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Black Girl Magic, for real: Simone Brown started her own princess-for-hire company after encountering racism in her career, and is showing Black children that they can be anything ... including a princess in a fairytale.Courteous Khuyen Dinh

Black Disney princesses are breaking the glass (slipper) ceiling for little kids

“Your skin, your hair, your braids, your curls — all of those things are princess-worthy. Girls need to hear that.”

/ Source: TODAY

Growing up, Simone Brown adored Disney princesses — but as a Black girl, she got the message that she couldn’t be one.

When Brown was in 6th grade, she was so excited to be cast as Cinderella in her school play, a starring role that typically went to older students.

Although her cast was diverse, Brown felt disapproval from others that a Black person was playing Cinderella.?

“My mom had volunteered to help with makeup for the shows and she overheard (some) students ... saying something along the lines of wishing something bad happened to me so I wouldn’t get to perform," says Brown, 30, who lives in Maryland.

“Your skin, your hair, your braids, your curls — all of those things are princess-worthy. Girls need to hear that.”

Simone Brown

In another example, says Brown, “A teacher ... told me I needed to ‘tone it down’ because I was 'making the other girls in the show feel bad.’”

She wondered if a white Cinderella would get the same critique.

Brown studied vocal performance and earned her Masters in Voice from the Peabody Conservatory of Johns Hopkins. After graduating, Brown applied for a “princess for hire” role at a company that serviced children’s birthday parties — and she never heard back.

A friend speculated, “They probably just weren’t looking for a Tiana right now,” referring to Disney’s first Black princess from the 2009 film “The Princess and The Frog.”

Brown started thinking — why wait for a Fairy Godmother? She decided to create her own princess-for-hire company called Black Princess Parties DMV.

While there are hundreds of companies nationwide that hire actors to play princess roles at children’s birthday parties and other functions, only a few employ Black princesses who don't just play Tiana.

What makes Brown’s company unique is that, as a Black woman, she plays most of the princess characters — not just the Tiana-inspired “Bayou Princess” but also “The Ice Queen” (Elsa), “The Tower Princess” (Rapunzel) and more.

“It’s my way of being an activist,” says Brown. “I get to show kids, you belong here, you get to have fun here. This is a place for you to find joy and be silly and sing and dance. And you don’t have to look a certain way to find that joy.”

Brown adds, “Your skin, your hair, your braids, your curls — all of those things are princess-worthy. Girls need to hear that.”

Bianca Ottley is another princess pioneer. She says hearing stories about Black girls who got bullied for dressing up like Princess Elsa was partly why she started A Princess Like Me NYC in 2017.

“Having Black women play this role for little girls can be seen as a mode of resistance.”

Patricia Davis, Northeastern University

Ottley’s clients can hire Black and Hispanic women to play fairy tale princesses, Barbie, unicorns, pirates, classic mascots and more. “A lot of the times people request specifically a Spanish-speaking princess or a Black Ice Princess for (their) daughter,” Ottley, 30, tells TODAY.com.

In the beginning, says Ottley, “A lot of parents said, ‘Wow — I didn’t even know this was possible and it’s such a cool concept.’ The memories definitely last a long time with the kids ... We sing the same songs and it’s like, ‘This person looks just like me too.’”

Just like Brown, Ottley says some people thought she should only play Princess Tiana.

“I always have that fear whenever going to a party ... more so if there are older kids there .... sometimes they can make snarky remarks or ruin the magic a little bit,” says Ottley. “For the most part, the parents and kids are excited.”

Entrepreneurs like Brown and Ottley play an important role in a world where Black children are often starved of positive media role models, according to Patricia Davis, a critical/cultural studies scholar at Northeastern University.?

“Most little girls are conditioned to believe in the princess narrative – an ultra-feminine image that (many) will aspire to at some point,” Davis tells TODAY.com. “Black girls have historically been denied the ability to subscribe to that ... They can’t necessarily see themselves in that world, so having Black women play this role for little girls can be seen as a mode of resistance, a way of telling little girls that yes, you can aspire to it.”?

Black people are, time and again, misrepresented in the media, and it starts early, according to a 2021 report by Common Sense Media. Some of the report's findings:

  • “Characters of color in shows most watched by children age 2 to 13 are more likely to be depicted as violent.”
  • “Among Black elementary school girls, exposure to Black TV characters is associated with more positive feelings about their own status, appearance, and happiness.”
  • “White people occupy 76% of lead roles on streaming and network TV shows, even though they represent only 60% of the population. The overrepresentation of White people may contribute to children developing an inaccurate understanding of the social world.”

Where are all the Black princesses?

There are 13 official Disney princesses and six are women of color. Only one (Princess Tiana) is Black.

“The Princess and The Frog” inspired actor Halle Bailey to play Arielle in last year’s live-action remake of “The Little Mermaid,” she said.

“Black princesses are possible. We deserve to take up these spaces too.”

Halle Bailey

The film was met with a barrage of criticism that a white actor wasn’t hired to match Disney’s 1989 animated depiction. But many Black girls (and their mothers) shared ecstatic reactions on social media.

“When I saw those for the first time, I just cried,” Bailey told Glamour in May 2023 of the viral videos showing little Black girls light up and sing along while watching her movie. “I was sobbing uncontrollably. The fact that these babies are looking at me and feeling the emotions that they’re feeling is a really humbling, beautiful thing.”

“I know how much of that movie changed my whole perspective on life,” added Bailey. “Wow, this is possible. Black princesses are possible. We deserve to take up these spaces too.”

Growing up, Brown related to Belle from “Beauty and the Beast,” who shared her passion for reading, and Arielle from “The Little Mermaid” because like Brown, she sang and swam.?

“It didn’t cross my mind that I could not connect with these (characters),” says Brown, “Until somebody said to me, ‘You can’t ... because you’re not white or your skin isn’t the right color.”

Rapunzel, let down your locs

Brown recalls feeling “really embarrassed” as a kid that her hair wasn’t straight. Today, she wears costume wigs that are as close as possible to her real texture.

“All my princesses have natural hairstyles — either with curly hair, locs or braids,” she says. “Or, I’ll wear my natural hair.”

“Kids see themselves in me.”

Bianca Ottley

Brown has a “Rapunzel” wig, for example, with approximately three foot-long locs instead of blonde hair.??

Brown and Ottley say Black children at birthday parties notice, and it matters to them.?

“Kids see themselves in me ... It’s just a bit more relatable,” Ottley says. “I’ve always wanted to bring that magic and joy (to kids).”

One small step for a princess? Maybe. But these glass slippers are forging a new path for the next generation.?

“One thing that girls say to me is, ‘Your hair looks like my hair,’” Brown says. “And I say, ‘Yes, because you have beautiful princess hair ... just like me.’”

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