaders. She was the poster child of independence when she chose not to marry Kocoum or even be with John Smith (the latter being for the sake of her people).
We don’t call her “The Girl Worth Fighting For;” she’s known as the “The Girl Who Fights,” aka the “Girl that Doesn’t Come Every Dynasty.” This Chinese 16-year-old proved that women can join the fight and win. Her iconic hair-cutting scene was symbolic of every independent woman’s decision to save her family and her country. Mulan is admirable since she did not subscribe to the traditional matchmaking scene of her country. This Disney princess redeemed her honor not by marrying a man, but by saving the country from the enemy.
We love Mulan because she is unlike most previous Disney princesses. She is self-reliant, courageous and did not fit the stereotypical young Chinese girl. Despite her beauty, she is clumsy and outspoken rather than demure and silent — very much like today’s women. She’d rock the modern streetwear look while calling out the patriarchy.
Mulan needs no man. Rather, men need Mulan. You can ask General Li Shang.
Moana is one of the most recent Disney princesses to join the tribe of cartoon royalty. Gramma Tala describes her as a girl who “stands apart from the crowd” and rightly so. This Polynesian Disney princess is popular for being a sea-loving, strong-willed and fearless girl. Despite her size, Moana presents herself as an imposing force capable of besting impossible obstacles and fearsome beasts.
This Disney princess wore two hats: she was a devoted chief-in-training in her village and an adventurous voyager who tested how far she’ll go in life. She may have experienced failures in her life but Moana works up the courage to redeem herself (see: Moana battling the lava demon alone).
From Tiana to Moana, Disney and their princesses of color prove that life is dull without them. Their share in diversity makes the Disney universe — and the world — a better place.