When I was a little girl, I grew up watching Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty. Then eventually Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. But before the age of 10, all the princesses looked like me and came from Europe, like my ancestors. Come to think of it, even She-ra, Jem, and Barbie looked like me. They were the stories I grew up with (in addition to Looney Toons and Mickey Mouse, of course).
Then, somehow, when Aladdin, The Lion King, Pocahontas, Esmerelda, Mulan, Emperor’s New Groove, and the other next generation movies began to come out, it never occurred to me that something might have been wrong with people of other cultures being at the center of attention (as an adult I’m extremely aware of the historical and other issues in a lot of these movies, but that’s not my point here). I just saw other humans with other cool stories from other parts of the world. New princesses and princes to imitate. Let’s roll, right?
Something tells me that there were a lot more conversations happening around me than I realized. Very likely not at my house. My mom would have killed them quickly since she was raised by a father, born in the 1910s, who had somehow understood that racism is both taught and ingrained – and that both are inherently wrong. However, in the world at large, I would bet that there was some backlash to Disney Co. suddenly branching out into the world of people of color. Telling stories beyond the European narrative that began their fortune.
I don’t want to debate Disney itself here. What I do want to say is this: the stories we place in front of our children matter. The backgrounds and nationalities of the heroines and heroes. The skin-tones and genders. The ways they love and the families in which they live. All of these things matter. Immensely. The more diverse and inclusive the grouping, the better. Think big picture. Remember that God loves wondrous variety and great adventures. For some reason that seems to be something everyone is forgetting these days.
And here is something I want everyone who has children who look like mine to think about: my little giants are currently in the most privileged group of people that exist – white boys. That could change in the future depending on a few factors, but some of it won’t.
So, in the meantime, we make sure that the majority of the movies they watch have heroines and heroes who are people of color. We ensure they see families in their movies and books that do not look like the “perfect” dream family – because guess what? Ours certainly doesn’t, and that is perfectly okay. We have books that break gender roles, encourage consent, and take on rape culture directly (and no, that does not mean we talk about sex – they’re five, thank you very much). We have storybooks with love stories that look different than traditional fairy tales. We have books about God that are so expansive some church’s heads would probably explode.
In our house, like my own family growing up, we do our best to call out hard truths when we see them. We don’t hide what’s actually happening in the world from our kids. We just figure out how to explain them in ways they might understand. Most importantly, we teach our children that every voice, every body, every human and their story matters. No matter who they are. That we are loved. And are made to love others.
It’s just that simple. And it’s just that hard. But the truth is this: it’s just that important.