The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter


Monday, July 06, 2009

Frogs and death

I met a guy working inDisneyanimation over the weekend, and we talked about the upcoming "Princess and the Frog" film, the "first American Princess" movie. And of course, the firstDisneyanimation centering around a black character. I was warned that there were two things some people would be unhappy about:

1) The Prince is very, very light skinned. Really not black but "exotic," the reason being that he is part of a love triangle, and the other woman is white.

2) The princess spends 2/3 of the movie as a frog.

 

I assume that both of these are true. We'll see. I want to say this if they are:

The reasoning is obvious, and right in line withDisney'strack record in this department, as well as my basic ideas about 'color shock" and white audiences being turned off by very dark black folks. (Can we reference Michael Jackson's quest to turn himself white as a reaction to this, and a pathological urge to be loved by America?) Well, sure. But you know what? They're trying. By God, the studio that avoided animating black folks in their entire 20th Century theatrical catalog is actually doing something about it. They're acknowledging that we're here, a part of this nation, and "Princess and the Frog" probably wouldn't have been possible until every last one of the original old guard was dead.

 

I wish it well. I hope it's wonderful, and that it will be successful enough to prove another stepping stone along a slippery and twisted path. I hope I sit there in the audience with a big silly grin on my face, happy for all the little black girls who can finally see themselves as a Disneyprincess. And hoping that one day a little boy like I was might look at the screen and see himself as a Prince.

##

I'm getting slammed in my life just a bit. Frankly, too many people I care about have died in the last few weeks. Not just the public folks. A very dear friend and one of the most centered and spiritual men I've ever met, AlSiebert, died a week and a half ago, and I just found out about it last Sunday. That same day, my aunt Margaret in Phoenix died. Heard about that last Wednesday while I was at the University of San Francisco teaching a writing workshop. I'll probably drive out to Phoenix tomorrow for the funeral, but I'm feeling a bit of existential weariness. Have to re-center. This definitely sucks.

 

18 comments:

Mike Ralls said...

I'm sorry for your losses. Death is never easy, but we must all bare it as best we can. May the good of those you lost live on in you.

Pagan Topologist said...

I feel for you, Steve. I have also just just had an old friend die within the last two weeks.

Marty S said...

Steve: We were in Manhattan over the holiday weekend and ate lunch in a restaurant with a forties/fifties motif. Part of the decor was a slew of Miss Subway photos from the forties and fifties. Every single Miss Subway was White. I can't imagine that today. We may have not be there yet, but we have come a long way.

Christian H. said...

The reasoning is obvious, and right in line withDisney'strack record in this department, as well as my basic ideas about 'color shock" and white audiences being turned off by very dark black folks. (Can we reference Michael Jackson's quest to turn himself white as a reaction to this, and a pathological urge to be loved by America?) Well, sure. But you know what? They're trying. By God, the studio that avoided animating black folks in their entire 20th Century theatrical catalog is actually doing something about it. They're acknowledging that we're here, a part of this nation, and "Princess and the Frog" probably wouldn't have been possible until every last one of the original old guard was dead.





Why do you think that's the case? Did those people have magical powers of persuasion or are is that a convenient excuse?

Dan Moran said...

Magical powers of persuasion. They'd say tricky stuff like "Do it my way or I'll fire you."

Christian H. said...

Magical powers of persuasion. They'd say tricky stuff like "Do it my way or I'll fire you.



b


I guess my point was that CEOs etc weren't always racist so it becomes an excuse. I would gladly let someone fire me for what I believed in.

And in a world where publicity makes a difference.....

Let's all face it, most men don't know what the word means. They think it means let my boss, etc. abuse me and take it out on people below me.

Just last night I was trying to figure out how to start a neighborhood "clean up" committee.

We go around in Hummers with shotguns and harass anyone who dresses like a bum or lifts their nose to other Americans (funny enough that's usually the same group).

I just get tired of hearing "there's nothing I can do" or "It's because of these old white men."

BS. They won't give take. Tired of Steppin Fetchit caricatures, put your money where your mouth is.

