Disney has announced Princess Elena of Avalor as their first Latina princess.
Let me first say, the socially-conscious activist in me understands the racist undertones behind numerous Disney movies and their heroes and heroines throughout the years. Stereotypes abound in classics like Aladdin (which happens to be my favorite) but as we all know, Disney isn’t the only American film and television vehicle painting Arabs with one brush. On a much more positive note, Princess Jasmine awakened pride in my Middle Eastern heritage in a way I couldn’t explain when I was younger, but I felt it. As I explained to Nice Kicks when I released my Jasmine-inspired signature sneaker with Reebok Classics in 2012:
“There aren’t enough positive images of Middle Eastern women and men in the Western world. Princess Jasmine, to me, was a balance of a woman holding on to her tradition and her morals, but at the same time she had this fiery, independent side that just wanted to explore and live her life. I identify with that 100 percent. I would always incorporate elements of her traditional style into my own street style, so when I had the opportunity to do this sneaker I really incorporated every element of her most iconic outfit. I had to have tiger print because she had a pet tiger and I had to have blue jewelry for her crown. Us Middle Eastern women are known for our love of animal print, gold jewelry, and a lot of black eyeliner [laughs]! I really wanted it to be an identifier of my culture more than anything else. Princess Jasmine to me was a boss lady.”
Now it’s time for my Latina sisters to finally have their own princess in the franchise. Princess Elena will make her debut on a special episode of Sofia the First, the Disney Junior network’s hit show for preschoolers, sometime next year. In a statement released today, the network describes Elena as “a confident and compassionate teenager in an enchanted fairy tale kingdom inspired by diverse Latin cultures and folklore.” While there’s no feature film talk for Elena just yet, she’ll have her own spin-off called Elena of Avalor featuring a supporting cast including grandfather Tito, grandmother Cici, adviser Duke Esteban, and wizard-in-training Mateo.
Elena of Avalor will tell stories “influenced by culture and traditions that are familiar to the world-wide population of Hispanic and Latino families and reflect the interests and aspirations of all children as told through a classic fairy tale,” Disney Junior general manager Nancy Kanter says. Elena will be voiced by Aimee Carrero, 26, the Dominican Republic-born star of ABC Family’s Young & Hungry.