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Disney’s First African-American Princess Marks Studio’s Return to Old-Style Animation

Posted by Audiegrl

Among Disney’s Royal Ladies, Princess Tiana Is a Notable First

AP/Mike Cidoni—For most of the last century, the Disney ‘toon heroine was as white as, well… Snow White, the studio’s first feature-film superstar, who marked her debut in 1937’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”

It would take some 60 years for the Disney artists to begin painting their leading ladies with all the colors of the wind, including the American Indian Pocahontas (1995), the Chinese Mulan (1998) and the Hawaiian Lilo (2002).

Only now, with “The Princess and the Frog,” have Disney animators put a black female front and center. Ironically, the inspiration for the new film came from two Caucasian men: current Pixar-Disney chief John Lasseter and the late Walt Disney himself.

The story really came from an initial idea of doing an American fairy tale, which hadn’t been done at Disney,” said “Princess” co-director Ron Clements. “And setting it in New Orleans, which is John Lasseter’s favorite city in the world. It was Walt Disney’s favorite city in the world … Out of that, it seemed natural that the heroine would be African-American.”

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Anika Noni Rose in Disney’s ‘The Princess and the Frog‘; ‘Dreamgirl’s‘ latest role is history making

Anika Noni Rose, famous for her role in 'Dreamgirls' both on Broadway and in the hit movie, stars in Disney's latest.

Anika Noni Rose, famous for her role in 'Dreamgirls' both on Broadway and in the hit movie, stars in Disney's latest.

NewYorkDailyNews/Joe Dziemianowicz—Anika Noni Rose has good reason to feel animated.

Her latest starring role isn’t simply high-profile — it’s downright historic.

The Princess and the Frog” leaps into local theaters on Wednesday, and her voice will be heard as Disney’s first animated black heroine: Tiana, a sassy go-getter out to rescue a bewitched prince from amphibian oblivion.

The tweaked Grimm’s fairy tale is set in jazzy 1920s New Orleans, but Rose, 37, a Tony winner best known from the movie version of “Dreamgirls,” says her connection to Tiana is rooted right at the core of the Big Apple.

Rose was in the middle of Times Square when word came that she’d landed the coveted regal role.

The producers “had been trying to reach me for quite a while, but I’m a New York girl,” says Rose. “I was trying to do 10,000 things at once and didn’t get the phone. I ended up running to the Disney office. Luckily they were nearby — and I was in sneakers.”

Those sensible shoes fit the character of Tiana, a chef who’s waiting tables until she can open her own restaurant.

Unlike other Disney princesses introduced with a trademark “I want” tune revealing their deepest desire (like the Little Mermaid, Ariel, who wants to “be where the people are“), Tiana’s first song, “Almost There,” is one of self-confidence and certainty.

She’s been saving and saving, and she’s got the down payment ready,” says Rose. “She sees her dreams coming true.”

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A Fairy Tale Beginning

Tiana, the heroine in the upcoming 'The Princess and the Frog.'

Tiana, the heroine in the upcoming 'The Princess and the Frog.'

Washington Post/Neely Tucker—In the 72 years since Walt Disney’s animated version of Snow White captivated audiences as “the fairest of them all,” there have only been eight such Disney princesses. Through these movies and a line of toys, dresses and figurines, the Disney princesses have become global, doe-eyed icons of childhood. Sleeping Beauty awakened by a kiss, Cinderella’s clock striking midnight, Belle waltzing in the Beast’s castle, Ariel with Prince Eric in the moonlit lagoon — these have become heroines whom parents the world over feel safe to let their young girls idolize and mimic. And while Disney has brought us nonwhite princesses before (see “Mulan,” “Pocahontas“), Tiana is a first.

The implied message of Tiana, that black American girls can be as elegant as Snow White herself, is a milestone in the national imagery, according to a range of scholars and cultural historians.

Her appearance this holiday season, coming on the heels of Michelle Obama’s emergence as the nation’s first lady, the Obama girls in the White House and the first line of Barbie dolls modeled on black women (“So in Style” debuts this summer), will crown an extraordinary year of visibility for African American women.

But fairy tales and folklore are the stories that cultures tell their children about the world around them, and considering Disney’s pervasive influence with (and marketing to) young girls, Princess Tiana might well become the symbol of a culture-changing standard of feminine beauty.

If this figure takes off, you’re looking at 30 or 40 years of repetition and resonance,” says Tricia Rose, a Brown University professor who teaches both popular culture and African American studies, citing the enduring popularity of Disney princesses at the company’s theme parks, on Web sites and in videos.

“It’s a very big deal,” says Leonard Maltin, the film historian, critic and author of “Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons.”

She’s the first modern American [Disney] princess, and that she’s black sends a huge message,” says Cori Murray, entertainment director for Essence magazine.

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My Families Experience at Disneyland…

Last night, while putting together this story, I mentioned to Ogenec, my own families experience at DisneyLand. At his request, I’ve added our story to this post.

1966 DisneyLand Guidebook

1966 DisneyLand Guidebook

When I was around 4 years old we drove to Los Angeles to visit our cousins and their kids. My Mom and Dad being older, offered to take us all out to DisneyLand. So it was me, Michelle (age 4), Peter (age 5), and Alex (age 8), and our two sets of parents. My dad purchased the groups admission and also a ticket book, which allowed us to ride all day. Believe it or not, it was only $5.00 for adults, and $4.00 for kids under 12, which back then was a lot of money to spend for just entertainment. My Dad gave the ticket book to my cousin George to keep in his back pocket. My cousin’s were very young parents, and couldn’t have been more than 25 or 26 at the time.