I'm doing everything I can to release positive movies for and about blacks. And I'll bet that I can raise more money from white people.

poltergesit said...

"Death is never easy...".

The hell it isn't. Spend enough time around it and it becomes easier than you might wish to think and coming to terms with it gets easier and easier with the more time you spend.

*******

Stevo,

Sorry old son. What has worked for me is rememberance and celebration of a life that once was. Don't trip when I go ... just go to Hollywood Park or Santa Anita, whichever is in season, and bet 8/6 exactas for all the races and sit and reflect at the old library across from you-know-where and laugh your ass off at the pranks of a young kid that you once knew and call it a nice send-off.

Mark Jones said...

I guess my point was that CEOs etc weren't always racist so it becomes an excuse. I would gladly let someone fire me for what I believed in.

Thing is, you'd be out of a job. The CEO would still be the CEO, and the next guy would do it his way or he'd join you on the unemployment line.

Nicholas said...

I'd like to extend my sympathies. I recently lost my father and there are no words.

Pagan Topologist said...

I sometimes wonder if the phenomenon of white folks' being turned off by very dark black folks is not an unacknowledged feeling of inferiority. In the early 1970's, I took ballet classes for a year or so from a very dark skinned black teacher. After looking at her for an hour or so during class, white people like me looked so very pale and unhealthy to me that I was startled at first. This reaction would fit with what is observed overall, I think.

Christian H. said...

Thing is, you'd be out of a job. The CEO would still be the CEO, and the next guy would do it his way or he'd join you on the unemployment line.






The point is that they can't fire everyone so if everyone has BALLS, then that won't work.

Things will change. But of course, too many "so-called" men will sell out the other "workers" for a shred of the "life."

Michael Jackson was in search of it.

Shady_Grady said...

I sometimes wonder if the phenomenon of white folks' being turned off by very dark black folks is not an unacknowledged feeling of inferiority.

I don't know. But whatever it may be it's not going away as fast as it should be.

http://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/news/local/Pool-Boots-Kids-Who-Might-Change-the-Complexion.html

Professor Timonin said...

Christian - the problem is that for your plan to work EVERYONE has to have balls (for a certain value of everyone, which differs for changing the presented values of an animation studio to changing the attitudes of a nation). For the status quo to remain, only one person needs to lack balls. When you have a plan which hinges on convincing an entire group of your POV, and which can be derailed by one person valuing their job over a value which they may not actually share with you, this is not an easy plan to make succeed. I'm not saying your wrong, I'm just saying that the sort of social change you're advocating takes a long time to accomplish.

Dan Gambiera said...

And what, pray tell, is wrong with spending time as a frog?

Your ranidaphobia - like Disney's - is truly offensive to all oppressed Amphibian-Americans!

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Christian H. said...

Christian - the problem is that for your plan to work EVERYONE has to have balls (for a certain value of everyone, which differs for changing the presented values of an animation studio to changing the attitudes of a nation). For the status quo to remain, only one person needs to lack balls. When you have a plan which hinges on convincing an entire group of your POV, and which can be derailed by one person valuing their job over a value which they may not actually share with you, this is not an easy plan to make succeed. I'm not saying your wrong, I'm just saying that the sort of social change you're advocating takes a long time to accomplish.



The thing you don't see is that with my plan you become a good American or a dead American.

Since it's a free country it's your choice.

Steven Barnes said...

Disney was a totally 100% all-white company, based in a very conservative part of California. For years, they would hire no non-whites at Disneyland, and depicted that same racial reality in their films. I have many friends who have worked there, and when the subject of diversity in their programming came up, the reasoning is that "their audience" doesn't want it. Other than that, they can simply reject an idea saying "it doesn't feel right" and avoid the racial discussion altogether. Disney was, and to a degree still is, the Mecca for animators and artists all over the world. You don't fight your way to get there, just to get thrown out over racial politics. Most people, good people, keep their heads down, work, and hope to make change in the future. And it generally works--although it can take years or generations. I've seen fantastic positive change over my life, but it's still frustrating that things don't move more rapidly.