wow! she looks like me. lessons on diversity from the princess and the frog

December 15, 2009

in life,talent

last week i wrote a post about diversity training for fistful of talent. hint: i’m not for it, in its most practiced form. there are many reasons why, but one is because it doesn’t alter the makeup, race- and gender-wise, at the top of the house.

this weekend, i had no need for research-backed statistics to understand the power of seeing someone like you in a role you aspire to some day have. i got the most charming lesson on the subject while waiting with my girls and my mom for the noontime showing of  “the princess and the frog.” we were one of two white families, and we were there to see a movie. others were there to see a revelation: tiana, the first black disney princess, a full 70+ years after disney’s debut princess, snow white.

say what you want about the film’s failings and the flaws of disney princesses, in general (i certainly have), not even the most stalwart anti-disneyite could have stood inside the bridge cinema and denied that disney achieved something. when the doors of the theater opened, little girls swept past us wearing twirling gowns and sparkling tiaras. trailing them were the big girls, the mothers, wearing tiaras too and the broad smiles of those who’ve wanted—and waited—for this, for themselves and their girls.

to disney’s credit, they sneak in positive messages that make tiana a vast improvement over the some-day-my-prince-will-come garden-variety princess. of course she gets “the prize,” a disinherited, unskilled, philandering prince, but not before she saves his frog ass many-a-time and, this being a fairy tale, transforms the lout into a hard-working champion of her real passion—owning her own restaurant, a dream realized through hard work, denial, and determination.

while the movie’s message of self-empowerment may take some time to sink in with the under-12 set, it was not lost on any that, for once, the girl who ended up a princess wasn’t the blonde. she was the black daughter of a seamstress.

today, the aspiration is for the highest of disney achievement. tomorrow, it may be for the c-suite. we’ll hope they can see a girl who looks just like them there too.

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