The Princess and the Frog: A Feminist Fairytale

As a feminist, I was highly skeptical when I heard about Disney’s first black princess. The whole princess concept – being saved through partnership — was just so counter intuitive for me. The more rumors I heard about Disney’s Tiana, the more I was turned off. But as finals week died down and the reviews came in from trusted peers, I decided to look past the whole princess/amphibian bit to see for myself what the first black princess was really all about.
And… I really enjoyed myself. That’s because the themes of entrepreneurship and division of labor in the household were so crucial to the film it was kryptonite for any red-blooded feminist. The idea that men can and should play a role in food preparation and that women can own their own business while building viable, healthy relationships was so groundbreaking for a movie with the word “princess” in the title. For this, Disney deserves their props.
Let me break down exactly what I mean by these feminist indicators.

The beginning of the film shows Tiana’s Dad cooking a large pot of gumbo for her and her mother after they return home from her mother’s long shift as a seamstress. Right there, I knew this wasn’t going to be the run-of-the-mill princess film. Beyond the fact that I felt that I had arrived after Disney’s animated version of Tabasco sauce debuted, it was amazing to see a black man in the kitchen with dinner ready for his wife after her long day of work. Indeed, these scenes followed with Tiana explaining to her love interest, Prince Naveen, the importance of him playing a role in cooking, too. He is transformed from a “lazy, bump on a log”– her words, not mine — to a prince who knows a thing or two about slicing and dicing veggies.
Then, there is this entrepreneurship angle that is really central to the plot. The Princess and the Frog is the story of a young girl who strives through hard work to save every last dime to put a down-payment on a restaurant. This is a stark contrast from the “welfare queen” that some have come to associate with black women. Interestingly enough, it is Tiana’s mother who is concerned about grandbabies while Tiana only has eyes for her restaurant. In the end, Prince Naveen seems to be an add-on, someone she picks up along the way to her hard-won economic security. Yet, her and the Prince engage in a lot of teamwork, save each other from peril and are there for each other in good and bad times. It’s really clear that their relationship is healthy and equality is at the root of it all.
But of course, their were shortcomings and this time it had a flavor of sexual policing. If there is a savior in this story, it’s the institution of marriage that ultimately rescues the two from their fate as frogs. The only way to break the frog spell Tiana and Naveen are under is for the frog prince to kiss a princess. Yet, Tiana did not become a princess until she married the prince. Then, and only then, could they be let back in to the human race.
It’s also important to note that Tiana turns into a frog after she tried to trade in a kiss for money. This happened after the property owners of her restaurant told her she was a few dollars short. Maybe, I am reaching but Disney seemed to be making a point here about sexual morality that I found disconcerting. It seemed that they considered Tiana’s work as a waitress more honorable or worthy of receiving her restaurant than offering the Prince frog a kiss. Similarly, when marriage stepped in to save the day, it seemed that the take-away was that joining this institution truly allows us to realize our potential as human beings. So, in the end, this feminist fairy tale was a stark contrast from previous patriarchal tellings. Though I recognize the problematic nature of it, I would still encourage you to spend your Friday night finding out for yourself.

Join the Conversation