Ava DuVernay Becomes First Woman Of Color To Direct A $100M Project

The amount of money a studio puts behind a project is often viewed as a major signifier of their faith in its potential. This potential is tied to multiple factors including the market it will be going into, the script, the cast and the director.

For the first time ever, a woman of color will be directing a live-action film with a budget of over $100 million, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Mobs, Cracker Barrel, and Hunters . . . Oh My!

So, what does a frog, a violent racist white man, and non-violent racially complicit white people have in common? Well, they’re all  mammals. No, that’s not the answer because a frog is an amphibian. What they have in common is that they all contribute if not directly participate in the abuse of black women. I know at this point, many of you are wondering how so and in particular how the frog figures into the equation. Well, I’m glad you asked young grasshopper. Inspired by summer’s You Gon’ Be All Right: On Maia Campbell and (More on) Tyler Perry, I decided that I too wanted to map connections between dissimilar current events to talk about how they represent normal and normalizing narratives of violence against black women. The stories I want to talk about are the upcoming Disney movie, The Frog and the Princess and the Cracker Barrel Nut. I know for some of you these stories seem inconsequential to each other. However, if you look closer you will see common strands of violence against black women.

So, let’s begin with talking about Disney’s The Frog and the Princess. Of, course there are many critiques to throw against this movie from the emphasis on girls being Princesses to the racist stereotyping of African cosmologies.  However, the bone I have to pick with the film today has to do with the “white” hillbilly “frog” hunters pursuing and hoping to eat the first Black Princess, Princess Tiana, who spends the majority of the film as a frog. Of course, I am pretty sure Disney like the rest of Post-Race America is banking on black people being so desirous of a black princess that they will only see the “clueless” and “stupidly innocent” nature of the white frog hunters because how could the hunters know the true “human nature” of princess Tiana. (In my best sarcastic voice) Just like how could Glen Beck and Joe Wilson know that their comments about Barack Obama were racist they were only saying what they felt they didn’t call him the “N” word. And my response to this hogwash is that’s some cow dung. Yep, just in case you did not catch it I said “cow dung” instead of using the four letter expletive.

Even if the white hillbilly frog hunters are impervious to Princess Tiana’s humanity the historical and at times very present nature (i.e. Duke Lacrosse Team gang rape of Black female Dancer) of white male mobs “hunting” black women’s bodies should have signaled an alarm. But, it did not because it’s all too common of a practice to abuse or to imagine abusing black women whether they are human or in “frog” form. If you are skeptical of my claim all one has to do is look at the footage of the Boston Tea Party March on DC, go to a Cracker Barrel, read about what happened to Semenya, or type the phrase “black girl” into any search engine to know black women like other women of color are subjected to the most violent and horrific forms of real and imaginary physical and sexual abuse and often without legal, societal, and communal recourse.

And let’s be honest, Disney is not completely clueless to the historical meaning of white mobs because if they were the white hillbilly frog hunters would be featured in The Frog and the Princess’ movie trailers, but they are not. To know that they are a part of the movie you have to visit The Frog and the Princess’ Facebook Fan Page. 5655_151497223708_99911703708_3551667_1534218_nThere you meet the white hillbilly hunters—Two Fingers, Reggie, and Darnell.  And of course, Disney makes sure to mention how “dim witted” the klan clan is as if their dim wittedness and “hunger” for frog legs is suppose to make us feel as if they do not really mean “intentional” harm to Princess Tiana because if they, the klan clan of hunters, knew she was human than they would not harm her. Yeah right. What crack is Disney smoking? It must be that good stuff that Whitney referred to in her interview with Diane Sawyer. Because if we bring into the conversation the historical setting of the movie—French Quarter turn of the century— white supremacy and racism was the law of the land meaning white men could easily rape and kill black women without retribution meaning the seemingly innocent dim witted white hunters in Disney’s film could literally not only eat frog legs, but also devour black women’s flesh through rape.

And of course, we don’t have to look at historical times to see how white men have violent access to black women’s bodies. Just look at what happened to Tashawnea Hill and 7-year old daughter at a Georgia’s Cracker Barrel. Ms. Hill, an African American woman, was beaten by Troy West, a white man, because she asked him politely to watch out when opening the door at Cracker Barrel. At this affront, Troy West started to beat Ms. Hill and call her Black Nigger Bitch. No one intervened to help her and her daughter. Furthermore, Ms. Hill recalled how some of the white patrons grinned in delight as she was beaten senseless. Can you believe that no one helped her? Perhaps, it isn’t difficult not to believe because just a month ago a black woman was beaten by her husband in broad daylight and no one interviewed to help her.

And of course of many of you are saying what does all of this have to do with an animated Disney Film? Well, it has everything to do with it because movies like The Frog and the Princess and Monster’s Ball represent what is normal, acceptable, if not downright desirous behavior toward and of black women. It becomes publicly sanctioned behavior for men irrespective of race to abuse black women. Therefore, Disney’s animation and characterization of the white hunters as dim witted white hillbillies minimizes the intended violence of the hunters, makes their violence normal, and makes their “hunger” a justified reason for killing Princess Tiana. This all too well reminds me of what a white man screamed at the Boston Tea Party March on DC this last Saturday. Holding a sign that read, “We did not bring guns this time,” a middle age white man begins to fuss about how he lost his job and how the government is too big because of black welfare queens. I know all too well how his words and job loss can justify the retrenchment and sidewalk abuse of black women during this recession time.

