Frozen might have been a progressive milestone for Disney, but that princess factory still has a long way to go in terms of representation and diversity of character. Disney's last princess of color was Tiana from 2009's The Princess and the Frog, who unfortunately spent too much of the film as a frog.
While fans have taken to creating their own "racebent" versions of classic Disney characters, the question still remains: Given how many great female characters there are in history and in literature, why is Disney not willing to look outside the box?
That was the question on former DreamWorks animator Jason Porath's mind when he launched his project "Rejected Princesses." Describing himself as "a guy who likes interesting, lesser-known women and would like for them to get their time in the sun," Porath decided to create Disneyfied versions of female characters who would have a hard time receiving the green light from the studio.
"I found myself really fascinated by how narrowly defined the animated princess mold was, and the massive spectrum of women across history and literature that just end up winnowed down to this tiny sliver of what ends up in the mainstream," Porath told E!Online.
While some of the characters below are undeniable badasses, others are ruthless villains whose bloodshed would never make it onto a Disney princess film. But given the dark source material behind Disney favorites such as Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid and even Frozen, one could conceivably create sanitized, kid-appropriate versions of the characters featured below. And regardless of what happens of this project, these are some powerful, three-dimensional women with fascinating stories we can all learn from.
1. Hatshepsut, the fifth pharaoh of the 18th dynasty of Ancient Egypt
"Thanks to a sustained campaign by her successors to erase all traces of her reign, it was not until fairly recently that she came back to historical prominence. She was rediscovered due to the fact that her time in power saw such an incredible proliferation of architecture, statues and art that it proved impossible to scrub mention of her from everything. So much of her work has survived to present day that almost every major museum in the world has at least one piece from her. The New York Metropolitan Museum of Art has an entire room devoted to her.
"Moreover, she did her own PR. In order to solidify her claim to the throne, she spread word that her parents were told by the gods that she was to be pharaoh. The official story was that, at the gods' behest, her mother gave birth to her in a LION'S DEN. To quiet the gossip at court, she began her rule wearing men's clothing, including the pharaoh's false beard. Once they stopped flapping their gums, she went back to wearing whatever the hell she wanted."
2. Nzinga Mbande, 17th century queen of the Ndongo and Matamba kingdoms of the Mbundu people in Angola
"She began her political life as her nation of Ndongo was fighting off a Portuguese invasion. Her brother, a by all accounts wimp, seemingly could not bend over backward far enough for the Portuguese, and once he ascended to the throne, the Portuguese just tossed him in jail and took over. Nzinga approached the Portuguese and demanded her brother's return and that they leave Ndongo. At their meeting, in a sign of disrespect, the Portuguese offered her no chair to sit in, instead providing merely a floor mat fit for servants.
"In response, Nzinga ordered one of her servants to get on all fours, sitting on her as she would a chair. After the negotiations concluded, according to some accounts ... she slit her throat in full view of everyone, and informed them that the Queen of Ndongo does not use the same chair twice. Shortly thereafter, the Portuguese agreed to let her brother go."
Yes, we can see how the throat-slitting wouldn't go over well with Disney execs.
3. Sita, heroine of the Hindu epic 'The Ramayana'
"For those unfamiliar with the Ramayana, you should seriously read it, it's incredible, but here's a CliffsNotes version: For 90% of the book, it's basically Mario/Princess/Bowser by way of Tarantino. Bad guy (Ravana) kidnaps princess (Sita), good guy (Rama) goes on bloody rampage for years in order to get her back. Kills Ravana, gets back the princess, yay for everyone.
"But that's not all. After Sita is rescued, the jealous Rama forces her to go through purity tests to make sure she did not have a relationship with Ravana. After she passed, she had this great kiss-off to her husband: Sita shows up, and is like, 'No, guys, it's cool! Hey, I'll settle this once and for all. Everyone listening? OK, so if I did NOT hook up with the demon guy, may the earth swallow me whole.' Bam, lava, the end."
