African-American princess joins Disney royals

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The Independent Culture

Seventy-two years after Snow White first emerged on the silver screen, Disney's exclusive pantheon of fairytale royals is about to get another member to delight little girls around the world.

Yet Tiana, the heroine of "The Princess And The Frog", to be released in the United States and Canada on December 11, differs from her aristocratic predecessors.

For the first time in Disney's illustrious history, the magic kingdom is crowning an African-American princess.

Actress Anika Noni Rose, who provides the voice of Tiana, says the film will have different meanings to different generations.

"For my nephew it will be the norm, he will think nothing of it, it will be his first princess, period," Rose said in Los Angeles recently.

"For my mother it will be something that she's been waiting for; for my grandmother it will be something that she never thought would have happened in her liftime," she added.

Rose, a Tony Award-winning actress in 2004 for her performance in the hit show "Caroline, or Change", said the film represented another chapter in Disney's tradition of cultural "Americana."

"Disney is Americana and we've simply opened a new chapter in Americana, something that's been here for a very long time but it hasn't necessarily been shared," Rose said.

"So in that respect it's just another step in the completion of the story of what America is in this fantasy world."

Tiana's emergence has been linked to the election of US President Barack Obama, although the studio has pointed out that development on the project pre-dates the election of the former Illinois senator to the presidency.

"When they began the production of this film, Barack Obama wasn't in the White House," said Oscar-nominated actor Terrence Howard, who provides the voice for the character of Tiana's father.

"It's just a happy accident, but there's always been nobility in every culture and in every race, just the same as there have been geniuses in every culture and every race. It's nice to have Disney platform that."

The film is set in the jazz-infused world of 1920s New Orleans, following Tiana as she sets out to become a successful restaurateur, finding love along the way with a handsome prince who has been turned into a frog.

However while Disney has reportedly consulted black organizations and individuals to ensure the film does not cause offence, the movie has attracted criticism from some quarters.

A columnist in the Charlotte Observer condemned Disney for setting the film in New Orleans so soon after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

"This princess story is set in New Orleans, the setting of one of the most devastating tragedies to beset a black community," columnist William Blackburn wrote in an op-ed about the film.

However, the Britain-based Chicago-born playwright Bonnie Greer told the BBC in an interview that Disney should be applauded for the film.

"Well done for Disney for doing this," Greer said. "Since Disney is always looking at the bottom line, they figured it's about time.

"It's probably a combination of our new president, a feeling that change has swept the land and thinking about how they can get involved in this change and also there is a huge market for this type of film.

"I would never have imagined as a little girl seeing a film like this come out of Disney studios. It's a wonderful thing.

"When you are a child, what you are shown does affect you and I can remember when I was growing up not wanting to play with black dolls," she said.

"It's a great thing and hopefully it will make some little black girls smile as well as some little white girls."