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21 July 2008

Animated racism

By Jonathan Theodore

No fairy-tale

Disney has been hit with accusations of racism about its first animated film featuring a black princess, due out in 2009. Upon announcing last year that The Frog Princess would star an African-American heroine, the corporation, long dogged by widely praised for turning over a new leaf. But much of this goodwill has now evaporated upon revelations of the film’s slavery-themed proposed storyline: our heroine is an exploited black maid in New Orleans saved by voodoo (i.e. African) magic. Disney is not exactly famed for its multicultural credentials, and its first film to feature a non-white princess, Aladdin (1992), was so laden with colonial-era stereotypes of the East as a land of decadence and savagery that it outraged Muslims and Arabs worldwide. The bungled attempt at an image makeover with The Frog Princess shows that little has changed, and though the above storyboard has now been binned one wonders when Disney will shoot the other foot off this PR project.

Critics choice?

The French-Italian model and singer Carla Bruni – who, incidentally, is married to the French president, Nicholas Sarkozy – released her third album on Monday, titled As If Nothing Had Happened. To her credit, the new French first lady is not simply cashing in on new-found superstardom as she had a music career prior to marrying Sarkozy, her first album selling an impressive 2 million copies. That said, the anti-Sarkozy wing of the French press (i.e. most of it) have been joyfully laying into the album. The left-wing paper, Liberation, termed its salient features “the lyrics of a primary school kid and the voice of a 14-year-old”. In this poisonous atmosphere some more conscientious critics have admitted, perhaps reluctantly, that the album isn’t too bad. In that generous spirit of moderation the New Statesman offered Bruni a chance to take our prestigious Way I See It questionnaire. Ms Bruni declined, alas. We can only wonder what her answer would have been to the question “Should art and politics mix?”

End of an era

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The fifth and final season of The Wire, the TV series praised by our critic Ryan Gilbey, hits UK screens on Monday. It is the final series, so savour the experience while you can, as drama this daring and innovative may not appear on our screens again for some time. For all its acclaim and awards, The Wire was never a hit show like its more conventional HBO brother The Sopranos, and prestige alone does not pay its way in US TV. That said, the current deluge of quality drama from the US cable networks leaves a lot to be desired of British television, criticised this week by broadcaster and poet Wendy Cope.

In brief

Quentin Tarantino has been out recruiting for his new Dirty-Dozen style WWII film,Inglorious Bastards, meeting with Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio to spruce up the picture’s A-list punch. Forced to fund the project independently, the cult director’s stock has fallen since the critical and commercial disaster of Grindhouse. Tuesday’s release of the latest Batman film, The Dark Knight, has been preceded by endless speculation about deceased actor Heath Ledger‘s chances of a posthumous Oscar. Guilt on the part of Academy voters for their criminal oversight of Ledger’s performance in Brokeback Mountain could be a deciding factor. The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, Kate Summerscale’s pacy retelling of a murder case in a Wiltshire country house in 1860 – and a recent gift to NS subscribers – won the Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction. We know how to pick them.