Race and the Renaissance: The legacy of diversity in Disney fairy-tale and folkloresque film adaptations

Change log
Anjirbag, Michelle Anya 

This dissertation deconstructs Disney’s corporate commodification of multiculturalism and diversity to examine the impacts versus the stated intentions of a US-centric corporation with conservative roots to become more diverse and multicultural in its depiction of race and ethnicity in a more globalized world. I argue that while the Disney Renaissance (1989-1999) period and the decades that followed mark a change from previous constructions of representation in the Disney classic canon, the corporation still falls short of multidimensional, pluralistic representation. Disney engages in cultural imperialism centering a whiteness as normative and subsuming and subordinating any difference under its corporate umbrella, which is then sold globally and supplants other narratives. The dissertation is comprised of three chapters. The first explores the Disney Renaissance and Disney’s foray into multicultural representation to identify and locate what I term the Disney fairy-tale mode, as well as Disney’s Othering practices, or, how the corporation best handles ‘difference’ by distinguishing it as different to its established canon. The second problematizes the medievalist constructs at the heart of Disney fairy-tale adaptations while demonstrating how the only two Black princesses depicted by the corporation are given different rules for how they might access the same fairy-tale magic as their white counterparts. The third chapter examines Disney’s most recent productions as it continues to remake its ‘classics’ in CGI and writes sequels to its fairy-tale retellings, and how these productions intersect with the communities they represent. I conclude that Disney fairy-tale and folkloresque narratives are, for better or worse, a global phenomenon; as the world becomes both bigger and smaller in modernity, it remains necessary to keep asking who is granted access to this ‘magic kingdom,’ and for whom access comes with caveats of being changed or rewritten by the corporation.

Sanders, Joe Sutliff
Disney, fairy tale, folklore, adaptation, representation, appropriation
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge
Rotary International; Vakhshoori Foundation