This past year has been a lot to deal with and having constant access to news about the traumas of our realities has only worsened our mental health. Especially in the Black community, it seems like every time we recover from one thing and find some happiness, another disastrous headline or tragic event surfaces to bring us back down. The Black community has lost many of our brothers and sisters since January 2020. Kobe Bryant, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Chadwick Boseman, John Lewis, Ahmaud Arbery, Cicely Tyson, Hank Aaron, Natalie Deselle-Reid and Naya Rivera are only a few of the angels we have recently gained. We’re facing these heartbreaking losses while the pandemic keeps us isolated from the distractions and loved ones we go to for comfort. We’ve constantly hoped and searched for a light that will guide us out of this lonely darkness, only to be thrown in deeper. One way I have tried to bring myself out of the empty darkness is by absorbing Black joy through different artistic mediums. I’ve listened to a lot of music by my favorite Black artists and read inspirational books by Black authors, but I have spent most of my time watching countless movies and films I’ve loved my whole life that showcase Black voices in a positive light. 

Nostalgia has pushed these classic reruns back into my life, including “Cinderella” with Whitney Houston and Brandy, “Black Panther,” “Jump In!” and many other films that brought me joy when I was younger and when the world seemed so much brighter. Revisiting these old sources of happiness have been great ways to take my mind off the turmoil this country is undergoing. While I enjoyed these trips down memory lane, I couldn’t help but notice how many of my favorite films don’t illustrate Black people in the positive way that I remember. 

Disney was a staple in my childhood. Its filmography was a big source of my happiness. These movies and shows made me feel like I could achieve anything in my wildest dreams. A notable film that I was excited to rewatch was “The Princess and the Frog.” I loved this movie as a kid because Tiana, the only Black Disney princess, was the only princess I was able to see myself in. The music, the characters, the plot, everything about the movie made me so happy as a kid. Watching it again brought me some joy, but why is the only Black Disney princess a frog for the majority of her film? I didn’t notice this when I was eight. I was just happy to finally have that representation. It caused me to wonder why that representation has to come at such a dehumanizing cost? Why do displays of Black joy always come with a price? Disney is supposed to be a place where dreams come true. My dream is to live in a society free of racists and racism, but I guess that is one dream Disney isn’t willing to grant.

Now that I am older, I am able to catch the subtle hints of racism in dialogue, like in “Total Drama Island.” I’m over Black characters dying first in horror films like in “Scream 2.” I am sick of the role of the Black best friend being implemented in shows and films just so they can be awarded their diversity points, like in “Clueless.” I can’t help but wonder if Tiana would still be my favorite princess if I was given more options, ones that aren’t as demeaning. I’m either asking why there are no Black people in a film or TV show, or, if I’m lucky enough to get that representation, I find myself asking why the plots are so saturated with racism? 

I love the displays of Black culture in “The Princess and the Frog,” but I am no longer willing to accept the underlying consequences as a price for this exposure. It’s 2021, and Black stories about our happiness without having to overcome some kind of racial tragedy have been long overdue. That being said, not all displays of Black culture have been negative; movies and shows like “Little,” “Soul, ” “The Wiz,” “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” “Black is King,” “That’s So Raven,” “Coming to America,” “Bad Boys” and so many more are great examples of this display of unapologetic Black culture. Movies that encourage you to find your purpose, love who you are and rise above the standard are uplifting messages that the Black community and our Black children should be able to access. These positive messages within Black representation have given me that hope I have been looking for amongst the darkness. I can’t wait to see what comes next.