By DERRIK J. LANG AP Entertainment Writer
The Walt Disney Co. is defending its newest princess following a backlash over her ethnicity.
A new Hispanic-influenced character named Sofia will star in the TV movie "Sofia the First: Once Upon a Princess" airing Nov. 18 on the Disney Channel and Disney Junior. Advocacy groups have questioned whether the fair-skinned, blue-eyed princess is an accurate representation of the Hispanic population and wondered why Disney isn't doing more to promote her.
"They seem to be backpedaling," said Lisa Navarrete, spokeswoman for the National Council of La Raza. "They've done such a good job in the past when they've introduced Native-American, African-American and Asian princesses. They made a big deal out of it, and there was a lot of fanfare, but now they're sort of scrambling. It's unusual because Disney has been very good about Latino diversity."
Craig Gerber, co-executive producer of "Sofia the First," clarified in a recent Facebook post that Sofia is "a mixed-heritage princess in a fairytale world." He said her mother and father hail from kingdoms inspired by Spain and Scandinavia, though Sofia was born and raised in Enchancia, a "make-believe 'melting pot' kingdom."
"Sofia's world reflects the ethnically diverse world we live in, but it is not our world," said Nancy Kanter, senior vice president of programming for Disney Junior. "It is a fairytale and storybook world that we hope will help spur a child's imagination. It's one where we can have flying horses, schools led by fairies, songs that have a Latin beat and towns with markets like those found in North Africa."
Marcela Davison Aviles, president of the Mexican Heritage Corporation, said that calling Sofia a Latina princess is "not an accurate use of the term as many in our community understand its meaning." She added that "Disney leadership embraces the complexity, diversity and beauty" of the Hispanic community.
"I'll bet folks at the company are using this as a teachable moment to improve on that effort," said Davison Aviles. "I'm looking forward to meeting Sofia and to Disney's future efforts to illuminate our diverse melting pot, including the varied colors which thread our tapestry of Latino identity."