Recently artist AleXsandro Palombo created images of the usual disney princesses (including Snow White, Cinderella and Pocahontas) with disabilities.
(image description: This is a picture of nine of the Disney Princesses – I can’t name them all as I’m not up enough on Disney to be able to so – all of which have been reimagined as though they had a disability. They are all either manual wheelchair users, amputees or both. Some of them are standing with crutches and some are standing unsupported. Four use wheelchairs. It’s on a pink background and across the top it reads “Which Disney Princess are you?” in the trademark Disney font. There is another version of the same picture doing the rounds with the headline changed to “do you still like us?)
I really can’t decide if I do like this picture.
AleXsandro Palombo has been quoted as saying he wanted to challenge stereotypes of beauty. I think it probably does that but I also think it probably plays into some negative stereotypes of disability. In fact my first thought was this was yet another able-bodied person trying to portray disability without much knowledge of it. I’ve since discovered that the artist is recently disabled though so that’s my bad. I probably should have known better than to make such assumptions.
There is a much wider range of disabilities than just being an amputee and/or using a manual wheelchair and that isn’t shown. No real thought has been given to the portrayal either. The very first of the princesses shown (I don’t know who she is but I think she might be from Mulan) is in a manual wheelchair. She also has no arms so she has no way of moving. Even the NHS with it’s ridiculously strict criteria would have given that girl a powerchair.
All of the wheelchairs are identical (and the wheelchair geek in me can’t help but notice none of them fit the people sat in them). Big clunky ones that would be really hard to push yourself in and scream look at me. As one friend of mine put it they look like the sort of thing the NHS gave out in the 1940s. Where’s the wheelchairs that show the user’s personality. Or at least the wheelchairs in a contrasting colour to their trademark dresses. You can’t tell me that the Fairy Godmother would have put all that effort into Cinder’s dress and coach and not blinged out her wheelchair for her?
(Image description: in this picture Cinderella appears in a wheelchair – she didn’t in the one above – her dress is pulled to one side and a prosthetic leg can be seen. Prince Charming is knelt at her feet with a red cushion on the floor. His hands are out by Cinderella’s foot as though he’s fitting something on to it, maybe a shoe like in the original version or maybe it’s the foot onto the prosthetic leg.)
Plus, there is no consistency between the images. In the first picture Cinderella’s right arm has been amputated. In the second one I’ve shared she has a right arm (although it could be a prosthetic one perhaps) but her left has been amputated
I’d much rather see Disney do a new film with a wheelchair using or otherwise disabled princess than reimagine what’s already been done (I specify that I’d like to see a wheelchair user because that’s my disability so it’s usually what I think of first). Sticking Snow White in a wheelchair, amputating one of Pocahotas’ legs and making her use crutches is just a thing and does nothing. Unless we get a film with both of them newly disabled and exploring it with some form of valid plot other than “look poor Snow White can’t walk any more” in which case I’m all for it. Or a version of Cinderella where she leaves her leg behind instead of her shoe? Bring it on.
I really love the idea of Disney making their characters more inclusive. But I can’t say I liked this version of it. It might challenge stereotypes of beauty. However it could also encourage the idea of disabled people as objects of pity. And most importantly it shouldn’t take a controversial artist to do such things. It’s 2014. 1 in 6 people in the UK has some form of disability and with the ageing population and improved medical care that figure is rapidly rising. Companies like Disney should be doing this without being asked or being told.