Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



Committee Chair

Samantha Blackmon

Committee Member 1

Jennifer Bay

Committee Member 2

Paul R. Schneider


The Walt Disney Corporation has provided family-centered entertainment, for decades, in the form of animated films, beginning with the adaptation of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). Since then, and succeeding the death of its patriarch in 1966, the Disney Corporation has upheld the legacy of producing films that continue to captivate children through historical, cultural, and rhetorical approaches. However, as generations have passed, Disney heroines have changed and so has their strategies for accomplishing their goals. For decades, Disney has produced similar plot stories using the same character profiles as well: a girl, more often than not living a life of servitude or oppression, has a spontaneous encounter with a boy, usually a prince and the sole heir to a kingdom, who provides her with access towards “easy street”, come together to overpower an evil queen, stepmother, or witch with the help of her fairy godmothers and/or animal-friends, and then live “happily ever after”. However, as we’ve seen in the most recent Disney films The Princess and the Frog (2009) and Moana (2016), the plot-lines have changed and the characterizations of the heroines have changed. Disney’s first animated film featured a young, Caucasian princess and in 1995, nearly sixty years later, Disney finally produced its first minority princess, Pocahontas, who was Native American. Three years later, in 1998, animators announced the release of a film that would feature a second minority princess, Mulan, being of Chinese-Asian ethnicity. There were mixed reviews of both films, Pocahontas and Mulan, with conflicting feelings about the historical inaccuracy and mixed moral messages. Although Disney has successfully given a platform to these empowered heroines, the expense of such advancements resulted in racial and gender stereotyping. The purpose of this thesis is to examine the racial and gender issues in two modern Disney princess films, The Princess and the Frog (2009) and Moana (2016), and how these films are problematic when read with a contemporary lens. The contemporary reading of the films will discuss issues such as racial and gender privilege in the films as well as in 21st century America.