Anika Noni Rose, who voiced Princess Tiana in the 2009 animated film "The Princess and the Frog," is opening up about her trailblazing role voicing the first Black Disney princess.
"It is an amazing legacy to have been the first," Rose told People in its latest issue. "I feel like because of how much people still love Tiana, people's minds were opened towards other things."
Surprisingly, Rose said that she often gets recognized for voicing the historic character.
"I've been out and doing things and had people standing behind me say, 'I really like your voice. You're Princess Tiana,'" she explained. "I'm like, 'Oh, OK, I am.' It's amazing. It's always surprising, but it lifts my heart. That in itself is an honor that people recognize you that way."
The 47-year-old actor also spoke to the recent casting of Halle Bailey, a Black singer and actor, as Ariel in Disney's upcoming live-action iteration of "The Little Mermaid."
"Halle is magnificent and a beautiful young woman with a beautiful voice, and I think she's dead perfect for that," she said of the casting decision that prompted some backlash. "It's hard to say, 'This is what I did.' You know? But I'm grateful to have been able to open that door, and I'm excited to see what she does because her voice is really magical. It should be really fun to see."
On the topic of diversity in media, Rose says that while there have been great accomplishments, there is still much work left to be done.
"When we don't include children of color in fantasy, we are saying that they don't exist in that space of adventure and imagination," the "Dreamgirls" star said. "That can really stunt a child's joy and proclivity forward. Maybe they're going to be the next great author. Maybe they're going to be the next great artist. Maybe they're going to be the next great musician. It's that much harder for that child when they don't see themselves in that space."
"Fantasy is not a real thing," she added. "Surely if there is room for flying trees and talking chairs, then there's room for that child, whoever that child is."
Fortunately for fans of the animated film that grossed $271 million at the box office, Princess Tiana and her story are about to be immortalized in a very exciting way.
"When we don't include children of color in fantasy, we are saying that they don't exist in that space of adventure and imagination."
Anika Noni Rose
The attraction, based on the 1946 film “Song of the South,” had been criticized over the years by people who believe the movie is one of Disney’s most racist pictures. The news came two weeks after an online petition was launched, calling for a change, saying, "There is a huge need for diversity in the parks and this could help fill that need."
Disney said in a release, "We pick up this story after the final kiss, and join Princess Tiana and Louis on a musical adventure — featuring some of the powerful music from the film — as they prepare for their first-ever Mardi Gras performance.”
“The new concept is inclusive — one that all of our guests can connect with and be inspired by," the company continued, "and it speaks to the diversity of the millions of people who visit our parks each year."