Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Why isn't Disney's Princess Sofia Latino?

By Ruben Navarrette Jr., CNN Contributor
updated 10:18 AM EDT, Fri October 26, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ruben Navarrette: Disney's newest princess, Sofia, may or may not be Hispanic
  • Navarrette: Executive producer said Sofia is Hispanic, but Disney said she's just a princess
  • He says a lot of Hispanics -- 52 million Americans -- don't like being played with
  • Navarrette: Disney wants to dip into the Hispanic market but botched it with this attempt

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a CNN contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Follow him on Twitter: @rubennavarrette

San Diego (CNN) -- The breathtakingly incompetent way that Disney handled the introduction of what was thought to be the Magic Kingdom's first Hispanic princess has me wondering: What kind of Mickey Mouse operation is this?

Given that Hispanics spending power is worth $1.2 trillion, it's not surprising the media and entertainment behemoth wants a slice of it. But Disney's attempt has turned into a case study of how not to market a product to any group, let alone Hispanics.

Talk about magic. Apparently, Disney has the power to take Hispanics and "de-Hispanicize" them. You start off chocolate, or cafe con leche. Then, suddenly, abracadabra, you're vanilla!

News: Backlash for Disney's first Latina princess

The first casualty is Princess Sofia.

Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Ruben Navarrette Jr.

Meet Disney's newest princess, who is set to make her debut November 18 on the Disney Channel in the TV movie "Sofia the First: Once Upon a Princess." A TV series is scheduled to follow in 2013 on both the Disney Channel and Disney Junior.

Sofia is the latest addition to a very exclusive club that also happens to be one of the most lucrative franchises in the Magic Kingdom. You have the Old Guard: Snow White, Cinderella, Belle and Sleeping Beauty. Then you have the racial and ethnic wing: Mulan (Asian), Jasmine (Middle Eastern), Pocahontas (Native American) and Tiana (African-American).

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Now here comes Sofia (?).

That's the problem. We're not sure what Sofia is.

According to Craig Gerber, co-executive producer and writer on the project, Sofia was born and raised in Enchancia, a "make-believe 'melting pot' kingdom."

Usually, a little ambiguity might not be such a bad thing. We're a multicultural country. So what if a cartoon figure has an ethnic background that is unknown or undefined? No harm done.

Except for one thing. As recently as seven days ago, Sofia was Hispanic. In fact, she was introduced -- informally, haphazardly and clumsily -- as Disney's first Hispanic princess by someone who ought to know: the executive producer of the TV movie, Jaime Mitchell. In discussing Sofia with Entertainment Weekly, she confirmed: "She is Latina." Mitchell also confirmed that Sofia was the first Hispanic princess to hold court in the Magic Kingdom.

The clues were there, but you had to hunt for them. Sofia's name is spelled the Spanish way -- with an "f," not a "ph." Her mother has a dark complexion, and her name is "Miranda." And that character will have the voice of Latina actress Sara Ramirez of "Grey's Anatomy." (Sofia is being voiced by "Modern Family" star Ariel Winter.) And Gerber explained that, while Sofia is of "mixed heritage," her mother is described as having come from "an enchanted kingdom inspired by Spain (Galdiz)."

News: Disney producer 'misspoke': 'First Latina princess' isn't Latina

As the father of two little girls -- ages 7 and 3 -- this was good enough for me. The day the news broke, bracing for a Disney-style merchandizing juggernaut, I playfully posted on my wife's Facebook page a link to the story with the message: "We've finally arrived. Daddy, open wallet."

Then, ethnic pride gave way to ethnic squabbles. By being coy about Sofia's background, Disney created a vacuum. Into it, stepped three groups -- all pushing their own agendas.

There were activists who saw the fact that the company was being vague about the princess as an insult. They asked: If she is Hispanic, what's wrong with that? Why not just admit it?

There were Latino bloggers eager to engage in that favorite parlor game: "I'm authentic, you're not." If Sofia was Hispanic, why was she light-skinned? What's wrong with dark skin?

Then there were those who, responding to the bloggers, pushed back against the idea that Hispanics had to look a certain way to be authentic. Don't we come in all colors?

It all gave me flashbacks to college -- and a headache.

Meanwhile, Disney had a headache of its own. It had worked out this whole complicated salsa dance that was suddenly getting a lot more complicated. It wanted a Hispanic product that would appeal to Hispanics but would also, apparently, not turn off non-Hispanics. It wanted something that could be specific to one group and yet broad in its appeal, part of an ethnic niche and yet blended into the mainstream.

Good luck with that. It was easier turning Pinocchio into a real boy.

And now, because Mitchell had spoken out of school, and said publicly what I'm sure the Disney creative team had discussed privately -- that, yes, of course, Sofia is Hispanic -- the company was getting all the blame and none of the credit.

And so, this week, it announced that there had been a misunderstanding and that Sofia was, well, just Sofia.

Nancy Kanter, senior vice president of original programming and general manager of Disney Junior Worldwide, went to the Facebook page for "Sofia the First" and posted a statement that read: "Some of you may have seen the recent news stories on whether Sofia is or isn't a 'Latina princess.' What's important to know is that Sofia is a fairytale girl who lives in a fairytale world."

Gee, you're kidding. How did I miss that?

Sofia may be make-believe, but this public relations blunder is as real as it gets. Whereas my mother's generation, and my wife's had to put up with being ignored and overlooked by the worlds of media and entertainment, Disney has taught my girls that there is something worse -- when being designated "Hispanic" is treated as a mistake that has to be corrected.

No fairytale ending here. The new Disney princess is not Hispanic and not historic. About this, a lot of Hispanics -- 52 million Americans who don't like being played with -- are going to be, well, not happy.

Daddy, close wallet.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette Jr.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:49 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
updated 6:05 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
updated 7:42 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 1:01 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 12:37 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
LZ Granderson says Ronald Reagan went horseback riding and took a vacation after the Korean Air Crash of 1983. So why does the GOP keep airbrushing history to bash Obama?
updated 9:38 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Aaron Miller says Kerry needs the cooperation of Hamas, Israel, Egypt and others if he is to succeed in his peacemaking efforts
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Errol Louis says the tragic death of Eric Garner at the hands of the NYPD has its roots in the "broken windows" police strategy from the crime-ridden '80s.
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
updated 7:27 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Texas Gov. Rick Perry is right to immediately send 1,000 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in response to the border children crisis.
updated 9:56 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Ukraine's president says the downing of MH17 was a terrorist act, but Richard Barrett says it would be considered terrorism only if it was intentional
updated 4:15 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Robert McIntyre says the loophole that lets firms avoid taxes should be closed
updated 11:35 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett say Gov. Perry's plan to send National Guard to the border won't solve the escalating immigration problem.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Sally Kohn: The world's fish and waters are polluted and under threat. Be very careful what fish you eat
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Les Abend says threat information that pilots respond to is only as good as the intelligence from air traffic controllers. And none of it is a match for a radar-guided missile
updated 8:35 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
updated 8:27 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
updated 7:57 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
updated 10:17 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
updated 9:50 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
updated 11:07 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
updated 1:55 PM EDT, Sun July 20, 2014
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
updated 3:53 PM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
updated 3:33 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
updated 6:11 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
updated 3:14 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
updated 8:06 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
updated 8:14 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
updated 4:16 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
updated 12:01 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
updated 12:25 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
updated 2:04 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
updated 11:18 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
updated 9:24 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT