Lately, there’s been a lot of buzz about Disney’s most recent animated movie, Frozen. The attention it’s been getting has been both positive and negative, all mostly for one reason: The eternal argument about whether or not Disney has, once again, whitewashed one of its movies.
First, let’s take a look at the technical definition of “whitewash,” according to a few online dictionaries. For the most part, if you’re thinking about this particular topic, “to whitewash” means “to make white.” Okay, Disney certainly did that here. There was a lot of white. But the definition is still open to interpretation. Many people interpret “whitewash” to mean that Disney is just making a bunch of movies with white people. True. However, other people interpret it to mean something completely different: That Disney takes the various ethnicities of the people in their movies (for example, Mulan, Pocahontas, Jasmine/Aladdin, or Tiana) and makes them white instead – this is the definition people tend to use when they want to have a “Disney isn’t racist” argument, however, and is not necessarily relevant to the Frozen argument itself. Besides, this is not something Disney has done. In fact, there are quite a few movies where different ethnicities are chosen, respected, and used. Personally, I don’t think there is a correct answer here. I think that with good, solid evidence, an argument can be made for both sides – but evidence is necessary for the argument to be valid, otherwise, we’ll just have people getting angry at each other for no reason other than believing the “other side is wrong.”
Now here’s my argument for Frozen, some evidence included.
I don’t think Frozen was whitewashed. I believe both definitions I provided earlier to be accurate. Frozen has a lot of white people. But Disney has gotten better at creating characters of different ethnicities, and it is for that reason that I do not believe Disney had a motive to whitewash Frozen. Yes, I recognize that Disney has had some problems in the past. For this movie in particular, however, what is not being considered is the background of the story, or how historically accurate the movie is (another reason I do not believe in the whitewashing of Frozen).
For those who are unaware of the story’s background, Frozen did not come from nowhere. It was written by Hans Christian Andersen in the early to mid 1800s, and the original story is called The Snow Queen. The time period alone should be very telling about the types of people there were. The world’s population was distributed in a certain way all of those years ago, and it was very different than it is now. We now have the means to travel and to spread ourselves out more, so no matter where you go, there is some sort of demographic diversity. While most cultures are predominantly one race, ethnicity, religion, etc., complete homogeny is no longer the case, as it was in the 1800s. In Frozen, there are very few non-white characters – in fact, I learned reading one Tumblr argument that you actually have to put the movie into slow-motion to see them, and I’m not convinced this is true. However, that is not a stretch of the imagination; that is most likely how the population would have appeared at the time. This is something I have learned while looking for pictures and histories of Danish people from the early and mid 1800s. If you think about it, there were very limited means of traveling. The society was predominantly white, and traveling would have been very difficult for anyone who did not already live in that general area.
Another thing to consider is interpretation and beliefs based on culture. For example, according to the movie’s co-director Jennifer Lee, Kristoff (one of the main male characters) belongs to a Scandinavian ethnic group called the Sami. Technically, Sami are “people of color” in that area of Europe. However, in the United States, where both the whitewashing debate started and the movie was made, they would pass as “white.” This does not mean I believe they are not considered people of color; it just means that in the United States, they do not look like they are because of our culture (this is something else I have seen while looking up pictures and histories). A director of a Disney movie, and the artists he or she works with, are not doing anything wrong by making characters look like people of another culture; right now, it only looks that way, especially because the people are not obviously non-white, and it looks even more that way when people point it out without appropriate information regarding that culture or the intentions of the director.
All in all, while my opinion is my opinion and will remain so for the foreseeable future, both sides of the argument are valid. Take a step back and reconsider, however. No one needs to change their minds, but think about the evidence. Frozen has on its side historical accuracy (i.e., time period, clothing, location, etc.). Maybe different artistic choices could have been made, but there is a possibility that the writers thought that it needed to be as accurate to the times as possible.