4. Mariya Oktyabrskaya, first female tanker to ever win the Hero of the Soviet Union award
"During World War II, her army officer husband Ilya was killed in action. In response, Mariya sold literally all of their belongings in order to buy a tank. She then wrote Stalin the following letter:
My husband was killed in action defending the motherland. I want revenge on the fascist dogs for his death and for the death of Soviet people tortured by the fascist barbarians. For this purpose I've deposited all my personal savings — 50,000 rubles — to the National Bank in order to build a tank. I kindly ask to name the tank 'Fighting Girlfriend' and to send me to the front line as a driver of said tank.
Stalin wrote back pretty quickly and said yes."
While killing Nazis might be too graphic for Disney, Fighting Girlfriend might be a good addition to the Cars franchise.
5. Wu Zetian, first and only female emperor of China
"The generally accepted truth was that she strangled her young daughter to frame the old queen and get her out of the way. It worked — both the old queen and the old queen's mother were executed and haunted her from that point forward. I thought they'd make good comic relief characters in the movie adaptation.
"From there, she ascended to be Emperor Gaozong's predominant consort, and set about eradicating all other claimants to the throne. Early on, her method of choice was a slow-acting poison made from silkworms. As time went on and her influence grew, however, she took to engineering treason charges for her opponents, summoning them to the throne room and making them kill themselves in front of her.
"That's some cold shit."
6. Mai Bhago, 18th century Sikh warrior-saint and only survivor of the Battle of Khidrana
"Mai lived in a peaceful rural town with her parents. She spent a lot of time with her dad, who, in their daddy-daughter hangouts, taught her what any good father should: how to be a devoted Sikh, how to ride a horse and how to kill anyone who starts shit with you. All of these came in handy just a few years later, when the leader of the Sikh, Guru Gobind Singh Ji, founded the Khalsa — the warrior-saints.
"You see, the previous Guru before Gobind Singh Ji — and there were only ever 10 of these guys to ever live, with Guru Gobind Singh Ji being No. 10 — was executed by Aurangzeb when the Guru was 9 years old. Rather than capitulating to Aurangzeb and living a quiet life, the Guru ordered his followers to eschew the caste system, forsake their family names, be baptized as warrior-saints, and kick ass for the lord.
"Mai Bhago was one of the first to get down on that."
7. Penta, Italian folktale character
"Penta grew up as royalty, sister to the king. When the king's wife died, he spent some time looking for a new wife, but could not find anyone equally beautiful — except for Penta. So he decided, you know what, screw it, I'm the king, and I'm gonna marry my own sister.
"Penta set about trying to dissuade the king from this course of action. She asked what attracted him to her so much, and he answered, 'Your hands.' So she ordered her servant to chop off her hands and bring them to her brother, the king, on a platter.
"The king was not amused. In return, he stuffed her in a trunk and tossed it in the ocean."
She has to go through years of suffering to be with her true love, but it's better than being forced to marry your brother, right?
8. The Corn Maiden, Native American legend
"Corn Maiden figures into a vast number of tribe mythologies, all of which are slightly different from one another. This much is generally agreed upon across most of the stories:
1. Corn Maiden was a pretty neat lady who settled down with the tribe in question, a long time ago.
2. Somehow, whenever she was around, the corn storehouses would overflow! Corn for everyone! It was pretty great!
3. But, she warned, never try and check out why or how that's happening.
4. Eventually someone did, only to find Corn Maiden secretly rubbing corn off her skin in the most delicious case of leprosy ever recorded.
5. In some versions, it's hinted that she was actually pooping it out into bucket after bucket, bag after bag, like a chunky firehose."
9. Beloved, title character of the Toni Morrison novel
"Beloved is the story of Sethe, a freed slave in post-Civil War-era Kentucky. [Before emancipation,] in order to keep her 2-year-old daughter from slavers, she ends up slitting the baby's throat, killing her. Fast forward about a decade, and Sethe is living a fairly settled and peaceful life, when she stumbles upon a beautiful young woman, who appears confused, homeless and halfway drowned. This is Beloved.
"Beloved moves in with Sethe, and the other various characters in the story start noting how similar she is to Sethe's dead daughter: She's the same age that the dead daughter would have been had she lived; she has a scar across her throat; her breath smells like milk; her temper is mercurial, like a child's; even her name, Beloved, is what was written on the 2-year-old's gravestone."