When an executive producer for "Sofia the First: Once Upon a Princess" said that the title character is Disney’s first Latina princess, he was unwittingly setting in motion a multi-layered discussion on Latina identity, what constitutes “Latina looks” and a crush of celebration and criticism.
As the story took on a life of its own, Disney felt they had to come out with a statement clarifying what their make-believe princess is — and isn't. The end result is that Sofia is not actually Latina.
“What’s important to know is that Sofia is a fairytale girl who lives in a fairytale world,” Nancy Kanter, senior vice president of original programming and general manager of Disney Junior Worldwide said in a post on the Princess Sofia Facebook page. “All our characters come from fantasy lands that may reflect elements of various cultures and ethnicities, but none are meant to specifically represent those real world cultures.”
Kanter said that most importantly, Sofia’s world reflects the ethnically diverse world we live in “but it is not OUR world, it is a fairytale and storybook world that we hope will help spur a child’s imagination.”
Craig Gerber, co-executive producer/writer on the project says, “Princess Sofia is a mixed-heritage princess in a fairytale world. Her mother is originally from an enchanted kingdom inspired by Spain (Galdiz) and her birth father hailed from an enchanted kingdom inspired by Scandinavia.”
Blogger and co-founder of SpanglishBaby, Ana Flores, who has worked with Disney in the past, was skeptical from the beginning, as the story of Disney’s first Latina princess took hold. Her theory was that “what Disney executives meant was that Sofia could be anything you wanted her to be because she’s a fictional character. If they wanted her to be our first Latina princess, they would have been shouting it out themselves.”
Commentary on the Disney Facebook post was decidedly positive, with many fans saying that it doesn't matter what her heritage is but that they’re just excited to watch the movie when it debuts on November 18.
But elsewhere, moms talked about how if Sofia was the first Latina princess, she should “look more Latina.” Many responded to that by saying that they and their children looked like the character and that Latinas come in all different shades. But much of the prevailing sentiment was that Disney has plenty of princesses who look like Sofia, and that they would have better served by adding to diversity and providing a princess who more little Latina girls would see themselves in. The two NBC Latino Facebook posts on the story had over 600 comments as of Monday morning.
Flores says, if anything, the immense amount of attention focused on a make-believe princess demonstrates to Disney that the appetite is there for a Latina princess who is representative of the community.
“I hope that this controversy at least brings to light how loved and welcomed a Disney Latina princess would be by all,” Flores wrote.
“We really do want another princess to adore, but more than that, for our girls to see themselves and their culture brought to life with the majesty that only Disney can create.”
Adrian Carrasquillo is a multimedia journalist for NBC Latino