Disney is scrambling to defend itself against claims that a new cartoon character, billed as its first ever Hispanic princess, doesn't look sufficiently Hispanic.
The Hollywood studio will next month unveil Sofia, an ordinary girl whose life is transformed when her mother marries the Kinga. 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 "Latina" princess appears to have white skin and blue eyes.
Disney has since issued press statements clarifying that Sofia is a "mixed-heritage" princess in a "fairytale world". She was never supposed to be explicitly Latina, the company claims. "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 publicity campaign for the movie was built around her status as Disney's first black princess.
It will also come as news to anyone who recalls Disney's first Native American princess, Pocahontas, its first Arabian princess, Jasmine, and its first Asian princess Mulan. All of them were unveiled 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, Sofia will be voiced by Ariel Winter, a star of the TV sitcom Modern Family, who comes from a Caucasian background.
Craig Gerber, executive producer of Sofia the First, said his Princess has a Spanish mother and Scandinavian father, and was raised in a make-believe "melting pot" kingdom modelled on the British Isles.Reuse content