themuses

Why are there so few black women in animated moves?

Contributed by
Jul 24, 2018

For years I have been struggling with the absence of Black female characters in various genres, including animation. A few weeks ago, I mentioned the visual absence of the character Honey Best in Incredibles 2, and how not only was there the missed opportunity of showing a friendship between her and Helen, it highlighted the lack of Black female characters in major animation productions on a whole.
 
Since the inception of animated films almost a hundred years ago, there have been very few characters who are Black women, be they leads or supporting. It wasn't until the Muses in 1997's Hercules that we got any significant screen time or story importance, thanks to Calliope, Clio, Thalia and Terpsichore (voiced by Cheryl Freeman, Lillias White, Roz Ryan, Vanéese Y. Thomas and LaChanze respectively) narrating the story of how Hercules came to be. With catchy karaoke-worthy songs like "Gospel Truth" and "Zero to Hero," they quickly became fan favorites.
 
The next visible Black woman in a major animation production was 2001 when Disney released their sci-fi adventure Atlantis: The Lost Empire featuring Kidagakash "Kida" Nedakh, the princess of Atlantis. With her dark brown skin, white hair and blue eyes, Kida was unlike any other animated character previously seen. But unlike the muses, Kida was front and center, voiced by the amazing Cree Summers, Kida was the first time we saw a black woman in a position of power. After the death of her father, she took up the mantle of protector and becomes Queen of Atlantis. Even with this step forwards in representation, Kida is also one of the only Disney princesses to be left out of promotions and cast roundups.
 
To date, the only "official" black Disney Princess Tiana from The Princess and The Frog, released in 2009. Though Tiana is the second black Disney princess, out of the 11 official Disney princesses she is the only one who spent the majority of her film in animal form (as a frog), and that in itself is a problem. Yes, Tiana returned to her human form at the end of the film, but when it comes to representation, how it's done matters just as much.

Princess Tiana

 
With so few positive black female characters in animation films as a whole (not just from Disney studios), we need to actually see that they're Black. To transform them into not only another form, but an animal that is considered to be slimy and gross by most children — and adults — carries a negative connotation, whether we want to admit it or not.
 
When The Incredibles was released in 2004, fans fell in love with Honey (voiced by Kimberly Adair Clarke). Even though we couldn't see her, her brief verbal interaction with Lucius intrigued and entertained audiences. Incredibles 2 would have been the first time we got to see a dark skin Black female superhero in major animation feature film. Little Black girls, their moms, sisters, aunts and even grandmothers have been waiting to see a character like Honey. For decades we've been waiting to see more characters that look like us, in a medium of entertainment that we invest in and enjoy.

When it comes to representation in film, it doesn't matter if it's live action of animated. Everyone wants to see themselves on screen. It's time we had more heroes and princesses of color for young children to look up to. 

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