So we get to the first ride, and of course, we are all excited and squealing with joy, and guess what? The ticket book is gone. Someone stole it from George’s back pocket, man, was he upset. So my Dad, being 46 and the oldest of our group, takes charge and he and George go to find some manager to see what could be done. They were taken into a office, and sat in front of the secretary in the waiting room. By this point, they were getting kind of nervous… This was 1966, and there were not many other Black people at the amusement park, so they just assumed that we were all going to get thrown out for trying to scam the joint. LOL 😉

After about 15 minutes, a man comes out of the office, and asks my Dad and George to step in and sit down. He sat on the edge of his big desk and listened very quietly to their story. My Dad told him they didn’t want to disappoint their kids, and was there anyway they could get some ride tickets back, not all that were stolen, but just enough so the kids could ride a few times, and then we would all leave.

The man said, “That’s out of the question. You came here with your family, and someone robbed you, so that’s not your fault. Please take these ticket books, they are good for all weekend, and your family can ride as much as they want, and come back tomorrow if they want to.”

walt-disney1My dad and cousin got up, to shake this mans hand and thank him. My dad said, I’m sorry sir, I never got your name? The man said, my name is Walt Disney…..

True Story…

I’ve read different opinions on why Disney decided to create this movie. Some are not impressed, and have said that Disney’s motivation is more of a financial nature, rather than a move to foster any kind of diversity. Whatever Disney’s reasons, I’ll always remember my own families story, and have to believe somewhere, some place, Walt Disney is smiling…because for him, it was all about the kids.~~AudieGrl

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Book Review: Dave Neiwert’s The Eliminationists

Review by Guest Contributor Susan G

The Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right By David Neiwert

The Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right By David Neiwert

The Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right
By David Neiwert
$16.96, 174 pages
Paperback original
PoliPointPress, May 2009: Sausalito, CA
Available for $11.53 @ amazon1

It’s a neat trick. Not only has the village lunatic gained permission to continue wandering the town square poking everyone he dislikes in the eye with a sharp stick, but he gets to claim victimhood when the victims respond angrily. Unfortunately, in the process, the whole village is transformed, and not for the better.

Rarely has a book been released at a time when it’s been more relevant than David Neiwert’s The Eliminationists. Neiwert, an award-winning journalist and blogger at Orcinus and of late, at Crooks and Liars, has focused for years on that fine, scary line where heated rhetoric gives way to pure hate speech, and where fantasies of inflicting violence morph into the real thing. With the killing of three Pittsburgh police officers by a white-supremacist radical, an understanding of the right-wing extremists now deeply embedded in the modern conservative movement is more important than ever.

And lucky we are to have such a guide as Neiwert, who over the years has become the absolute master of the study of hate speech, authoritarianism and violence. His new book is the culmination of decades of watching the far right, listening to talk radio, tracking militias and extremists, and cataloging incidents inspired by false facts and the stoking of paranoia. Heck, for the naming of the phenomenon alone, he should be thanked:

Eliminationism: a politics and a culture that shuns dialogue and the democratic exchange of ideas in favor of the pursuit of outright elimination of the opposing side, either through suppression, exile, and ejection, or extermination.

Admit it: We all knew there was a better word we were waiting for. Finally, it has arrived. While we’re at it, let’s have him define an overused (but strangely enough, underdefined) term for us at the outset:

Fascism is passionate nationalism, allied to a conspiratorial dualism and a crude Social Darwinism, voiced with resentment toward the forces, or conditions, that restrain “the chosen people.”

Sound vaguely familiar? It should. As Neiwert shows, this country since the 1990s has been undergoing what he terms para-fascist tendencies going mainstream as those once on the fringes have begun infecting one of the two major political parties and co-opting conservatism, making of it the paranoiac, reactionary–and, most frighteningly–increasingly violent crew we now hear regularly on Fox News and on talk radio.

The first portion of The Eliminationists lays out in careful detail the evidence, in cite after cite, of

… a particular trend that has manifested itself with increasing intensity in the past decade: the positing of elimination as the solution to political disagreement. Rather than engaging in a dialogue over political and cultural issues, one side simply dehumanizes its opponents and suggests, and at times demands, their excision. This tendency is almost singularly peculiar to the American Right and manifests itself in many venues: on radio talk shows and in political speeches, in bestselling books and babbling blogs. Most of all, we can feel it on the ground: in our everyday lives, in our encounters, big and small, with each other.

His insistence on the right-wing nature of modern eliminationism holds up, despite cries from the conservatives that “liberals do it too.” Neiwert acknowledges that leftists have been known–less frequently–to toss around talk of assassination or insurrection but, he points out, they tend to focus on threatening talk toward an individual (think Cheney or Bush), not an entire category of human beings. The far right, on the other hand…

In contrast, right-wing rhetoric has been explicitly eliminationist, calling for the infliction of harm on whole blocs of American citizens: liberals, gays and lesbians, Latinos, blacks, Jews, feminists, or whatever target group is the victim du jour of right-wing ire.

This distinction is crucial, and Neiwert makes an alarming case for the fact that the rhetoric that leads up to violent crimes against whole classes of individuals is a necessary ingredient to the carrying out of the penultimate acts, that without the vicious cheerleading, many of the acts would not be carried out because, he says, “such rhetoric has played a critical role in giving permission for it to proceed, by creating the cultural and psychological conditions that enable the subsequent violence.” At the bottom of such rhetoric is a savagely anti-democratic, American-hating ethos too, despite the flag-cocooning in which the shouters participate.

Continued @ daily kos logo

Blogger Note: Please take the time and read the entire review by Susan G and check out the book if you can. Even though this review was written in April of 2009, the extremism shown in the last few months make it more timely that ever.

Dave Neiwert was a featured guest tonight on Countdown with Keith Olbermann. Neiwert is being interviewed by Lawrence O’Donnell in the video:

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