She's Disney's first 'Latina' princess: So what happened to the fairytale ending?

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Studio embroiled in another diversity row amid claims new character is not Hispanic enough

Los Angeles

Disney is scrambling to defend itself against claims that a new cartoon character, who was billed as its first ever Hispanic princess, doesn't look sufficiently Hispanic.

The Hollywood studio will next month unveil Sofia, an everyday girl who is elevated to the nobility after her mother, Miranda, marries the king of a fictional country called Enchancia.

At press briefings, reporters who asked about Sofia's ethnic background were told by an executive producer: "She is Latina."

So far, so multicultural. But when the first pictures of Sofia were made public this week, minority groups reacted with bemusement. Disney's allegedly groundbreaking "Latina" princess appears to have white skin, rosy cheeks, and blue eyes.

Disney has since issued press statements clarifying that Sofia is a "mixed heritage" princess in a "fairy-tale world." She was never supposed to be explicitly Latina, the company claims, despite the way her name is spelled.

"Sofia is a fairytale girl who lives in a fairytale world," wrote Nancy Kanter, the executive in charge of Disney Junior, on the channel's Facebook page. "All our characters come from fantasy lands that may reflect elements of various cultures and ethnicities but none are meant to specifically represent those real world cultures."

That will come as news to anyone who saw Disney's 2009 film The Princess and the Frog. Its protagonist, Tiana, hailed from New Orleans. And a large part of the studio's publicity campaign for the movie was built around her status as the organisation's first ever black princess.

It will also come as news to anyone who recalls the drum-rolling over Disney's first Native American princess Pocahontas, its first Arabian princess, Jasmine, and its first East Asian princess, Mulan. All of them have been unveiled amid noisy fanfare in recent years, in an apparent effort to tap lucrative global markets.

A Hispanic princess would in theory represent a canny move by the studio, since she would reflect America's fastest-growing demographic. However it has also emerged that the actress who will voice Sofia is to be Ariel Winter, a star of the hit television sitcom Modern Family who comes from a Caucasian background.

Craig Gerber, who is executive producer of Sofia the First, her debut television movie, which airs in November, has attempted to clarify his princess's ethnic identity by describing her as the daughter of a Spanish mother and Scandinavian father who was actually raised in Enchancia, a make-believe "melting pot" kingdom modelled on the British Isles.

"Sofia considers herself a normal Enchancian girl like any other," said Gerber. "Her mixed heritage and blended family are a reflection of what many children today experience."

That's not good enough for America's National Hispanic Media Coalition, who told the Associated Press that they now want to meet studio executives to discuss the character. It has also mystified the National Council of La Raza, a US minority rights organisation.

"They seem to be back-pedalling," a spokesman for La Raza told the Associated Press. "They've done such a good job in the past when they've introduced Native American, African-American and Asian princesses. They made a big deal out of it, and there was a lot of fanfare, but now they're sort of scrambling. It's unusual because Disney has been very good about Latino diversity."

Racial backlash: Disney on film

Crow chorus

Voiced by the American singer Cliff Edwards the African-American Hall Johnson choir, the jazz-loving crow chorus in the 1941 Disney hit Dumbo was criticised for reinforcing negative racial stereotypes.


The film was criticised as inaccurate and offensive by Chief Roy Crazy Horse of the Powhatan Nation, who said Disney glossed over the harsh treatment the real Pocahontas received.

Princess Tiana

The Princess and the Frog, starring the first black Disney princess, was hailed as progressive by some, but it was also criticised. The initial plot, in which the heroine was a chambermaid, was rethought after critics said it was demeaning.

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