Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Frozen First-Looks Prompt Artists To Diversify Disney On Their Own

My aim today is simply to highlight what others are saying. Please note that I am copying and pasting responses "as is" (typos and all) to show what people are saying and thinking. It does not mean I hold to any of their views, necessarily. What it DOES mean, is that I think this is something we should be taking note of. We are in the tale business and our tales - fairy tales - are alive and morph in our hands. So how are we doing that? What things are we taking for granted in our own writing, art and storytelling the tales? What are we communicating/implying without even realizing?
It's worth thinking about.

 Headlines have started appearing such as the following:

"Frozen Disney Princess Reimagined By Artists" (CBC News)

"Tumblr Artists Imagine Frozen's Lead As Something Other Than  Another White Disney Princess" (The Mary Sue)

"Tumblr Rejects Disney's Billionth White Princess" (The Daily Dot)

"Angry Disney Fans Create Their Own Ethnic Princess After Latest Film Features ANOTHER 'generic' white female"(Daily Mail UK)

"Tumblr Artists Diversify Disney Because Disney Won't Do It Themselves" (Jezebel)

And its all due to an increasingly popular Tumblr account artists from everywhere are being encouraged to submit to, titled:
"This Could Have Been Frozen".

It started with this announcement:
Snow Queens and PoC (People of Color) 
CALLING ALL ARTISTS!!!! Given the lack of PoC in current Disney films and of course in the upcoming feature Frozen. I decided to create a little project if everyone is willing to participate. I want to re-take Frozen and draw our very own “concept art" with PoC as protagonists. This can literally be drawing Frozen set in other snowy places like Mongolia, like the wonderful art done by marydoodler. Or it can be the Inuit as Frozen characters. Or even racebending the Frozen protagonists, Anna and Kristoff. Get creative!The point is to spread across the idea that PoC CAN BE DISNEY PROTAGONISTS and the film could still be beautiful and work...Like the Hawkeye initiative has raised awareness about sexism in comics, I want this project to raise awareness on the lack of representation in films...The goal of this project is not for Disney to change Frozen... but for Disney to consider including PoC in upcoming films.

It's hot on the heels of the "Keep Merida Brave" campaign that Disney took notice of (to some extent) and although this isn't as formal a protest as that was, it's garnering quite a bit of attention in entertainment circles and 'zines and likely to attract more. and similar petition sites have recently become a powerhouse for the masses to have their voices heard. A plea is launched, thousands upon thousands sign and companies are forced to take notice and respond (the "Keep Merida Brave" campaign has had close to 250,000 signatures added). With Tumblr being such a popular blogging format and excellent tool for disseminating memes, it makes a lot of sense for an "art protest" of sorts. And it's working very well at getting the word out there.

The site’s admin, Alex, is careful to note that their objective “is not to boycott or ‘hate’ on Disney’s current Frozen, but to point out how diversity and PoC could [have] still been done” in the film and to “emphasize [Disney's] lack of diversity.” After all, while Frozen is set in Scandinavia, it’s not like there are only white people there. And it’s based on a fairy tale that has multicultural variations. (Source: The Mary Sue)
You may be wondering why I'm bothering to bring this up at all on a fairy tale blog. The reason is because the response this initiative has stimulated is not only in having people talk about Disney designs but about fairy tales, their origins and how tales cross borders (and whether they should or not). There's more discussion about Andersen, The Snow Queen and similar tales happening as a result of this, than of the announcement that Disney was animating another fairy tale.

The comments on the PoC Tumblr are as interesting as the artwork.

