The new adaptation of Cinderella marks the eighth revival of the tale. Cinderella is a young girl oppressed by her family, forced to live as a servant under women who value aristocracy and wealth above granting another her basic human rights.

It’s no wonder there’s so much talk of women hating women.

But Cinderella is not the only Disney princess to overcome abhorrent circumstances. In the end, Prince Charming comes and saves the damsel in distress.

It begs the question: Can Disney princesses be considered feminists?

Up until Elsa and Ana, from Frozen, came into the picture, nearly all Disney princesses started from the bottom and, regardless of how hard they worked, became royalty as a result of a prince entering into their lives.

Disney portrays the stereotype of women needing a man to be happy – an aspect of life children duly note. To add, many credit Elsa and Ana as the first feminists featured in an animated Disney film.

Let’s not forget stunning women like Mulan, Pocahontas, Tiana, Nani and Kida.

These women accomplished unheard of feats given their circumstances and are worthy of being called feminists.

Mulan took the place of her ailing father to participate in a war that rocked the foundation of China. Undoubtedly, she played a monumental role in saving the country – the emperor himself said so. Even though she accomplished these deeds while masquerading as a man, I think any woman who has the ability to stand up for herself, her family and her country is an inspiration.

Pocahontas took a stand against the Europeans trying to invade Native American tribal land and defied the wishes of her father, the chief of her tribe. Her strength and belief in those she encountered, regardless of their origin, is noteworthy. If “feminism” is defined as the equal treatment of individuals regardless of sex and gender, Pocahontas exemplifies this construct. Her father, Powhatan, says “My daughter speaks with the wisdom beyond her years. We’ve all come here with anger in our hearts, but she comes with courage and understanding.”

Tiana, from Princess and the Frog, dedicated her life to achieving her goal. From childhood, she worked hard to follow her dream of opening her own restaurant, in spite of coming from poverty. And although the charming Prince Naveen gives her the time of day with dinner dates and frog smooches, she maintains her focus. She handles her business, equipped with diligent understanding of its economics and overall operation.

Naveen is accustomed to riches, spending all his time avoiding responsibility. If anything, Tiana’s story is one that depicts men aren’t as reliable or considerate as society sometimes deems.

Yes, she did become a princess, but she reached success on her own volition and in the end, the prince needed her to save them both. And of all the animated princess movies, Tiana’s persona accurately emulates the modern day woman.

Nani, from Lilo & Stitch, was a young woman who took on the role of mother and provider to her little sister, Lilo. It’s no secret Lilo was in a world of her own, and frequently got into trouble. Despite the hardship she faced, Nani persisted and handled her situation in a manner that benefited her family.

It’s not easy to work, maintain a home and keep up with a small, eccentric child, all the while dealing with alien intruders.

She is a great role model because when the going got tough, she adapted. In particular, Nani shows any ordinary girl can rise to the occasion. She displays immense strength and compassion as she adjusts to Lilo’s needs and, ultimately, all the drama Stitch brings with him.

“‘Ohana’ means family. Family means no one is left behind – or forgotten,” and Nani exemplifies what it means to put family first.

Princess Kida, from Atlantis: The Lost Empire, is a princess and a hunter, who is empowered and respected among her people. She is a protector, a role commonly given to men. Although, she eventually marries Milo, she is weary of his presence and crew. She requires him to prove himself before she befriends him.

As a little girl, she suffered a great tragedy when her mother died, but as a young woman she is not resentful, hateful or weak. She is not destroyed by tragedy but strengthened by her need to help her people survive, leading her to sacrifice herself in the end. She is as considerate as she is stubborn. She is as suspicious as much as she is kind. She is a good example of someone who stepped outside of her comfort zone to in order to save an entire society being overlooked by those in positions of power.

Elsa and Ana may be the newest additions.

But to overlook women like Tiana and Kida is a disservice, not only to them, but to all the women who were inspired by their strength and resolute resilience.

headshotNadia Barnett is a freshman journalism major and can be reached at

One response to “Blog: From Tiana to Pocahontas – Feminism in Disney Animation”

  1. Indil Avatar

    It’s interesting that all of the characters you point out are minorities (Asian, Native American, Black American, Pacific Islander, and Atlantean [okay, not technically a real minority I guess but she isn’t super white-washed – at least I don’t think so but you’re welcome to disagree]). What does this say about Disney and feminism? Alternatively, what does this say about people who are now saying Elsa and Anna are the only/first feminist Princesses?
    I was going to say that perhaps people hadn’t thought about these characters because they’re from more obscure movies (Atlantis) or aren’t part of the cannon of “Disney Princesses” (Nani is no where near royalty), but Mulan and Pocahontas are both well-known and were even originally considered Disney Princesses though neither of them really are in title Princesses, and Tiana is a well-known addition to that cannon (though she’s had her own issues with perception of her feminism which I think you addressed nicely). What are your thoughts on these questions?

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