Once upon a time in the land of West Kendall, there was a girl named Aimee Carrero who enjoyed watching Disney princesses, especially Sleeping Beauty and Mulan.
Even then, the Dominican-Puerto Rican girl knew that something was amiss. There weren’t any princesses with brown hair and eyes that looked and spoke like her and her friends.
Cue the magic wand and flash forward to 2016. Carrero not only gets to see a Latina princess, she gets to be one.
She’s the voice of Elena Castillo Flores in “Elena of Avalor,” the Disney Channel series that debuted July 22 and airs 7:30 p.m. Fridays. The character is being hailed as Disney’s first Latina princess.
“For me personally, growing up, I always wanted to see my images represented, especially in mainstream media,” says Carrero, who sounds as polite and giddy as the princess she breathes life into.
Carrero said she understands the significance of the role and its potential influence on today’s young audiences.
“I think it’s important because not only will it give thousands and hopefully millions of Latinos out there some representation, but I think also it will invite this princess into people’s homes who may not have any experience with Latin people. And that can only be good for promoting tolerance and unity among our cultures,” said Carrero, 28. “I think it just has a high social significance so I am honored to be the one chosen for it.”
“I would describe Elena as adventurous, self-possessed. She’s bold but she’s compassionate and she has a very strong sense of justice and family,” said Carrero, speaking from Los Angeles where she’s based.
Too young to be queen, Elena learns to rule her port-city kingdom with the help of her grandparents, royal general counsel and friends. As she learns more about her people and their needs, she also discovers what it really takes to be a future queen.
The show incorporates various Latin and Hispanic influences, from the castle’s Spanish and Aztec-like architecture to the music that Elena plays on her guitar. Viewers will hear bits of salsa, banda, reggaeton and merengue in the musical numbers that Carrero sings. Her character, who is pan-Latina, also has flowing dark hair that she styles with an apricot mallow flower, which is found in Southern California and Mexico. Spanish words are sprinkled throughout the show.
Disney is marketing the program with dolls, earrings, dresses, shoes and books inspired by the princess character. And on Aug. 11, Walt Disney World in Orlando will have a royal welcome for a real-life version of the character at the Magic Kingdom where she’ll play a guitar and sing “My Time” from the show. Prince Charming and Snow White will also be in attendance.
The Elena character was introduced on an episode of another princess series “Sofia the First” which has been airing on the Disney Junior channel since 2012. Back then, the Sofia character drew criticism among some Hispanic viewers and advocates on whether she was Latina or not. The little girl character became a princess after her mother, who was said to come from a land inspired by Spain, marries a king.
At least one Hispanic media advocate applauds Disney’s move for adding a new Latina princess to the company’s canon of diverse princesses.
“They are saying that you (Hispanics) are there and we want to welcome and celebrate the fact you are there and very deserving of our efforts to inform and entertain,” said Alex Nogales, president of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit group that advocates for the increased presence of Latinos in TV and films.
He watched the show’s pilot and liked what he saw especially because his 4-year-old granddaughter has brown hair, eyes and coloring like the Disney princess. “All of the sudden she has someone who looks like her. She was just so happy about the whole thing.”
Dr. Maribel Del Rio-Roberts, a child psychologist and Nova Southeastern University instructor, agreed, noting that children can be empowered by seeing TV characters who look and sound like them.
“I think it gives young girls the opportunity to see that there are strong, Latin female figures,” said Del Rio-Roberts, assistant professor and program director in the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at NSU in Davie. “It also draws little girls into this fantasy world where they can imagine themselves and look up to this princess who serves somewhat of a role model…(Elena) is not only beautiful. She is also strong, confident and independent.”
In Avalor, the princess’s grandparents and other characters speak with a Spanish accent while Elena and her little sister Isabel do not. Carrero can see why.
“I think it speaks to the modern Latino American living in the United States,” said Carrero. “I am second generation. My mom has a little bit of an accent. My grandmother doesn’t speak any English and my brother and I don’t have an accent. I think [Disney] wanted to represent what’s happening now with Latino people living here.”
For Carrero, the Elena role is the latest in a career that started at 14 in musical theater during summer camp programs at the former Coconut Grove Playhouse in Miami and the Actors’ Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre in Coral Gables.
“They really sparked such a huge for passion for live theater which is really what started it all. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be performing in some capacity,” said Carrero who graduated from Archbishop Coleman F. Carroll High School in 2006. “I am what you would call a ham.”
She later majored in international relations at Florida International University and was a member of the school’s model UN program. Since graduating in 2009, Carrero has been based in Los Angeles. She’s appeared in various TV shows from “Hannah Montana” and “Level Up” to “The Americans.”
But social media fans may best remember Carrero from her viral 2012 videos called “S— Miami Girls and Guys Say,” which poked fun at the exaggerated things that South Florida Latinas might say.
“At the time, I was so surprised but looking back, of course it caught on,” she said. “Especially in Miami and South Florida, we’re a very specific subculture of people. It’s heavily influenced by Latin culture but yet we are also American. Like Elena, it’s been a long time coming and I think people were ready, sort of desperate to see their stories told. I wear that like a badge of honor. I couldn’t be prouder of that.”
She’s also proud of her starring role in Freeform (former ABC Family) channel’s young adult TV series “Young & Hungry.” Since 2014, Carrero has played Sofia, the best friend of the show’s main character. Possibly in the works, a potential spin-off series that will focus on Carrero’s character as an aspiring journalist.
And like the princess she plays on TV who juggles various duties, Carrero will continue balancing her TV role while voicing Elena.
