One Tumblr artist struck a nerve when she re-imagined the main characters from “Frozen” as Black girls. Here’s why haters need to find their chill.
Earlier this week, I saw some “Frozen” fan art from Brazilian artist Juliajm15 that gave me all of the warm fuzzies. It depicted the sisters Queen Elsa and Princess Anna as young Black women in remixed scenes. Julia didn’t just dip the original characters in chocolate, either! She gave her recreations afro-centric features and gloriously curly hair. Not only that, but that art style was so close to Disney’s traditional animation that it looked like concept art for film. It. Was. Everything!
When Buzzfeed posted the pieces online, it pointed to the “absolutely stunning” pics as an example of racebending. For those unfamiliar with the word “racebending,” it’s a term born of the egregious white‑washing in M.Night Shyamalan’s “The Last Airbender.” It was based on Nickelodeon’s hit cartoon “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” and the main characters that were obviously meant to be Brown and Asian were played by Caucasian actors. Shocker: all of the villains were Brown people. It’s not that M.Night couldn’t cast Asian actors that would better resemble the characters on the TV show, though, because he had plenty of them running through the background.
Anyway, many from the digital community have put the idea of racebending on its head by creating ethnic versions of their favorite characters from books, film and TV. It’s a fairly common practice among online artists. Julia, in particular, has gone on a run of re-doing Disney heroines with an Indian version of Rapunzel and a Latina incarnation of Merida from “Brave.” Her work is flaw-free. Go check it out. You will live for her human version of Nala.
It’s all for fun, but some Disnephiles are not feeling her vision. There are grown people having full-on conniptions over someone drawing the characters as Black. The problem for them, supposedly, is that her art is not accurate to the fable’s Scandanavian origins. There will be privilege-laced arguments–nasty little flame wars–all to defend the idea that the characters should remain as originally created…which is White. To that, I say, “Girl, bye.” God forbid anyone should use their creativity to imagine the beloved characters as an under-represented segment of society.
Julia’s not suggesting that Disney should re-do the movies to include Black people. She’s creating a reflection of herself (and many little girls that love Disney movies) that is missing from the cultural landscape in a fun little project. People want to see a piece of themselves in the art that they enjoy. In an odd way, it’s a form of validation that people who look like you matter, and that you can be an important part of a larger narrative. And in the case of Disney films, there has not been a great track record of having Black characters in their feature animation films. It took Disney 72 yeas to put a Black princess on screen. When we finally did get one with “The Princess And The Frog,” they turned her into an animal for a majority of the film. I love the movie, but WTF! That’s only after having two movies set in Africa with not one Black character in them (“The Lion King” and “Tarzan”).
However, this is not just a problem limited to Disney. It is still a huge surprise when people of color (whether Black, Asian or Latino) are present in the main cast of anything. Whenever a new project is announced, I find myself looking to see if there are any Black characters in the cast. Not that the lack of having a Black person on the cast will keep me from seeing the project, but there is still a twinge of disappointment when I do watch.
This very issue is why so many Black women got behind “Scandal” from the moment the first teaser hit the web. It depicted Olivia Pope as a competent woman that was powerful enough to tell President Fitzgerald Grant to work around her schedule. We’d never seen anything like that before. It’s why Claire Huxtable may always be one of our favorite TV moms. It’s why so many nerdy Black girls (such as myself) were a little salty when Storm didn’t get much of a storyline in any of the X-Men movies. It is why Monday nights on UPN were must-see TV back in the day and people are still pining for a “Girlfriends” comeback (with the full cast). Representation is why we live for Lupita Nyong’o, Gabrielle Union, Kerry Washington and many other talented Black actresses. But if we really want to take it back, the issue of representation is why the character Uhura was so revolutionary when “Star Trek” debuted in 1966.
For White people, representation has never been an issue because they can see themselves in everything. Perhaps this is why many don’t understand why it’s such a big deal to people that have been othered in society. No shade. They get to have varied narratives. They get to be fully fleshed-out characters in interesting, gripping storylines. For people of color it has not always been that way. It’s only been in the last 20 or 30 years that we got to be anything more than incredibly stereotypical supporting players. In some ways Hollywood has over-corrected at times and made us
People might not like Viola Davis’ messy character on “How To Get Away With Murder,” but she made a great point in her Golden Globes speech when she said how happy she is that she gets to be a complicated character. If Black people want equality in entertainment, having a character like Annalise Keating is necessary. The fact that she even exists is progress.
But the unconscious search for representation starts at a young age–right around the time that girls start watching Disney princess films. Having pictures like the ones Julia created will fill a need they don’t yet realize that they have. They get to see from an early age that they can be princesses, too, and that’s beautiful.