But We Dream in the Dark for the Most Part: Fantasies of Race, "Colorblind" Visibility, and the Narrative Marginalization of Black Female Protagonists in Mainstream Fantasy Media
Mitchell, Angelyn L
Fantastic stories offer new ways of dreaming, yet even in magical worlds race remains the “unspeakable thing unspoken.” My project analyzes the racialization of Black female characters positioned as protagonists in early 2000s mainstream fantasy media, looking primarily at Gwen from BBC’s Merlin, Tiana from Disney’s Princess and the Frog, and Cinderella from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella. By only incorporating Black female actors through “colorblind” casting, writers and producers make Black female characters visible but fail to incorporate the necessary cultural specificity of representation. Consequently, the adaptation of fantasies defined by white cultural values resist the new centrality of the “Dark Other” and instead re-inscribe oppressions of the racial past. These supposedly colorblind narratives of “worlds-that-never-were” cannot divorce historical settings and archetypes from their temporal connotations when applied to a Black female protagonist. In the “rags to riches” stories I analyze, the presence of a Black princess unsettles but cannot overcome race-d, gendered, and class-ed tropes linked to white femininity and the depiction of the princess. I argue that Gwen, Tiana, and Cinderella are still intersectionally marginalized within “colorblind” mythologies, even if not explicitly and not only due to skin color. These narratives then set up real Black girl audiences to dream of a world that has to ignore their embodied difference in order to include them.
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