“I always say that I waited a long time and worked very very hard to get this busy. I hope that it just continues,” she said. “If I can just keep things fresh and keep working and stretching my acting muscles, that to me that’s the ultimate ultimate career.”
Actress Aimee Carrero stopped by the studio today to fill us in on her new Disney show ‘Elena of Avalor’, her Freeform TV show ‘Young and Hungry’ and more! But while she was here, we had to put her ON The Spot! Check it out!
The day has finally arrived — the official introduction of Elena of Avalor, the first Latina Disney Princess.
Princess Elena will make her royal debut on the Disney Channel series, Elena of Avalor. Viewers will be taken into the enchanted fairytale land of Avalor, where the bold and compassionate Elena is learning to become a great leader as crown princess. When Disney first announced Elena in January 2015, two of the biggest arguments from critics were why didn’t Elena have an actual ethnicity and why wasn’t she getting a movie.
RELATED: Everything We Know About Elena of Avalor (So Far!)
But there’s a bigger picture here: Latinos, as a whole, we’re being represented! We’re finally being seen, and that is perhaps the most important message behind this creation. This is our time, mi gente!
We caught up with Aimee Carrero (voice of Elena), Craig Gerber (creative genius behind the series) and Silvia Cardenas Olivias (story editor) recently to talk about what makes Elena of Avalor extra special, why it was developed into a series rather than a film and more.
Watch it all in our video above!
On Friday, Disney will make history premiering its new show “Elena of Avalor.” The show marks the first time a Latina Princess headlines a Disney original. The new show will include a number of cultural references and will feature musical numbers that have Spanish rhythms.
Latin Post had a chance to speak to Aimee Carrero, the Dominican actress who will bring the princess to life. Carrero shared her experience working in animation and how she is excited for audiences to see the first Latina princess.
Latin Post: How did you get involved with the project?
Aimee Carrero: I got involved with the typical audition process. I sent in a tape and then they called me back and then I went in a couple of times and it was a pretty long process. It was about to two months with singing auditions and acting auditions. Then I got the great call but I actually had no idea what I was auditioning for.
LP: What did it feel like to be playing a Latina princess?
AC: It feels amazing. I think that it’s a good time to tell this story and I think people have been waiting a long time for it. So it feels like an honor, like a privilege, like a responsibility but most of all, I feel like I’m a part of a very important time in history.
LP: Tell me three qualities that this character help make a role model for Latina girls who are watching this show?
AC: Well Elena’s three strongest qualities are her compassion, her autonomy and her boldness. She is someone who will always try again and she has shown tremendous courage in the face of adversity. And she is always just trying to find her truth and doing the right thing. I think that for little girls and boys watching I hope that she encourages them to be themselves and to be brave.
LP: How important do you think this is for television and especially for Latin American girls?
AC: I hope it will be very inspiring. I think that young audiences need to see a Latina woman or a woman of color in a position of power and doing a great job. That is an important image to impress on young viewers and I also think it is a universal story. If we move beyond the cultural and gender issues I think this is about a person trying to find her place in the world. Elena is a daughter, a granddaughter, a sister, a friend but she has an immense responsibility. We all wear different hats in our lives and we are all trying to do our best. So more than anything I hope that they see a layered human being.
LP: Do you think this will open up opportunities for more diverse characters on television?
AC: I really hope so. I think that all we have to do is show anyone who is skeptical of showing diversity in media, that we are all made of the same thing and that we all deal with the same problems.
LP: What is fun about working in an animated TV environment?
AC: Well I’ve never done it before so it was a brand new experience. As an actor you have your tools, so you have your face, your voice and your body. So when some of those tools are removeed then it presents big challenges. Luckily I felt like I was in good hands with my producers because they know how to do the job. They were very quick to give direction and it’s really fun. I think I expected it to be a little easier than it was to be honest because everyone kept telling me to get a voice gig and I was like I will never be able to do this. So it has been wonderfully challenging and I am glad that I am doing it and I hope to do it for many years to come.
LP: Before going into the studio did you get to see any sketches of the character?
AC: I actually did. They had a very preliminary drawing of what Elena looked like. It was nice to have an image. I don’t know if it changed my performance at all but it’s nice to have a picture in my mind of what she looked like. But there is nothing like seeing on your TV. It’s really amazing.
LP: How did you grow as an actress after this experience?
AC: I think that I stretched myself beyond what I thought I was able to do. And I think the singing was a big part of the challenge. I was not super confident in my voice and I had no experience in a booth. I did musical theater but never anything voiceover related. I think when you put yourself in uncomfortable situations professionally, I think it can only help you grow. So I hope that this is just adding a little to the muscles that I didn’t realize I had.
LP: What can we expect from this series that we have not seen before?
AC: I think something you haven’t seen before is the Latina princess but I also think it’s a story that people will really relate to. I know that what makes it special is the Latina part but I think people will find it relatable. I think the show is really special. Disney has never done anything like this. I mean we run the gamut from salsa to tango to mariachi. It’s really cool and I’m really excited about the music and it will drop people into that world immediately.
Here’s the second batch of Aimee interviews that have surfaced of her promoting Elena of Avalor. I will add the screencaptures soon. Enjoy!
A bunch of Aimee interviews have surfaced of her promoting Elena of Avalor. There’s a bunch so I will be dividing them up. I will add the screencaptures soon. Enjoy!Enjoy!
Aimee was interviewed by by ABC News and you can watch there small snippet released from the interview here.