princess-tiana-and-paa4781The film, featuring a black princess, is released in the US this weekend under the most intense scrutiny of any children’s film in history.

It began in the Promised Land. Well, not the Promised Land, but the estate of the same name that covers 42 acres of prime mountaintop real estate in Montecito, north of Los Angeles — otherwise known as the home of Oprah Winfrey, the billionaire queen of daytime television.

There were about ten people at Winfrey’s estate that day, including the children’s animators Ron Clements and John Musker, the Walt Disney producer Peter Del Vecho, and the African-American screenwriter Rob Edwards, who once worked on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

“Oprah could have fit 500 people in that house, never mind ten,” Edwards laughs. “It’s more like a castle.” While lunch was being served, Winfrey listened intently as Edwards and the others pitched their idea: they wanted to create an all-new movie for Walt Disney, featuring an all-new princess. Winfrey was their first choice to play the princess’s mother — not only because of her considerable acting skills (she famously starred in The Color Purple), but also because it would demonstrate that she had given

the project her blessing. And why did Disney feel that it needed the approval of the talk-show host? Because this all-new princess would be different. She would be black.

Winfrey’s reaction was encouraging. “She cried,” Edwards recalls. “But like everyone else there, she wanted to make sure that we got the movie right.”

All this happened three years ago — long before the US elected its first black Commander-in-Chief and welcomed a black First Family into the White House (even in 2007, such a notion was far-fetched, with Hilary Clinton being the most obvious Next Leader of the Free World). But to anyone familiar with the history of the Walt Disney Company, the significance of its first black princess — eventually named Tiana — goes much deeper. After all, Disney is a company that for years has faced accusations of almost comical ethnic insensitivity. The website provides a well-browsed list entitled the “Nine Most Racist Disney…To read more click here.

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