Elena of Avalor sings and wears a crown like other Disney princesses, but she’s also a guitar-playing, sword-wielding heroine who the Latino community can claim as its own.
Last Friday, Disney Channel premiered the show Elena of Avalor, which features the first Latina princess—a step toward diversity that the National Hispanic Media Coalition celebrates.
In addition to its adherence to Hispanic culture and occasional use of the Spanish language, the show also features a Hispanic head writer who completed NHMC’s TV writers program and the voice of Dominican actress Aimee Carrero.
Look, this little girl looks like me! She has dark hair like me, she has brown eyes like me, and her skin is like mine.
“The reaction of the Latino community has been absolutely fantastic,” NHMC President and CEO Alex Nogales told Associations Now. “For a community that isn’t often … included in these kinds of things—in the media as a whole—this was a godsend. Because all of a sudden our children will look at this princess as a heroine … She is a heroine, she is beautiful, she is commanding, she is the queen.”
Nogales added that Elena will give Latino children, like his 4-year-old granddaughter, an animated character to represent them and their heritage. He shared that after seeing Princess Elena, his granddaughter told him: “Look, this little girl looks like me! She has dark hair like me, she has brown eyes like me, and her skin is like mine.”
According to research from NHMC, Latinos make up 18 percent of the U.S. population and an estimated $1.5 trillion in purchasing power. With these numbers, Disney needed to address this community in its products, Nogales explained.
Though diversifying the princess lineup is largely about profit, he said the introduction of a Latina princess was still “commendable” and better late than never, “because [Disney] could’ve gone blind as they had been for many, many years, not done anything for this community and not included us in their profit outlook.”
Though Elena of Avalor will be a television series on Disney Junior instead of a feature film, Nogales is not worried she will receive less attention than other princesses because of the prominence Disney is giving Elena in their stores and marketing.
Further ensuring the accurate portrayal of Hispanic culture, a Latina woman, Silvia Olivas—who is an alumna of NHMC’s writers program—is the show’s head writer. In a blog post, she wrote that diversity in the writers’ room is necessary and her role on the show has allowed her to influence the culture of Elena’s world to better reflect her own.
“Growing up, there weren’t positive Latina animated characters and now Disney has created this wonderfully strong protagonist who is on a hero’s journey to become a better ruler, negotiate treaties, and be a good sister, granddaughter, and friend,” she said. “My hope is that this show will influence how young Latinos view themselves and how other people view Latinos, while exposing all audiences to a young female leader and role model.”
For Nogales, Olivas’ role in the creation of a Latina princess has proven the importance of the writers program in developing Hispanic writers. “If we want to be included, the best door to get through is writing, because whoever writes the show, that’s the name of the game,” he said. “Without the written word, there isn’t a show.”
Following past controversy over another TV princess—Sofia, who Disney claimed to be Latina, the company has been working with Nogales to make sure the Latino community is properly represented, including on Elena of Avalor and an upcoming film called Coco, which is based on the Mexican holiday Día de los Muertos.