I spent the past few days at Disney World with the hopes of making all of my daughter’s dreams come true. And I did, with very few shortcomings. But these shortcomings, though few, were meaningful enough for me to write this open letter.
My daughter was very much looking forward to this (very falsely advertised) princess area that she had heard about on television. We get there only to find out that Princess Tiana had no place in the palace area. So we go to the area where she supposedly will be and were told that she was only there intermittently. Throughout the day we stopped back 3 times, she was never there. Do you know how hard it is to change a five-year-old’s expectations of seeing Princess Tiana and visiting a “Princess Park?” To make matters worse, when we did see Princess Tiana at Fantasmic in Hollywood Studios, her story was not incorporated into the show at all, and she was the only princess on the boat in the finale with no Prince!
I was told that Princess Tiana was at the breakfast with the princesses, which had a price tag of over $50. But on the principle of the matter I do not feel as though I should have to pay extra to see the character we came to visit in the first place. Families who wished to see Merida, Aurora, Cinderella, Ariel, etc. were all able to see them with no extra charge. And given the number of times and places that Cinderella appeared there could be no less than 4 “Cinderellas” on site. But you are unable to employ two black women to rotate and keep Tiana available for visits all day? The ironic thing is, if Cinderella (or any other princess) were to be replaced by Tiana in one parade, the impact would be negligible because the other princesses have been seen so many times before; but placing Tiana in a parade can make the ENTIRE TRIP worth it for a young black girl such as my daughter. Imagine if she had also been able to meet Doc McStuffins, that could have easily been the best experience of her life.
In case you were unaware, more than just black girls adore Princess Tiana. So, I should note that the presence of Princess Tiana will not just make the experience better for young black girls, but for all young girls. A couple of the young girls donning full-on Tiana costumes were actually white. And what better way to break down barriers and promote racial progress than to give young white girls the opportunity to imagine being a black princess and appreciating black standards of beauty?
I wish my experience with race at your flagship theme park stopped with the banishing of Tiana from the princess castle and the absence of Doc McStuffins, but it did not. We saw quite a few parades and street shows throughout our time at Disney. At Magic Kingdom, I only spotted one black dancer in the mid-day parade in front of Cinderella’s castle. There were only 2 black dancers in the Electric Parade. I saw no black performers in the street shows at Magic Kingdom and Epcot.
To both my relief and disappointment there were a number of black performers at the Jungle Parade in Animal Kingdom. I was relieved to know that you, Disney, hired blacks as more than janitors and ride operators. However, I was a step away from disgusted to know that black performers were more than acceptable when operating mechanical animals and dancing in the Jungle Parade, but not as dancers alongside Mickey or Cinderella.
It is important to note that the lack of diversity at your theme park is not just in terms of black dancers and characters. However, I focus on the lack of blacks in particular because this visit was with my daughter. Outside of the pavilions of Epcot, your park is lacking diversity in all areas (aside from cooks and clean-up staff) and of all races and ethnicities. This lack of diversity even holds true for your merchandising, as many a black parent knows how hard it is to find Princess Tiana and Doc McStuffins-themed merchandise. The ironic thing about the lack of racial diversity is your proclaimed fascination with “progress.” However, it is clear that this “progress” you advertise (especially through that painful ride in Tomorrowland) is only technological and not social or racial.
I encourage you, Disney, to take affirmative steps to address diversity at Disney World. It could only help your image and business to make the black characters and their merchandise available to consumers. Failing to do so affirms an intention to exploit black consumers for movie sales, but not catering to them in your park. I also urge you to reconsider the way you advertise that “Princess Park,” and to find Tiana and Doc McStuffins full-day places in the parks. Lastly, I call on you to reassess your commitment to “progress” and affirm your commitment to racial and ethnic diversity. As one of the largest media conglomerates in the world, you have the power and ability to change the way race is portrayed in media. Use that power wisely to carry out Walt Disney’s legacy and make real social and racial progress a reality.
Mother with a commitment to social and racial “progress”