Watch CBSN Live

Disney: Newest princess not really Latina

LOS ANGELES The Walt Disney Company has stirred up controversy by saying their newest princess is Latina -- and then saying the announcement was a mistake.

A new 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 and an upcoming TV series. During a recent press tour, executive producer Jamie Mitchell explained to the crowd that the princess is Latina. However, since then, the company has retracted their earlier statements, saying the producer made a mistake by labeling the newest princess Hispanic.

"Contrary to news reports last week and earlier this week about Disney Channel's "Sofia the First," the character Princess Sofia is not Latina or from any other real-world culture. A producer misspoke when he identified the character(s) as Latina," a spokesperson for the Disney Channel told in a statement.

"While culture and/or ethnicity are not the focus of the stories in "Sofia the First," the producer's comment about the character's "back-story" created confusion in recent news reports because in the creative brief that informs the scripts, Sofia's mother is originally from the made up land of "Galdiz," an enchanted kingdom the writers created using cultural influences from Spain. Sofia's dad came from an enchanted kingdom, "Freezenburg," one that the writers created using some cultural influences of Scandinavia."

Alex Nogales, president and CEO of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, said that Nancy Kanter, senior vice president of original programming for Disney Junior, met with the group further discuss the issue. In a statement on the group's Facebook page, he said Kanter told him that Sofia is not a Latina character and the producer of the Disney show "misspoke."

"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 Facebook post on Friday that Sofia is "a mixed-heritage princess in a fairytale world." He said her mother and birth father respectively hail from kingdoms inspired by Spain and Scandinavia, though Sofia was born and raised in Enchancia, a "make-believe 'melting pot' kingdom" patterned after the British Isles.

Sofia is voiced by Caucasian "Modern Family" actress Ariel Winter, and her mother is played by Hispanic "Grey's Anatomy" actress Sara Ramirez.

The film and a subsequent TV series will follow the young princess as she adjusts to royal life after her mother marries the king of Enchancia.

"Sofia considers herself a normal Enchancian girl like any other," said Gerber. "Her mixed heritage and blended family are a reflection of what many children today experience."

"Sofia's world reflects the ethnically diverse world we live in, but it is not our world," Kanter added. "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."

The "Sofia the First" series, which set to debut next year, will also include storylines about a holiday called Wassailia, which is reminiscent of a Scandinavian Christmas; and the characters would go on a picnic in Wei-Ling, an Asian-inspired kingdom, Kanter explained.

The door isn't closed on a Latina heroine: Disney Channel confirmed to that there is TV series for kids ages 2-7 in early development for Disney Junior that will feature a Latina star.

Nogales said in his statement that the NHMC will sent a list of writers from their writer's program for the project. Disney explained that the NHMC is not involved in the project, but the company is taking the group's suggestions into consideration in order to help keep goals consistent with creating "authentic, three-dimensional" Hispanic characters.

"We accept the clarification and celebrate the good news that Disney Junior has an exciting project in early development that does have a Latina as the heroine of the show," Nogales wrote.

Marcela Davison Aviles, the CEO of the Mexican Heritage Corporation and the cultural consultant on Disney Channel's "Handy Manny," said that Disney has celebrated Latino culture in the past including a 30-plus year celebration of traditional Mexican music at Epcot Center and through supporting training programs with groups such as the National Hispanic Media Coalition. However, the use of the word Latina to describe a girl whose mother was from a ficticious country influenced by Spain was incorrect to begin with.

"In my opinion, use of the term 'Latina' by one individual associated with the production to refer to a character whose heritage is influenced by European cultures was unfortunate because it is not an accurate use of the term as many in our community understand its meaning - but I believe this error was a well-meaning attempt to celebrate diversity - and I can assure you Disney leadership embraces the complexity, diversity, and beauty of our Latino/Hispano/Indigenous community," Davison Aviles said in a statement.

"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."

Over the past two decades, Disney has introduced such culturally diverse female protagonists as Jasmine, Pocahontas, Mulan, Merida and Tiana, the African-American princess from 2009's "Princess and the Frog." Disney's 2000 animated film "The Emperor's New Groove" and its subsequent spin-offs were set amid the Incan Empire in South America.

"Little girls look to these characters to see themselves represented," said Navarrete. "If they don't see themselves, it makes a difference. It would be nice to see Disney make a full-out push for a Latina princess, whether it's 'Sofia the First' or not."