My Best Has Changed
By Vanessa Coker
This piece explores how film can help us think more deeply about our choices in life.
When the animated Disney film Princess and the Frog premiered in 2008, many were excited to see the first Black Disney princess. For many years, black girls such as myself, watched Disney princess movies that starred women and girls who did not look much like us. For some, like myself, this did not stop the well-known entertainment and media company from capturing our young minds. Others felt like seeing a black Disney princess was long overdue. Many still celebrate the film for being the first of its kind: a diverse cast with a plot takes place in a well-known city of New Orleans.
Tiana’s character seemed to fit right in with the rest of the Disney princesses’: she was kind, thin, and attractive. Anika Noni-Rose, the voice actress behind Tiana, has expressed that playing Tiana was a real honor for her in speeches and interviews. Often praised for her beautiful voice in other productions such as Dream Girls, Anika Noni-Rose was also pleasantly surprised to have Tiana look exactly like her. In addition, Rose also discusses how she believes Tianna is a more relatable character compared to her royal counterparts because she is the only one to have a job. I believe what connected her to many black girls was her work ethic. It simply mimicked the kind of work many of the black women in my life performed for their jobs, family, and themselves.It would not be until later that I would become more aware of the stereotype of the strong black woman. Although I was not familiar with the origin of the Princess and the Frog, I was familiar with the saying that black people had to work twice as hard to achieve the same type of success as white people. As a result, Tiana’s character becomes a metaphor for the expectations we put on ourselves when we have a goal in an oppressive society that we would like to achieve that dates back to chattel slavery.
Now, in my early 20s, my relationship with Disney is different due to my experience as a Black woman in the United States. I am privileged to be able to articulate my understanding of the long withstanding issues of race and gender in this country. Yet, despite seeing numerous errors in the film, I still believe Tiana’s story deserves attention, especially because of the way it explores her relationship to work, family, and romantic intimacy. I really enjoy that part of her story includes a realization that we choose at any time in our life what kinds of family traditions we will carry on and what we prioritize. While we still critique the color-blind language that permeates “family-friendly” films, we can also ask ourselves, “What is it that we really need?” similar to the wise words of Mama Odie towards the end of the film.
The pandemic has deeply impacted my relationship to work and productivity. I am truly exhausted, and, rather than resist the urge to rest, I want to take this opportunity to reflect on how much I have changed in this last year. The expectations that I have for myself have changed; however, I do not see the same sentiment reflected in society at large. For a while, I wondered if something was wrong with me. To be honest, I still feel a bit of self-doubt as I write this.
Fortunately, I have recently come to terms that my best interests have changed, and I know this does not make me a bad person, though it may be disheartening that so many institutions and organizations do not seem to share those same interests. I am being honest and doing my absolute best. Unfortunately, I do not think we as a society will get back to “normal,” and I also think we will be talking about the pandemic’s effect on us all for years to come.
Reference & Citation List
- Disney’s Old Bayou Magic: Kiss and Ribbit (and Sing)
- Disney’s Princess and the Frog Can’t Escape the Ghetto
- Anika Noni Rose (voice of Tiana) accepts Disney Legends award at the 2011 D23 Expo
- The Princess and the Frog – Interviews with Anika Noni Rose and Bruno Campos
- The Princess and the Frog Interview: Anika Noni Rose | Empire Magazine
- Anika Noni Rose on The View
- “The Princess and the Frog”: Chasing the Part of Tiana
The first step of the process was brainstorming and free writing. I put on a timer for 45 minutes because that is the length of time in which I can get something on the page. For this particular piece, I also recorded audio notes to help work through ideas. Then, I begin outlining and planning. I ask myself basic questions (how, when, where, why, etc.), and begin the research process if necessary.
Further Listening & Reading
- Tea w/ Queen and J. | Episode #294 This Is A Part of the Job!
- Still Processing | 40 Acres and A Movie
- Inside the Pink | Strong
- Dissect | Ch.6 — Accountability (Daddy Lessons)
- Leah Chase at the Smithsonian: The New Orleans Chef Who Inspired Princess and the Frog
- The Woman Behind Disney’s Landmark Princess
Vanessa is a passionate writer and story-teller. Currently, she is seeking a degree in international affairs at the George Washington University. She is a self-proclaimed Black feminist who strongly believes in social justice and hopes to work towards a more just and free world.