Why it’s a big deal that a teenage girl is voicing the latest Disney Princess

Last week, we were SO excited to discover that Disney had chosen the voice of its newest princess in its upcoming film, Moana, set to be released in 2016. Auli’i Cravalho, who hails from Oahu, Hawaii, will be playing the spunky Polynesian princess. The very last to audition, Cravalho blew all the casting directors away with her beautiful voice and vivacious spirit — and she’s only 14 years old.

“From baby time to now, I wanted to be a Disney princess and then I wanted to be a singer or an actress,” Cravalho told People.

Naturally, being a Disney princess is an unbelievably life-changing event for Cravalho, but it’s also totally out of the norm for Disney princess casting. Cravalho’s first major role is one that many well-established actresses and singers work for, even after years of being in the spotlight. But Cravalho never took any professional singing lessons, though she was a part of her school’s choir and her church choir.

“I was in a few home backyard plays, which I would put on my resume, because that was important,” she told KHON2. “. . . I’m part of concert glee now [at school]. That’s a lot of responsibility in itself. It’s fun to be able to sing with my peers that also love their culture so much.”

Cravalho isn’t a Hollywood starlet whose name we see plastered all over magazines. She’s a hardworking high school student who participates in extracurriculars at school. She, unlike famous starlets, is someone that thousands of girls all over the world — the very girls who will be excitedly rushing into theaters to watch Moana — can relate to on a fundamental level.

Cravalho is not only a role model for these girls, but their very first IRL representation of a Disney princess. . . and proof to them that, with enough hard work, you can accomplish anything at any age.

But just a few years ago, this wasn’t necessarily an accurate statement. That’s because Disney never used to choose teenage girls for their princesses. Despite the fact that every single one of the Disney princess characters range from ages 14 to 19, Cravalho is the very first Disney princess voice actress to literally be a teenager — and certainly the first to be younger than the princess she’s playing. Some may say that age shouldn’t necessarily matter, as what really matters is the talent (after all, Kristen Bell has certainly proved she can do a very convincing young Anna). However, what does matter is what the choice represents.

Staying true to the age of the character is a testament to Disney’s newfound commitment to authenticity and, significantly, diversity. Before Cravalho was cast, there have only been three actresses of color to play the part of a Disney Princess — and the latest was just six years ago, when Anika Noni Rose was cast as The Princess and The Frog‘s Tiana in 2009.

At the time, the importance of the role wasn’t lost on Rose. “I think the cultural significance is we as a country have grown and things have really changed and people are seeing America a little bit more clearly,” she said in an interview with The Root. “We see each other a little more clearly. There’s room for this princess because this princess is, and she’s everywhere, and she’s so much a part of everyone’s lives.”

And Rose was right. Though Hollywood and the film industry still suffers from a major diversity and authenticity problem, change is being made with every role that breaks the mold — every role that exists not only on-screen, but in real life. 

Now, six years later, we have Moana: the first Disney Princess to be of Pacific Islander descent.  

Cravalho is a Hawaii native, and she recognizes the significance of her own heritage in connection with the role. “It really does honor so much of my awesome culture I have grown up in,” she told KHON2, a local new station.

When asked what advice she’d give to anyone hesitant to pursue their dreams, her response was perfectly in line with a modern Disney princess. “To those young men and women, go for it,” she said. “There’s nothing that’s out of your reach. It may seem far, but you can grab it.”

Cravalho is living proof of that.

(Image via Instagram)


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