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May 28, 2017

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Disney finally has a black princess

You watched the Disney movies, sure enough, as other girls watched them.

And you put on your mother's pink nightgown and tied a long silk scarf on your head. And you danced, swirling in circles to the imaginary strings of orchestras.

Dreaming of the day when someone would come on a white horse and make everything all right.

You danced even as the background music in your head played another beat: your mother's voice.

It seemed as though every black mother on the block told her girls: Get your education; don't be worried about those little boys up the street; and, if you do get married, make sure you have your own bank account.

There would be no prince galloping in on a horse, black or white, to save you.

That was the story line of our fairy tales. We never learned to be damsels in distress.

And Hollywood never gave us someone who looked like us. Not a black princess, or a black prince.

Still, that did not mean we didn't sit in front of those old television sets, watching Disney movies and dreaming big, floaty, fanciful dreams. Most little girls —­­­­ no matter the color — think there really is a prince out there who is looking for her alone, who will love her forever.

This season, little black girls everywhere will go to see the movie "The Princess and the Frog," featuring Disney's first black princess. But it's unlikely the movie will mean as much to those girls — especially since so many now have multicultural lives — as it means for their mothers sitting beside them, perhaps holding their hands and remembering their own childhoods.

"I'm probably more excited about this than my daughter because she doesn't realize the history of it," said Shalaun Newton, 41, of Bowie, Md. "During my childhood, I didn't realize I was missing anything until recent years."

She played with Barbies and was into princesses in a grounded kind of way. "But as a child I don't recall thinking in the sense I'm going to grow up and a prince will carry me off to Never-Never Land ... I take after my father, more career-oriented, more independent. I thought, `I can take care of myself. I don't have to have a prince to carry me away.' "

Because Hollywood never gave us black princesses who married black princes and lived happily ever after, we created our own.

"I bought into all the fairy tales. Did I want to be a princess? Did I want to be swept off my feet? Absolutely," says Alice Thomas, 46, a mother in Washington, D.C. "But my vision of a princess is not the image of a Disney princess. It's of an African princess. ... Did I want the Disney fantasy, too? Sure. I was a kid. We all wanted the fantasy. It wasn't that I needed a prince to come save me. I needed a prince to fall in love with me."

Now comes the movie many black women have been waiting for. "The Princess and the Frog," inspired by an 18th-century fairy tale, "The Frog Princess," seems different from other Disney princess movies for more reasons than race. This version is set not in a faraway land. The princess is not a damsel in distress. The prince is not her savior.

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