Once Upon A Time finally went full Princess and the Frog and showed us a little of Tiana's royal backstory in the other Enchanted Forest, but there are a lot more sides to this burgeoning restauranteur. Not only is she endlessly optimistic and resourceful as her Hyperion Heights counterpart Sabine, but by the time Henry and Cinderella met Tiana in the fairy tale, she's a rebel leader. How did that happen? In an interview with Bustle, actor Mekia Cox talks Tiana's journey in Once Upon A Time and what surprises may be coming up next.
"Badass," says Cox about learning her character was going to be not only a princess, but the leader of the resistance. "I was like 'Great, let's do it. I'm all about it.' I love that about this character. She's a strong female but she's definitely female. She's definitely someone who is a nurturer and a lover and yet she's strong in that and she has her goals."
That's one of the things that keeps fans coming back to Once Upon A Time. The show has always presented a fantastic array of female characters who show their strength and femininity in many ways. There's no one definition of a female hero this show, which is a mark of true diversity. Cox, who is joining the series as a regular in the final season, was immediately struck by the richness of the characters on this show.
"My very first conversation with Eddie [Kitsis] and Adam [Horowitz]," she says, "I said, 'you guys, I'm watching this show and I'm so surprised at these two males writing these really fantastic strong female characters.' They've done a fantastic job and I applaud them putting that out there in the world."
It helps the audience connect on many levels, she thinks. Kids love fairy tales and princesses, and adults can always use a reminder of what it was like to be a child full of dreams and belief in magic. "But you also get to see these princesses as not just princesses," says Cox. "You get to see these princesses with a sword [fighting] for whatever it is that they believe in." That's universal, no matter how old you are.
Fans of the 2009 Disney film The Princess And The Frog remember Tiana as being hardworking and driven. On Once Upon A Time, Sabine is a hardworking millennial. Not the stereotypical "lazy" millenial who's "killing" everything from chain restaurants to napkins and home ownership over avacado toast. Sabine is constantly spinning new business plans to make rent, taking up odd jobs and opening a food truck. She's endlessly optimistic. It's a fun, super relatable take on this character. The fact that, in a fantasy world, she was a rebel as well totally fits the feminist mindset in 2017 as well. With so much disheartening news for women this year, it's helpful to take solace in small things, and seeing someone — even a fictional character — embody our collective maverick spirit shouldn't be discounted as meaningless.
"I like to refer to her as a 'love warrior,'" Cox says, "because she's sort of this positive energy that wants good to prevail and wants happiness or love for all." That comes through in her backstory as a princess who ends up "being part of this resistance and resisting all the evil that's coming out of Lady Tremaine's castle," she says.
That has also carried over into Hyperion Heights, where her cursed persona could easily be written off as the stereotypical "best friend" to Jacinda's romantic comedy leading lady, but she's so much more. Sabine "wants people to feel good and whenever they're around her she tries to be positive and she tries to infect them with positivity and happiness and love."
Thankfully, that means beignets, as a recent episode proved. They aren't "man catching," as Charlotte says in the original film, yet — but we'll see. It'll be interesting to see when and if Tiana's romantic interest Prince Naveen ever makes an appearance on Once Upon A Time. A love warrior needs some loving, too!
While her enterprising spirit is the same, Tiana's story is not a whole lot like the New Orleans-based animated tale, especially when it comes to Tiana's parents. Instead of a seamstress, Tiana's mother Eudora is a widow with a royal title. "Once you find out who Robin Givens [as Eudora] is and who that is to me," Cox says, "that will be a little bit of a twist and a surprise." As more is uncovered about this character, hopefully more surprises and connections will be revealed. For now, Tiana/Sabine has a lot of work to do, and thankfully that's an area in which this character excels on the big screen and on the small one.