Disney allowed its first black princess character to shill watermelon-flavored candy.Their Disney Princess Dig ‘n Dips Valentine card packets (think Fun Dip) shows a fair-skinned Sleeping Beauty smiling on the vanilla side and Princess Tiana peddling watermelon.
The watermelon trope has historically been used to identify African Americans in a pejorative way. According to David Pilgrim, curator of the Jim Crow Museum, “These images on postcards, sheet music, ashtrays, and souvenirs are visual expressions of the stereotype of Blacks as ignorant, mindless buffoons. Why worry about persistent patterns of institutional racism and racial economic and health disparities when you can just eat a watermelon?”
Disney has an unfortunate history with racial stereotypes, from the “Red Man” Indian chief in Peter Pan, to the Siamese cats in The Aristocats, to Disney’s evolving portrayal of black characters as crows (Dumbo) to a monkey (The Jungle Book). The company has all but disowned 1946’s The Song of the South due to its racist content.
When Disney first began working on The Princess and the Frog in 2009, critics scrutinized the company’s production choices to make sure that it didn’t perpetuate racially charged stereotypes. (Princess Tiana was the subject of unsourced internet rumours that she had been originally conceived as a chambermaid named Maddy, before her change of name and occupation, to a chef, according to The New York Times.)
It could be that the Dig ‘n Dips packaging was pure coincidence. In Disney’s “Fairies Dig-n-Dips Candy Packs” a Caucasian fairy sells the watermelon candy while the one black fairy sells the exotic “Tropical Fruit” flavour.
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