One of the more recent entries (at this writing) is from kikidoodle (deviantArt). She posted her BLONDE (shock-horror-gasp-what?!) version of Anna, explaining how, in doing this assignment they were required to stick to the text (which said Anna was, indeed blonde) but realized blonde doesn't have to be caucasian (Oooohhhhh! It... doesn't????). She explains that she likes being accurate with regard to the story she's illustrating and didn't find the "blonde" description limiting at all. She even gave us a link to a photo reference to further help explain what she meant, in case her beautiful illustrations weren't obvious enough. (Gah! Someone call Disney! Oh, right...):
From kiki-doodle: I read the story and realized that the only description of any of the characters is that Ana is blond.  No description of location or characteristics outside of the fact they ride reindeer.  So I started a series of Children’s book images where The Snow Queen takes place in Mongolia with traditional clothing, and Ana is in fact a blond, lighter skinned Mongolian girl. (strongly based on this
Not sure this entirely fits here, (on the thiscouldhavebeenfrozen Tumblr) but I can say how disappointed I was when I first saw Ana’s design because of all the places and wonderful locations I personally imagined the story taking when I illustrated it.  Hopefully it shows a way that one can adhere to the idea of a story and still have it not just be about white people.
There's a discussion about Disney adhering to the tale and the problems in doing so and not doing so. One exchange for example:
COMMENT: There is much negativity over the changing story of 'Frozen' from the original tale, but it seems that a faithful reproduction of 'The Snow Queen' would make a confusing and awful movie. The Snow Queen herself has no motivation for her actions or any personality, and can you imagine the chaos of releasing a film with that much inherent Christian symbolism? Or how purists would react to actually displacing the story from it's Scandinavian context? I think we need to trust the creative process -AW
RESPONSE: ??? There’s also another villain that has really no specific motivation for evilness: (inserts Maleficent pic)
What people are really criticizing isn’t the knew inside of the Snow Queen, but really the fact that Frozen is not going to focus on the female friendships (like the original tale) and instead kinda being a recycled version of Tangled just in snow. Obviously the story is contrasting different, but it is really necessary to have radically change the original context of the girl saving the boy?
The original story of Snow Queen is very powerful because of the complete reversal of the hero’s journey. SQ is a heroine’s journey, where in this case Anna should of been upfront and center in her story. People are kinda pissed at THESE changes.
One of the art submissions includes a Snow Queen based on the Japanese folktale of Yuki-onna (shown at left). By their admission, they didn't do a whole lot of research before getting into the drawing but it's still sending ripples of inspiration through the participants with it being rooted in a specific culture.

Another artist suggested setting the story in Greenland during the 1940's (with detailed plot description), while another (popular) suggestion was to use Tibet, complete with traditional - and very colorful - Tibetan garb.

Early Disney development of Gerda, now Anna
By far, though, while imagining the story in a different setting is fun, what a lot of people seem to really want to know is this: if it's set (at least partly) in Lappland with the Saami people, then why didn't Disney portray that? There's nothing much about the costuming, the accessories, tools, architecture.. anything that suggests a specific culture we can hang our story hats on. And I think this is really the crux of it. Although the blog is about PoC (People of Color) not being given lead roles in Disney movies, the real problem people seem to be having is that EVERYONE - even the "white" people - are ridiculously generic. 

(Note: people on the Tumblr blog generally LIKE the Disney development rendition shown at right because the clothing is authentic to the region the story is - partly - based in.) Her "ethnicity" is showing. But while white genericism (new word!) is bad enough (goes the thinking) when it comes to portraying other cultures - eesh! - they're not only generic but stereotypical as well. (And many are saying "Enough is enough. Please address this and represent the diverse world that your audience actually is.")

Ultimately, the complaint is that Disney is not being solid on any front. More than ever, the designs are looking rather wishy-washy and cookie cutter, showing a "type" of preferred princess ready for branding (merchandise) rather than characters we can love and admire because they are unique. (It should be noted that Brave's Merida is praised throughout the blog as a "good" use of a white person - because she's [largely] authentic to her culture and heritage, but of course that's not strictly Disney..).

They also discuss the "what happened to the strong  female friendships" aspects that seems to be missing from the film:
COMMENT: Didn't the girl in the original snow queen also only get helped by women? I'm not trying to sound sexist, but I think for once it would be great to have GIRLS helping each other out in a disney movie. I mean you see it all the time with like... the male characters? Why not two girls?
RESPONSE: Haha you’re not sexist, at all!
Two girls in a journey to save their loved ones (friends/brothers) would be awesome!
Disney needs more positive female relationships.
And another:
COMMENT: can we talk about how the original version of the snowqueen or icequeen or what its called in english wasnt about a princess and a prince or lovers at all?? but two children who were like siblings to each other..?
RESPONSE: Yeah I think it sucks that Disney took away alot of powerful themes in the original story of the Snow Queen.
Friendship, especially relationship between the protagonists, was such a core theme in the story.
I also hate that they made Anna have a companion whereas her journey was done relatively alone (with a help of other folks of course) and was very much dependent on her strength and determination as a person.
Not to miss the "what about the awesome-and-obviously-PoC Robber Girl? Couldn't we at least have had her?" point*:
I used to have this beautifully illustrated copy of The Snow Queen and the pictures of the robber girl had her with brown skin and curly black hair...I think she had freckles, too. And I'm pretty sure the Finn woman had dark hair as well, but I distinctly remember her being rather stout. I'm so sad that I can't find it, because I'd love to send you a scan of either character, especially the robber girl because she was just so damn cute with her dagger and gap teeth.
Then there's the fairy tales cross cultural boundaries theme:
COMMENT: i encourage diversity in all forms but i don't think this is the way to do it. this is enforcing using predominantly WHITE stories and then substituting PoC characters in. why not encourage disney to tell stories from cultures that arent white instead? i think people should focus on finding those stories that never got told because of years of systematic oppression and tell those stories instead. it's not that frozen is white. it's that they never tell any stories that aren't. 

