The best-known Disney princesses are a fairly Caucasian lot, but the studio has made a concentrated effort to ramp up the diversity in recent years. The ’90s saw the addition of the Middle Eastern Jasmine, the Asian Mulan and the Native American Pocahontas, and The Princess and the Frog‘s Tiana became the first African American Disney princess in 2009.

Now the Mouse House is adding a Latina royal named Sofia to their binder slate as well. The catch: No one can actually tell she’s Latina. More after the jump.

Sofia, who was first announced last year, will make her debut November 18 on a Disney Jr. TV movie titled Sofia the First: Once Upon a Princess. Sofia is remarkable in more than one way — she’s also one of the youngest Disney princesses, in contrast to the grown-up Snow White, Cinderella, Belle, Ariel, et al. But her race was thrust into the spotlight when a journalist remarked during a recent press event that Sofia’s mother Miranda had darker skin than most of the other characters.

“She is Latina,” executive producer Jamie Mitchell confirmed in response. To be more specific, Sofia is half-Enchancian and half-Galdizian. Yes, those are made-up fairy tale lands that have nothing whatsoever to do with Latin countries in the real world. The character, who will be voiced by Modern Family‘s Ariel Winter, becomes a royal after Miranda marries the king.

What those supposedly Latin roots actually mean for Sofia, however, is less clear. It’s impossible to guess Sofia’s unusual (in the world of Disney) heritage by looking at her pale skin, reddish-brown hair, and blue eyes. True, plenty of Latino people have fair coloring, up to and including the blond-haired, blue-eyed Cameron Diaz. But the studio has no plans to mention Sofia’s race at all in the TV movie, either.

“We never actually call it out,” said Joe D’Ambrosia, VP of original programming for Disney Junior. “When we go into schools [to talk to young students about the show], what I find fascinating is that every girl thinks that they’re Sofia.” All of which means it will be literally impossible to tell that Sofia is anything other than Caucasian unless you’re reading posts like these — which her 2- to 7-year-old target demographic probably is not. So what, then, is the point?

I’ll give Disney a tiny crumb of credit for at least creating a Latina character, which is more than many shows and movies are willing to do. However, by declining to acknowledge her ethnicity within the show, Disney’s trying to have its cake and eat it too. D’Ambrosia’s comment is telling because it suggests he’s worried that making Sofia more openly Latina might scare away mainstream (i.e., white) audiences, that every little girl wouldn’t see herself in Sofia if they knew her secret background. And that’s exactly the kind of bullshit logic that accounts for Hollywood’s embarrassing lack of diversity.

The thinking within the industry seems to be that everyone can identify with a white person, but that only non-white audiences can respond to a non-white character. (And don’t even get me started on gender, class, and sexual orientation.) This is, of course, ridiculous. Movies regularly ask us to identify with mutants, robots, aliens, animals, and inanimate objects; a person of a different race is hardly a stretch.

But by consistently pushing Caucasian characters forward while relegating non-Caucasian ones to the sidelines, the industry collectively sends a message about what kind of people and experiences are valued. As one of the biggest brand names in the kiddie sphere, Disney has a real opportunity here to reassure Latina Disney fans that they matter just as much as their white schoolmates. In refusing to address Sofia’s race in any meaningful way, they’re dropping the ball.

Watch the trailer below and let us know what you think in the comments.

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