Yesterday, I was going through promo pictures of the newly redesigned Disney princesses and I noticed something…odd.
Aside from the fact that Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel and Ariel have all had their face shapes changed so that they’re more narrow and have pointier chins, what really caught my eye was the drastic changes in character design for Pocahontas and Mulan (Jasmine has been a character design clusterfuck from the very beginning, so I’m not even going to touch that).
From the first glance anyone takes at the Pocahontas redesign, I think it’s pretty obvious what’s wrong with it.
k so first of all, if someone could explain to me why there’s so much more yellow in her skin, I’d be much obliged. It’s not just that they lightened her skin up—they completely changed the undertones, too. Her face has also been narrowed, and her jawline’s been changed. Her nose has also been made smaller and her eyes larger. They’ve given her the freaky disproportionate face and waistline that have become classic on Disney princesses and which, honestly, I really appreciated Pocahontas for not having.
So there are the physical changes. And then there are the costume changes, which are just gross. American Apparel would be proud, I think, of the horrifically historically inaccurate earrings they’ve slapped on her, as well as the weird bedazzled neckline of her dress. Like…I understand that Disney didn’t give a shit about historical accuracy from the very beginning (their repeated declines of the offers of help from the Powhatan tribe in the way of historical accuracy and representation speak for themselves), but this is just a further caricaturization. Given how much publicity the fetishization/appropriation of Native American clothing and artifacts, you’d think they’d stay away…but no.
Alright. Now let’s move on to Mulan.
(this side-by-side comparison courtesy of Racebending)
Alright. So from the get-go, we have Mulan in some vaguely Chinese hair ornaments/clothes (if someone who knows more about this would enlighten me re: historical accurace or lack thereof, I’d be much obliged [edit: an anon wrote in with this contribution on the subject, so check it out if you’re interested]). Her face, again, is narrower. Her lips are fuller. Her eyes are BLUE(!?!?!?!) aaaaaand (drumroll please)…
Like, there’s really no other way to say it. They took my baby and dunked her in a vat of white-out. And then applied blush and face highlights, of course. But she’s white.
I know what you’re thinking—Sameera, stop making such a big deal of this! She’s just in her makeup, like from the matchmaking scene at the beginning of the movie! It’s cool!
Here is a screencap of Mulan from that scene you’re thinking of. Look at it, compare it to the pic above, and then let’s talk about what’s wrong here.
(I know, bb, I’d be pissed if they dunked me in white-out too…that shit takes forever to wash out)
Alright so examine this picture. More specifically, look at Mulan’s face versus her neck. In this scene, make-up was applied only to her face. That was the whole point. That was the style of make-up application intended (again, I have my own doubts about historical accuracy, but from my own reading on the subject, I’m still a bit unclear as to whether this make-up style originated in Japan or China, so if anyone else has the facts, I’d love to hear from you). It’s meant to emulate a mask—it doesn’t extend to her neck.
Meanwhile, in the redesign, she’s got her neck and everything else done in the same color. That’s not make-up—that’s whitewashing.
I myself spent most of yesterday trying to play it off—it’s just the make-up, don’t be ridiculous!—and I’m pretty sure that that’s what Disney was banking on. It’s been a long time since the movie came out, and so details about the application of her make-up in the matchmaker scene are bound to be fuzzy and difficult to recall for us. Here, Disney is counting on the consumer not remembering and, thus, giving them the benefit of the doubt as they take a character of color and whitewash her on multiple levels (can we return to her eyes for a second? In what universe did Mulan have blue eyes? I just adflkjasd;fjas;kdfja; WHY).
This is gross. This is gross, because it seems like there is no end to women of color being told that in order to be truly beautiful, they have to be pale. They have to aspire to whiteness. Hence, colored contacts and bleaching cream and all the other trappings of being a WoC in today’s world. It’s hugely problematic. If the inclusion of WoC as princesses and heroines in the Disney franchise is meant to be inclusive and to empower little kids of color, taking the characters and subtly (or not so subtly) redesigning them so that they’re paler completely undermines this goal.
I think there’s also something to be said about the redesigns of the white princesses, but to be perfectly honest, the number that was done on the WoC princesses is a bit more front and center for me. The only princess that looks like me, or my little cousins, or any daughters I might have is Jasmine, and she’s little more than a glorified harem girl. So I am very protective of Mulan and Tiana and Pocahontas (though her less so, given the inherent problems in her character design) and their representations within the Disney franchise, because the few WoC heroes we have should at least be faithfully portrayed.
tldr: STOP WHITEWASHING OUR WOC PRINCESSES. And tell Disney the same!
Thanks for reading, y’all.