A small company in Clarksville has had to face a dilemma: The majority of the most famous cartoon princess characters are white.
It’s no small thing for Royal Entertainment Character Company, which sends costumed actors to kids’ parties and civic events.
And that fact has never been comfortable for the group’s Black actresses, like Joy Pointe. Until Disney’s 2009 film, “The Princess and the Frog,” which debuted Princess Tiana, she felt overlooked.
“Before there was a Tiana, I leaned heavily towards Esmeralda from ‘Hunchback of Notre Dame,’ who’s not even a princess,” Pointe says. “I thought, ‘Where am I as a princess and do they care that I want to see me there?’ ”
Until recently, she has typically portrayed a Tiana look-alike that the company calls the “Bayou Princess.”
But that’s changing. Company founder Jehieli De-Jesus says it’s no longer acceptable to accept the limitations — or to joke about them.
“I remember I would ask everyone to pick a princess to dress up as. Joy would joke about being Elsa and we all replied with ‘ha ha.’ And then it finally hit,” she says, referring to the enormously popular Elsa character in the “Frozen” movies, who is white.
“Finally, I thought ‘Why not? It’s your business.’ ”
She says the simple realization was right in front of her. But she needed a shakeup, including thinking about the nationwide movement for racial justice. Now, Royal Entertainment is diversifying characters such as the “Snow Sisters,” who resemble Elsa and her sister Anna from “Frozen.”
“It all starts in childhood,” De-Jesus says. “So, if we can put some positive representation out there for everyone to be inspired by, then I feel like that’s something really important that we can do just with our little character company.”
“It’s showing kids we do care, we see you, and we want you to feel seen, feel loved, feel represented,” Pointe says.
Thus far, the response has been positive. The troupe is still making appearances during the pandemic while following health precautions — like adding face shields to their ornate ball gowns and other costumes.
Pointe says she likes the roles already played, but is looking forward to a wider range.
“I can’t wait,” she says. “It’s showing kids that your favorite character that you didn’t think you could see in a different color, you can, and you are just as much of a princess.”