[UPDATE Oct. 23: Disney Junior has followed up on this report about Sofia’s ethnicity with a few statements.
Nancy Kanter, senior vice president of original programming and general manager of Disney Junior Worldwide, posted a statement on the ‘Sofia the First’ Facebook page. “Some of you may have seen the recent news stories on whether Sofia is or isn’t a ‘Latina princess.’ What’s important to know is that Sofia is a fairytale girl who lives in a fairytale world,” she wrote, going on to explain that the fictitious country Galdiz “was inspired by Spain.” The full statement is here.
Kanter met with Alex Nogales, the president and CEO of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, about the character. “[Kanter] shared that ‘Sofia the First’ is in fact not a Latina character and that the producer of the television program misspoke,” Nogales wrote on NHMC’s Facebook page. He also mentions an upcoming Disney Junior project that “does have a Latina as the heroine of the show.” EW has confirmed that Disney Junior is developing this project.
Co-executive producer Craig Gerber also posted a statement on the ‘Sofia the First’ Facebook page, elaborating on Sofia’s heritage. He also adds that the princess’ birth father is from another fictional, unnamed country based on Scandinavia. Enchancia, the country where Sofia is now princess, is “a make-believe ‘melting pot’ kingdom patterned on the British Isles,” Gerber wrote.]
Original Entry: Over the past two decades, the ranks of Disney princesses (or Disney leading ladies, if you’re going to get technical), have become more and more diverse with the introduction of Jasmine, Pocahontas, Mulan, and Tiana. Tiana really had folks talking for months before the release of 2009’s The Princess and the Frog because she was the first black Disney princess. But now Disney is about five weeks away from the introduction of its next princess – the House of Mouse’s first Hispanic princess.
Princess Sofia will make her debut the Disney Channel on Nov. 18 in TV movie Sofia the First: Once Upon a Princess, ahead of a 2013 TV series on both Disney Channel and Disney Junior. The TV movie and the show are geared toward viewers age 2-7.
Sofia (voiced by Modern Family’s Ariel Winter) is born a commoner but steps into the royal life when her mother (Grey’s Anatomy’s Sara Ramirez) marries King Roland II of Enchancia (Ultimate Spider-Man’s Travis Willingham). Throughout the show and the movie, the young princess is adjusting to life with her new step-siblings and in her new school, Royal Prep. The TV movie features some familiar faces from Disney classics; Cinderella, Fauna, Flora, and Merryweather all make an appearance.
During a recent press tour of the Sofia the First production offices, one blogger pointed out that in concept art, Sofia’s mother, Miranda, the newly crowned queen of Enchancia, had a darker complexion than the other characters. “She is Latina,” executive producer Jamie Mitchell said of the character, acknowledging that this makes Sofia the first Latina princess to appear in a Disney animation project.
The milestone hasn’t gotten the kind of attention that The Princess and the Frog did. The producers of that film were outspoken about wanting Tiana “to bear the traits of African-American women.” But in this case the Disney team is intentionally not placing emphasis on her ethnicity.
“We never actually call it out,” said Joe D’Ambrosia, vice president of Disney Junior original programming. “When we go into schools [to talk to young students about the show], what I find fascinating is that every girl thinks that they’re Sofia.”
Mitchell added, “It’s sort of a matter-of-fact situation rather than an overt thing.”
It’s also not as much of a clear-cut milestone as the introduction of Tiana to the Disney family. Tiana is African-American, and she lives in New Orleans, a real place. Sofia is half-Enchancian and half-Galdizian. The two kingdoms are in a world where a few real countries like France exist, but they’re still fictional, making words like Latina and Hispanic less clearly applicable.
What do you think, EW readers? How do you feel about the introduction of Sofia to Disney’s collection of princesses? Should the producers be announcing her heritage loud and proud, or is putting emphasis on other traits of hers, like kindness and loyalty, the way to go? Does whether she’s Latina/Hispanic/Galdizian matter?
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