I was recently in a discussion about lateral erasure re:racebending on my personal and it got me to thinking that our princesses of color kind of miss out on a certain sort of creativity because they tend to be based in real-world cultures, and as soon as you start pulling from real-world cultures, you get real-world baggage (though to be clear, that happens with every kind of fictional creation no matter what, fiction is definitely impacted by reality).
Anyway, I was thinking that Tiana wouldn’t be Tiana if she wasn’t black, because her struggle and her dream would have so much less resonance in her particular setting even though Disney didn’t touch much on the racism of the times at all. And Disney’s Mulan wouldn’t be Mulan without the filial piety that motivated her to go into the army in the first place (don’t get me started on the white feministy ‘maybe I did it for myself’ moment, guh). Pocahontas would literally not exist if she was not Native American because her story is that much tied into her identity as one. Same for Esmeralda and being Rroma. Nani could theoretically be another race, but it would make no sense to not have native Hawaiians in Hawaii, plus there would be an incredible lack of depth to her fear of losing Lilo because native Hawaiians lose their children to Social Services all the time, and the fear of cultural obliteration added to losing one’s family makes the struggle so much more intense. The one “exception” to this rule could be Jasmine, and only because Agrabah is a multi-MENA hodgepodge meant to be pure fantasy, so there’s not much actually Indian/Persian/Arab about her character especially when you realize that she was based off a white woman (one of the animator’s sisters).
To racebend any of these ladies or characters of color literally turns them into someone else. For me, I couldn’t call them the same characters anymore. Their race and how that impacts their stories is that essential. It’s essential in a way that the white princesses like Aurora and Belle and Ariel will never experience because these princesses are white in all-white casts, which means that without the framework of racism in their tales (and in Mulan’s case, the cultural values of that 'era’ of China), the white princesses are essentially blank slates. Nothing about their stories is intrisicallly French or German or Danish, and even if those stories were, that value has to do with nationality and not race. You can have black French people, for example. Asian German people too. Latinx Danish people definitely exist (in that their parents came from Latin America). So it doesn’t change anything about their stories to be nonwhite, whereas for the princesses of color, their stories the way we know them would not exist if they were anything but their races.
The way to fix this would be more characters of color and more princesses of color. It distributes the weight of these heavy histories more evenly and gives more freedom for all.