“Show Yourself”: decolonial queer pedagogies of Frozen 2.
This post summarises an article by Kata Kyrölä and Tuija Huuki exploring Disney’s Frozen 2 from the perspective of decolonial queer pedagogies.
Why did an animated movie about two young Indigenous women, trying to reconcile settler-colonial trauma, become one of the most popular animated children’s films of all time? What can films such as Frozen 2 (2019, directed by Jennifer Lee & Chris Buck) teach their audiences, children and adults alike, about trauma and healing? What significance did a collaborative production process between Disney and a group of Sámi experts have? And how can children’s films function as queer pedagogy, teaching about gender and sexual diversity and alternative forms of kinship and family in approachable ways?
These are some of the questions we wanted to weave together in our collaborative article on the decolonial queer pedagogies of Frozen 2, published recently in the journal Gender and Education’s special issue on Indigenous Cosmologies.
The title of the article, ‘Show Yourself’, comes from a song that one of the main characters of Frozen 2, Elsa, sings at a key turning point of the film’s narrative. ‘Show Yourself’ is about always feeling different and not belonging, but finally coming to the point where all secrets will be revealed. In the film, the secrets have to do with Elsa and her sister Anna’s hidden background as Indigenous people and the traumatic traces of settler colonial violence, but unsurprisingly, ‘Show Yourself’ has also been received by the queer Disney public as a queer anthem. The character Elsa is a Disney princess whose narrative does not include heterosexual romance – which, in the Disney context, is enough to make her readable as queer, like in the 2016 Twitter campaign, #GiveElsaAGirlfriend.
Elsa singing ‘Show Yourself’ (image: Disney 2019).
We got interested in Frozen 2 because of the way it intertwines Indigenous sensibilities with queer sensibilities, and because of how the film deals with and proposes ways of repairing cross-generational historical trauma. We argue that Frozen 2 and its popularity cannot be understood apart from the massive traumatic impact of settler colonialism, its fundamental, large-scale injustice that forms the dark backbone of so many current nation states, including the Nordic countries, the United States and the United Kingdom. The trauma extends to the erasure of Indigenous understandings of gender and sexual diversity as grounded in nature – diversity that Frozen 2’s non-human creatures gently hint towards. In queer Indigenous studies, sexuality is also understood as broader than sex, a force of nature as variable as nature itself, a form of connecting to other bodies, land and history. In a similar vein, Elsa and Anna form intimate, embodied, sensory bonds and kinship relations with various human and non-human creatures in the film, such as water, fire, wind and earth spirits, many of whom are ambiguously gendered.
Elsa forming an intimate, magical connection with Nokk, the spirit of water (image: Disney 2019).
Frozen 2’s production process was also ground-breaking, as Disney collaborated with an advisory board called Verddet. The board consisted of Indigenous Sámi scholars, artists and experts, and Disney also signed a contract with the Sámi Councils of Norway, Sweden and Finland to make the film culturally sensitive and respectful of the Sámi and their culture – especially in terms of the film’s portrayal of the fictional Northuldra people who were modeled after the Sámi. The Sami are the Indigenous people of Northern Europe whose traditional land spans across the Northern parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and the Kola Peninsula in Russia. Both Frozen films borrowed from and alluded to aspects of Sámi culture, such as reindeer herding and yoik song.
Anna and Elsa find out that they are members of the Indigenous Northuldra tribe through their mother (image: Disney 2019).
We argue that Frozen 2 can function as decolonial queer pedagogy, as it allows its viewers – children and adults, Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike – to engage with Indigenous ethics and worldviews as well as queer Indigenous understandings of intimacy and kinship. Frozen 2 makes widely known, even if through fantasy, the historical trauma experienced by the Sámi in specific and Indigenous people more broadly across the globe. It is a film both made for children and youth and where children and youth are active agents in decolonization efforts, Indigenous resistance, and formations of queer intimacy and kinship constellations between human and non-human creatures. Notably, it is entirely possible to watch Frozen 2 and never make the connection to real-life questions of Indigenous sovereignty, settler colonial violence, or gender and sexual diversity. But the animated fantasy also enables imagining queer, non-human intimacies and Indigenous worlds in ways that can be seen as highly subversive and political without being explicit about it – which in turn enables reaching audiences that might otherwise be alienated by too explicitly subversive themes.
Read the full open access article: Tuija Huuki & Kata Kyrölä (2022) ‘Show yourself’: Indigenous ethics, Sámi cosmologies and decolonial queer pedagogies of Frozen 2, Gender and Education, published online 23 January 2022, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09540253.2021.2023112.