Disney Unveils Its First Black Princess

Anika Noni Rose plays Tiana, a royal entrepreneur

Anika Noni Rose

Tony award-winning actress Anika Noni Rose will give voice to Princess Tiana in Disney's The Princess and the Frog. (Source: Disney)

Playing princess is something shared by little girls around the world. But until recently, the most recognizable princesses worldwide featured in the Disney Co. franchise did not include one that modeled the skin, hair, and facial features associated with women of African descent.

Princess Tiana, the heroine of Disney’s new movie The Princess and the Frog, changed that when she made her debut Monday at this year’s American International Toy Fair in New York. Starting in Fall 2009, the company will sell dolls, t-shirts, backpacks, and other products that feature the likeness of Princess Tiana, Disney’s first American princess who also happens to be its first black princess. The movie will air in theaters nationwide during this year’s holiday season.

“We did a lot of work internally to make sure that the product that we were developing would speak to a really broad range of moms,” says Kathy Franklin, the vice president of global studio franchise animation and Disney consumer products. “We don’t see Princess Tiana product as being just for African American girls at all. But we want little girls who have not seen Disney Princesses who look like them to see Princess Tiana and be thrilled that they have a character in our franchise who speaks to them and how they see themselves as a princess.”

Tony award-winning actress Anika Noni Rose will give voice to Princess Tiana. Talk show host and business mogul Oprah Winfrey will play the voice of Eudora, and Oscar-nominated actor Terrence Howard also voices a character in the movie.

Noni Rose says she was “thrilled” to give life to the first black Disney princess. “It has been a lifelong dream of mine to voice a Disney character and to have it be this one could not be more exciting,” she added.

The story is set in 1920s New Orleans. To prepare for the role, Noni Rose says she “listened to a lot of music of the era, watched documentaries, and read up on New Orleans at that time.”

Franklin describes Tiana as a smart, aspiring entrepreneur. “Her dream is not to marry a prince. Her dream is to open a restaurant. It is a dream that she has had from the beginning,” Franklin says.

Princess Tiana dolls will be introduced in several sizes and at several price points, which will be determined by the retailers. The dolls will include a standard collector fashion doll equivalent in scale to a Barbie doll, a Tiana toddler doll, a doll that holds a talking frog, and a doll set with Tiana and Prince Naveen, her tadpole-hopping love interest post-transformation.

This year the Disney princess franchise, which accrues $4 billion in yearly retail sales worldwide, will celebrate its 10-year anniversary. Tiana will be the ninth character, the fourth princess of color, and

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