Lions and tigers and bears Mobs, Cracker Barrels, and Hunters . . . Oh My!

Why I want(ed) to be a Disney Princess


Declaring possibilities!!

Declaring possibilities!!

What I find hard to process about the previous post about not wanting to be a Disney Princess is that the author belittles “traditional fairytales.” She [the author] claims that “they are limited and untrue for poor working class black girls like [herself].” She asserts that “Prince Charming does not come,” and “that happy endings are not promised especially when there is an intersection of various devalued social identities [i.e., when you area a poor, black, woman and etc you get no happy ending].”  What she fails to see is that all of these endeavors particularly for the Little Mermaid happened inside of Ariel taking action and living with a purpose.

I Don’t Won’t to Be No Disney Princess!

Like most little black girls growing up in abusive  homes, I dreamed and sometimes daydreamed of being rescued from my reality. I wished I had a fairy godmother who would flick her magical wand singing, Salagadoola mechicka boola bibbidi-bobbidi-boo. Put ’em together and what have you got bibbidi-bobbidi-boo,” changing my alcoholic father into benevolent king, transforming my wandering mother into a nurturing queen, and turning me into a princess who by design would have a happy ending. Yes, I was as my young mentees proclaim “thirsty” for Prince Charming to save me.

In retrospect what I needed growing up was not a prince to save me or magic to transform my reality, I needed to know that there were “liberating” realities for women of color a type of understanding and I would even use the word “magic” that I now find in feminist science fiction and feminist fantasy books. But before diving into why these genres are better suited for helping girls to think critically about gender and power, I want to spend sometime talking about Disney and its lascivious desire to make girls into naïve, gullible, desiring the “male gaze,” and always waiting to be saved—princesses.

Cinderella like Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Ariel the Mermaid, Belle of Beauty and the Beast, and Princess Jasmine are all creations of the Walt Disney Corporation. Just recently they have added Pocahontas and Mulan to the official Princess Collection (Multiculturalism and Kummbaya sales in Barack Obama’s land, but that’s another blog). In general, Disney has poured millions of dollars into marketing The Disney Princess Line. From television movies to Disney on Ice, the golden seven are prominently featured. Some are even fortunate to have Mattel dolls which as the years pass show more womanly physical features than the original prototypes.

The Princess Collection

Recently, Disney has decided to add yet another princess to its arsenal to keep all girls including little black girls thinking they need to be saved by a prince, Princess Tiana. Princess Tiana is the first and only African-American princess. She debuts in The Frog and the Princess which originally was called The Frog Princess. The story takes place in the French Quarter in New Orleans where Tiana is transformed into a Frog after kissing a charming Frog who wants to be human again. To put it lightly, the movie has sparked much controversy in blogsphere. Monique Fields writes in Enough with the Princess while Gina McCauley reports on how Disney consults African-American leaders on how to make sure their conception and marketing of Princess Tiana is “politically correct” meaning they hope their marketing is not racist.

Given all the controversy surrounding the new Disney Princess, Princess Tiana, and Disney’s long track record of undercutting feminist strides to empower girls, I think we should introduce our daughters, little sisters, transgendered girls, and little nieces to feminist science fiction and feminist fantasy books where their imaginations are not limited by the mechanics of physical reality or bound by our society’s patriarchal social norms. Trilogies like The Saga of the Renunciates, The Seven Water’s Trilogy, The Gate to Women’s Country, The Patternist Series, The Mist of Avalon, and The Godspeaker Series paint women as heroes not simply heroines. Magic is a way of life not something to behold on Las Vegas stages. Gender and sexuality become contested sites. Race takes on alien forms. Women stories take center stage. And there is always a journey to undertake with “risks” and lessons to be learned. I know many of you reading this blog may not be familiar with the books listed above, but you are familiar with blockbuster films like Harry Potter and Star Wars which feature male heroes saving the world with the “occasional” female sidekick.

The point is that feminist science fiction and fantasy provide a space for girls to see women and girls as warriors, sorcerers, emperors, heroes, fearless risk takers, god chosen speakers, women with boundaries, women as lovers of other women, and most importantly girls seeking out their own destinies. Can you imagine how empowering it would be if every girl chucked their plastic tiaras in the trash to lead a perilous, dangerous, and risky quest to save the world and in the process of doing this they learn who they are, their boundaries, their strengths, their weakness, and the importance of women relationships? I could not ask for better feminist consciousness raising activity where our daughters know the names of Octavia Butler, Sherri Tepper, Marion Zimmerman Bradley, Tananarive Due, and Juliet Marillier all who have labored to write books that foreground women as critical thinkers and as captains of their destinies.

Alice Walker once said that she writes books that she wanted to read growing up and perhaps my desire to get girls and African American girls in particular to read these genres is an outgrowth of my knowledge that traditional fairytales are limited and untrue for poor working class black girls like me. Prince Charming does not come. Mice do not become charioteers and happy endings are not promised especially when there is an intersection of various devalued social identities. So, given all of this and the liberating potential of feminist science fiction and fantasy stories, who wants to be a Disney Princess anyway?