“Being the first black Disney princess, that was such a first and it really has changed the way young brown children are looked at in school and fantasy when they are playing,” Rose told Variety at the Academy’s anniversary screening Thursday night at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills. “It’s no longer ‘You can’t be the princess.’ It’s expected and normal.”
“And I see children of all different ethnicities wearing their Tiana gear so what it says is that she speaks to people on so many different levels,” Rose continued. “Babies aren’t looking at her for her skin color. When they see her and they look like them, they aren’t old enough to know what that means. They just know that they feel something good. When they see her and she doesn’t look like them, it’s still them because they are babies and they recognize her spirit and her heart and her gumption and I think that is a great thing.”
Though playing the first black Disney princess might be expected to carry additional pressure for the actress voicing the role, Rose told Variety, “I’m a perfectionist, so I’m always feeling some sort of pressure but I didn’t feel more than usual. I did feel joy. Like it was a real gift and an honor.”
Rose is also very encouraged by the casting of Halle Bailey as the second black Disney princess. Bailey is starring as Ariel in the live-action remake of “The Little Mermaid,” and Rose hopes to see more Disney princesses of color in the future.
“In the landscape of our country, we are seeing more people of color, so it would make sense to have that reflected on screen,” she said. “It would make sense for them to be living in lands where they are talking to princesses who don’t look like them, where they have a multicultural landscape.”
Quvenzhané Wallis, who became the youngest actress to be nominated for an Oscar after her debut in “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” hosted a panel discussion with the cast and crew of “The Princess and the Frog” ahead of the screening and described herself as a huge fan of the film.
“It’s meant a lot to me, especially when I was little because I loved the songs and I loved everything about the movie,” Wallis told Variety. “But then as I got older, I realized that Tiana was the only African-American princess but she was a boss at it. She had a job and she was doing everything great that she had to do.”
Wallis was also excited by Bailey’s casting in “The Little Mermaid.” “It seems like things are changing,” she said. “I love seeing it. I know Chloe and Halle and they are both amazing. I love seeing this just becoming a norm and something normal for people to see and I just can’t wait to see ‘The Little Mermaid.'”
Jenifer Lewis, who voiced the role of Mama Odie in the film, told Variety that she hopes to see more stories from traditional black folklore and fairy tales brought to screen.
“Get some Langston Hughes, get some Countee Cullen, get some Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, get those rich folklores, get all of that that came over on the ships and tell those deep stories and the love and the light that was attached to it,” Lewis said, adding she that drew inspiration for her portrayal from legendary African-American comedienne Moms Mabley. “The fact that we are here means that these people had hope and songs and stories that have been passed down.”