RESPONSE: The Snow Queen is not a white story.
Hans Christian Andersen is not sole creator of the story. There are many similar stories and fairy tales worldwide that are reminiscent of The Snow Queen.
The themes of girl coming of age and friendship are very common in all cultures. Furthermore do you realize that the same thing applies to all Grimm fairytales?
There is an East Asian version of Snow White and the earliest story of Cinderella dates back to Egypt.
All the common European stories appear in almost every culture.
You are also ignoring that Europeans are not all white. Poc have existed in Europe since forever.
Just because Disney uses the Grimm tales to excuse a white cast, it doesn’t take away the fact it is a worldwide story.
And then there's a whole bunchapeople who just want a storybook classic come to life that's beautiful, unique, authentic to its roots and (as whomever put the caption on this image below, so aptly said) timeless.
(Yes, my sigh was very loud.)

And just to mix things up a little more before I leave you with your thoughts, here's a completely different theory on why Disney are doing what they are with the story:
Is Frozen like a prequel to the Snow Queen? Because so far I see none of the original storylines in the plot we know. “Anna wants to search for her sister to stop the evil that is pervading the lands" is so… ugh? This sounds like a backstory to the Snow Queen, and it seems like the events in Frozen will lead to what the Snow Queen was when she kidnapped Kai in the original story. I really loved the Snow Queen. It had some ethnic qualities AND it was about the actions of a girl made that saves a guy.The knight in shining armour thing was reversed. So if Frozen is a prequel, I hope Disney will make a sequel that actually retells Hans’ original story.
Oh no! Another origin story?!

Well, I'd prefer Andersen's story myself but I can understand how such an idea got through into production.

It still doesn't excuse the generic designs of, well everything.
The Snow Queen by Freiheit

*Admittedly, not having the Robber Girl is the part I'm going to miss most.


  1. I think it is so awesomely fascinating that the original keepers and tellers of fairy tales--the diverse women of the world--are rising up with such passion against the capitalistic, white male appropriation of women's tales, from the Grimm brothers to Disney. The fan art, ideas, and discussion is all a big, beautiful folkloric phenomenon in itself. In today's market, women are the biggest spending-decision consumers of fairy tale-based entertainment as well as increasingly taking charge of the creation of film characters, books, television shows, etc. I wonder what this means for the future of folklore's evolution in the global marketplace!

  2. This looks a great initative! I must say, I am disappointed by the changing of the Snow Queen story. I thought the original tale was a true feminist fairytale. I wrote a blogpost on it here:

  3. I think the characters of Frozen could have been Canadian aborigines. With that, if Anna was Canadian aborigine, she will be the first indigenous North American Disney princess since Pocahontas. There has never been any iconic Disney characters from Canada. Or if they were Tibetan, Anna would be the first Chinese/Asian Disney princess since Mulan. Same goes if the characters were Japanese. Anna would be wearing a kimono but not like Mulan's, though. There has never been any iconic Disney characters from Japan. But Frozen is originally from the "Snow Queen", a Danish fairy tale written by Hans Christian Andersen who is from Denmark himself and Disney decided to go with what's based on the story, anyway, perhaps to make it more believable or so.

  4. Disney had to change a lot of the story b/c of the Russian Snow Queen film. Ever since their run in with the japanese Kimba the white Lion, they have walked on egg shells when stories become too similar with other films in production. This happened when dreamworks Road to el Dorado came out, Disney completely started over on Kingdom of the Sun, and it became Emperor's New Groove. So people shouldn't be so harsh on story change, there are tons of production, lawful and sometimes moral underlying reasons for that. This is why stories are often loosely based on original stories. The original story of rapunzel makes her parents the true bad guys... not a good Disney story. Their version was much more appealing. And that is what they go for, appealing. If patents want their kids to learn the original story, then they should pick up a book and read it, but still let their kids enjoy movies without judging. The point of Disney stories are the lessons the characters learn. Each story has a theme, each Princess has something to learn to be that good Princess. If we focus on the negative and how story tellers, animation studios and directors all "get it wrong" then or kids will pick up on this and not be able to enjoy things for themselves. It is Just sad how over scrutinized that we have become in this world.

  5. Anna is a indigenous Saami girl as are other characters in the film. Even though they have white skin Saami people have been colonized and mistreated the same as other indigenous people all over the world. Have people really become so dumb as to believe the world is as simple as white and non-white people?