Disney’s Latina Princess Sofia Isn’t So Latina After All

Last week, Disney announced the arrival of a new princess. A Latina princess. Sounds fantastic, right? Unfortunately, this has been just one more case of capitalist selfishness trying to edge into a vulnerable market, because Princess Sofia is everything I never wanted in my Latina princess.

Princess Sofia: a light-skinned, blue-eyed, auburn-haired princess wearing a tiara and a lavender ball gown
Princess Sofia

The Princess Industrial Complex is an evil beast, wrought from the bowels of gender-role hell and brought up in the homes of the patriarchally compliant. Now, I’m no stranger to the love of all things princessy; when I was growing up I had my fair share of dress-up tiaras and dreams of living in a fairy tale. In fact, the only tantrum I ever remember throwing occurred on the floor of the Disney Store, where I screamed for an obscenely expensive Princess Jasmine dress-up set. That was almost twenty years ago and things have only gotten worse. We’ve gone from having a “normal” amount of princess playthings to being inundated with the stuff. From toothbrushes and pillowcases to gummy snacks and bouncy balls, princess culture has taken over girlhood. Pink and princess are just fine, but only when girls have the realistic choice of picking something that is not pink and princessy, and the availability of such choices grows smaller by the day. Picking pink is fine, but not when the only color options are rose, magenta, and coral.  Despite the Complex and my sadness for our youth, I was happy to hear about a Latina princess. You see, I take what I can get these days.

I read the headline and the Latina part of me screamed “Hot damn! Finally!” I clicked on the link and what did I see but a girl named Sofia who looks as lily fucking white as they come. With her fair skin, blue eyes, and auburn hair she could just as easily be French or English or any other sort of Anglo.  But no, they’re calling her Latina. As in, from Latin America. I’m not ignorant of the variation of color. Not everyone who is Latina/Hispanic/Chicana is brown. Not everyone is dark; some people are fair-skinned, some people have jet black hair, some have brown hair, and others are blonde. Brown eyes, hazel eyes, blue eyes, it’s all there. I’m half Latina and you’d never know unless I told you, but it doesn’t mean I’m not. Here’s the thing: I live in Texas, in a diverse city with a huge Hispanic population and a logically huge number of little brown girls who love the Disney Princess culture even though they don’t see themselves in it. These girls are all over the United States, even if they’re erased by popular media.

As much as I hate this princess narrative, this idea that all a girl wants to grow up to live in a fancy house with servants and a big, strong man to take care of her, I want these girls of color to at least see that it’s even possible to have something like this. I want those girls with the jet-black hair and the brown skin to see  themselves represented, because right now they’re getting the oh-so-popular message that they are less-than. The see that they don’t deserve that kind of life because it’s for the light-skinned girls. After all, they’re the ones in the movies and the magazines, right? And now, even with Princess Sofia, they’ll get the same message. They’ll know that colorism is alive and well and that it’s making out quite comfortably in the safety of popular media.

Disney made the statement earlier this week (after the outcry from one side about even having yet another non-white princess and the outcry from the other that she looks just like every other princess with the exceptions of Jasmine and Tiana) proclaiming that no, she isn’t really Latina. She’s just meant to come from a place that’s like Europe, and from a country that’s like Spain. Hold on a minute, first they tell us that she isn’t really Latina, and then they tell us that even if she was, she’d be from Spain?! Spain, a European country without all of the colonialist baggage that we have to deal with in the United States, where Disney’s market is. Technically, she could be considered Hispanic if she is meant to come from Spain, but when entities like Disney use Hispanic and Latina/o interchangeably, that doesn’t really matter. Of course, she supposed to be “relatable to kids from many different backgrounds including Spain and Latin America.” It’s as if they’re letting all of the pearl-clutchers know that it’s okay because she isn’t really Latina! And if she were, she would be from Spain, not Mexico or any of those other icky south of the border places that send their criminals to climb the fence or something. And frankly, that’s bullshit.

We don’t need this princess culture and all of its patriarchal messages, but I work with what I’m given. And these girls, these Latinas and Chicanas and Hispanic girls who are constantly getting the message that they’re dirty, worthless, lazy, stupid freeloaders, they need a Latina princess. They need to see that, because maybe, just maybe, it might be that visual that helps them to stop hating themselves. Other girls, girls in mainstream “American” culture, need it too, so just maybe they won’t enforce the stereotypes and the hate that their culture tells them to. And so shame on you once again, Disney. Shame on you for making me hope that you might be sending out a positive message. I guess we’ll just have to keep waiting.

By Elfity

Elfity, so named for her tendency to be a bit uppity and her elf-like appearance, is a graduate student and professional Scary Feminist of Rage. She has a propensity for social justice, cheese, and Doctor Who. Favorite activities include making strange noises, napping with puppies and/or kitties, and engaging in political and philosophical debates.

7 replies on “Disney’s Latina Princess Sofia Isn’t So Latina After All”

Ok, I know Sophia has been on the backburner of my awareness radar for a while now, when did they make her “Latina”? I kinda liked the idea of having a little girl friendly cartoon even if it had to be princess stuff, but she has always looked like a mini Belle to me, and I just figured she was generic psudo-European.

And on a semi-related note, how did Disney get to the awesomeness that is Lilo and Stitch and then fall away so badly? Lilo and Stitch was good. It did well theatrically. It had a spin off show. Toys, games, you name it. And it was about a native Hawaiian girl who was just a girl (arguably some of the later stuff became more Stitch-centric, but I digress). She had an awesome little kid pot belly. She was quirky without falling into total tomboy stereotype zone. It can be done. People will watch it. (Also it was technically amazing. The animation is drool worthy. Sophia looks very generic 3-D to me.)

Opifex – Doc McStuffins is a pretty good follow-up to Lilo. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have a movie but does have a TV show on Disney Jr. My son idolizes Doc! She’s African American, and Actually looks it, even down to her hair (I hate when shows constantly depict African American girls with long straight flowing hair). She’s a doctor for toys. She is proud and confident, but more importantly she’s very intelligent and aware of her intelligence- traits that aren’t usually illuminated in ‘girl’ shows. Plus, her mother (who has short curly hair) is a Doctor and is assumed to be the bread winner of the family as the father is never said to have a job. Instead, there are scenes where the dad is making the kids breakfast, gardening, and doing house work!

When I first heard of princess Sophia, I thought Disney realized how right they got it with Doc, and tried to duplicate that success in the ‘princess’ realm with a latina princess. Boy was I wrong.

Leave a Reply