Meet the newest Princess to enter the House of Mouse: 16-year-old Her Royal Highness Princess Elena of Avalor. The highly anticipated first Latina Disney Princess will debut in 2016 in a special episode of Disney Junior’s Sofia the First, and then star in her own spin-off series, Elena of Avalor. The new show will follow Elena as she rules over her kingdom. She will be voiced by 26-year-old Latina actress Aimee Carrero of ABC Family’s Young & Hungry.
While Elena shares similar physical attributes to her Disney Princess counterparts—huge almond-shaped eyes, flushed pink cheeks, an impossibly svelte figure, and voluminous hair—having a Latina princess is being heralded by many as an inspiring move for young girls. Michelle Herrera Mulligan, the Editor-in-Chief of Cosmopolitan for Latinas raves, “Having a princess/role model who looks like them is a huge step forward for girls’ self-perception everywhere. Most Latinas have darker skin tones, so Elena is very welcome!” However, Mulligan feels the most crucial aspect of Elena as role model will be how Disney develops her personality and confidence. “As her back story emerges, we hope Disney conceives a fully realized character. Elena’s staying power will only be as strong as her character is, so we can’t wait to see what comes next!”
While Disney’s announcement has been met with celebration, it has also invited some skepticism. 21-year-old Mexican-American beauty blogger Miranda Mendoza of Slashed Beauty always related to Snow White the most, just because she had black hair. “It was important on Disneyland trips with friends when we all picked out souvenirs based on who we looked like,” she told Yahoo Beauty. “I think what affected me more is that regardless of heritage, most of the Disney princesses still looked the same—flowing hair, big head and tiny waist, which I certainly did not look like, and yes, did make me and my body feel a bit out of place. I think it’s great that Disney is trying to diversify their characters, but there is still a long way to go until they truly represent what real girls across the world look like.” Princess Elena may have olive skin, but her slim, body type is interchangeable with any of the other Princesses.
Samantha Leal, Deputy Editor of Latina.com, is happy about the announcement, but wants to see Disney keep moving towards more diversity with its heroines. “While Latinas come in all skin tones, eye colors and hair types, it’s fantastic to see a darker skinned, beautiful princess join the mix! That being said, I would love for Disney to continue to push forward for more demographics—a black princess that won’t spend most of the movie as a frog, a Latina princess that gets her own movie and not just a Disney Junior show, an Indian princess, and so on,” Leal said.
“Our creative team has delivered a universal story with themes that authentically reflect the hopes and dreams of our diverse audience,” Nancy Kanter, Executive Vice President and General Manager of Disney Junior Worldwide, announced. “What excites us most is the chance to tell wonderful stories influenced by culture and traditions that are familiar to the worldwide population of Hispanic and Latino families and reflect the interests and aspirations of all children as told through a classic fairy tale.” It’s a smart move given that 17 percent of the U.S. population—or 53 million people with a buying power of $1.6 trillion—is Hispanic.
While many think that Disney still has a ways to go with how they present heroines, it’s definitely a step in the right direction. “Whether you agree with the idea of teaching little girls to emulate princesses or not,” says Leal,“The fact is that seeing diversity in the princess movies is a great way to teach girls that we’re all beautiful and worthy of a crown—no matter what you look like or where you come from.”