Disney's First African-American Princess
By Ying Chu
It may be another fairy tale, but The Princess and the Frog the much-buzzed-about, hotly scrutinized Disney film set in 1920s New Orleans is hardly superficial. For the first time in the storied studio's animated history, an African-American princess takes the title role (Jasmine from 1992's Aladdin was the first ethnic princess), reinforcing the message en masse that black is beautiful. And to get it right Princess Tiana's rounder features, her Southern inflection, and even her hairstyles (it's not your basic Barbie skin-color swap) Disney smartly called up the experts, from Oprah to members of the NAACP. They even asked Brooklyn-based beauty line Carol's Daughter (with devotees-cum-investors like Jada Pinkett Smith and Jay-Z) to whip up the official grooming goods, upping ethnic authenticity and appeal for black women and beyond. Of course, Tiana isn't the first girl to challenge the conventions of American beauty think of songbird Josephine Baker who ruled the roaring '20s with her then-"exotic" looks and styling; the gutsy Pat Evans, who shunned the modeling world's requisite black perm (chemical straightening) and buzzed her hair; the striking ebony curves of Naomi Sims, Grace Jones, Alek Wek and Michelle Obama who inspired artists and designers alike. Instead, Tiana is an homage to the many empowering black beauties before her. And that, in itself, makes for a happy ending.
1920s Josephine Baker puts black beauty in the spotlight with her Paris debut.
1940s Lena Horne, the first woman of color to ink a major Hollywood contract, signs with MGM.
1960s DIVAS LIVE: The statement-making stylings of The Supremes; model and Andy Warhol muse Donyale Luna.
1968 Paco Rabanne casts color on the catwalk; the bald and the beautiful Pat Evans.
1969 With model Naomi Sims on its cover, Life commemorates the influence of the African- American aesthetic.
1974 CURL POWER: Pam Grier as Foxy Brown works her 'fro a look made famous by Sly and the Family Stone in the late '60s.
1983 CROWNING GLORY: Vanessa Williams wins Miss America, only to have her title revoked after nude photos turn up in Penthouse. First runner-up Suzette Charles takes over and becomes the second black woman to carry the coveted crown.
2000s ROLE MODELS: Cosmetic companies break beauty archetypes to sell makeup: MAC signs Mary J. Blige, Lil' Kim, and Missy Elliot for the Viva Glam campaign; CoverGirl face Queen Latifah creates the Queen line.
2002 Revlon stunner, Halle Berry snags an Oscar.
2009 Carol's Daughter makes grooming goods for princesses of all shades.