GeekGirlCon Blog

Panel Recap: Dissecting Disney: Race, Gender, Sexuality in Children’s Films

Being a Disney fan can be tough sometimes. Despite the countless hours I’ve spent rewatching “Moana” and belting out the entire “Mulan” soundtrack, it’s impossible to ignore the many, many ways in which Disney films – as well as all the other aspects of the massive capitalistic juggernaut that is the Disney corporation – have been incredibly problematic, normalizing sexism, racism, and other forms of oppressive bigotry. For many of us, Disney is an omnipresent influence throughout our lives, representing all that is beautiful, nostalgic, and hopeful, while simultaneously perpetuating harmful messages and stereotypes.

Given this dilemma, I couldn’t wait to sit in on the Dissecting Disney: Race, Gender, Sexuality in Children’s Films panel from this past year’s Con. Led by Dr. Arielle Wetzel, a lecturer in Writing Studies at the University of Washington Tacoma, and an amazing group of her students both past and present, this in-depth, thoughtful panel addressed how we can still love Disney films while finding them problematic, analyzing films such as “Zootopia,” “Moana,” “The Lion King,” and many more through a critical, intersectional lens.

The panelists began by introducing themselves and their geeky, Disney-related interests. At UW-Tacoma, Dr. Wetzel has taught a variety of pop culture topics, including television, warrior women, Disney, and Mr. Robot. She was joined by Theo Calhoun, an Ethnic, Gender, Labor studies major who enjoys film and board games; Larissa Bokoni, a recent UW-Tacoma Communication major graduate who is also a French translator and MAC makeup artist; Kiona Jones, a graduate student in the Master of Social work program at UW-Tacoma and an intern with the Children’s Administration; Ashley Primer, a recent Art, Media, and Culture graduate from UW-Tacoma and former intern at the Destiny City Film Festival; and Joshua “Rocky” Marks, a Psychology major at UW-Tacoma who is also a semi-professional voice actor who has had a few roles in audiobooks, games, and animation.

Now, without further ado, let’s dive into the panel itself!

Image Description: The character Wendy Darling from the film “Peter Pan” jumps off the plank of Captain Hook’s pirate ship. Source: Giphy.

Divided into several sections, the panel focused on a few key areas: race, intersectionality, and sexuality.

Image Description: The baboon character Rafiki from the film “The Lion King” fights off the villainous hyena characters. Source: Giphy.

First, the panelists explore the ways in which Disney’s anthropomorphic animal characters are racially coded, often along stereotypical lines. This history of racist representations goes back to characters such as Jim Crow in 1941’s “Dumbo,” a supposedly comical, foolish character named after the Jim Crow segregation laws of that era. Additionally, characters such as the Siamese Cats from 1955’s “Lady and the Tramp,” who sing the deeply problematic “Siamese Cat Song” and are heavily racialized and stereotyped, as well as the Hyenas from 1994’s “The Lion King,” who are coded as Black and Latinx characters and are both literally and figuratively segregated from the other, more noble, characters.

Image Description: The characters Baloo and King Louis from “The Jungle Book” dance together. Source: Giphy.

Additionally, panelists found a running theme of these “animals of color” longing to be human, and to win acceptance by assimilating into the culture of the human characters. This theme can be found in both 1964’s “The Jungle Book” as well as 2009’s “The Princess and the Frog.” In the latter film, the character Louis even sings the song “When I’m Human,” which the panelists analyzed as a representation of a hierarchical relationship in which animals – often racially coded in stereotypical ways – are seen as lesser than the “civilized” humans, even by themselves.

Image Description: The character Judy from “Zootopia” bangs her head against a desk in frustration. Source: Giphy.

The panel then moved on to discuss intersectionality, specifically as depicted in 2016’s “Zootopia,” in which various elements of identity are depicted in complex and intriguing ways, notably through discussions of the privilege afforded to prey vs. predator animals, animals of different sizes, and animals of different socioeconomic statuses. The film’s main character, Judy, is marginalized because of her small size, and is barred from many cases as the first ever bunny cop. She is denied the rights and resources of her fellow police officers, and “jokes” are made about her rural background and low socioeconomic status. At the same time, however, she experiences privilege as a prey animal and commits microaggressions against Nick, a predator animal. The panelists looked to this film as a representation of the ways in which Disney can successfully portray the compound effects of multiple identities within a single individual, and in the relationships between multiple individuals, demonstrating how people can experience both privilege and oppression simultaneously depending on their various identities.

Image Description: The character Moana from the movie “Moana” pulls Maui closer to her by the ear so that she can angrily talk to him. Source: Giphy.

Lastly, the panel tackled sexuality and gender in 2016’s “Moana.” Beginning by comparing Moana’s role as a woman leader and central character to other characters such as Mulan, Merida from “Brave,” and Rapunzel from “Tangled,” the panelists spoke about the ways in which Moana is able to experience more familial support, less gendered pressure and criticism, and more autonomy than those characters. Moana is not expected to fulfill a compulsory gender role in the same way as these characters from the past, and her community is comfortable with her being a leader. Additionally, other characters in the film demonstrate inclusivity when discussing gender. Even the extremely macho character of Maui has a line in which he calls himself “demigod of all men, and all women, and all genders,” implicitly recognizing the fact of a multiplicity of genders outside the binary. In the film, Moana also represents a welcome change from the Disney norm in that she does not have any romantic interests, and is not expected to fall in love with a man to be a compelling a strong central character.

Image Description: The character Shan-Yu from “Mulan” turns toward the camera and sheathes a sword behind his back, while a bird flies by. Source: Giphy.

The panel ended with a Q&A discussion period in which panel attendees. Some of the topics discussed included how minority characters in Disney films are often coded as “acceptable” and “unacceptable” in different ways, how to synthesize multiple musical styles without being appropriative, and how to introduce kids to Disney films responsibly by helping them question what they’re seeing.

Ultimately, I left the panel feeling inspired, hopeful, and invigorated by both the potential for growth and change within Disney itself, as well as the immense importance of remaining thoughtful and critical, even – and perhaps especially – when interacting with media that we’ve grown up with our whole lives and been taught to love and accept without question.

Hanna Hupp
“Rock On!”

Accommodations fit for a Geek!

Once again, we’ve partnered up with Hotel Max to bring an awesome deal for all you con-goers*!

If you’re planning to stay in town for GeekGirlCon this October 27-28, we have a group rate especially for our convention attendees. For just $169 per night, you get a spacious modern hotel room with a king size bed, free wifi, waived facilities fees, and additional amenities! And, if you want to be extra fancy, valet parking is only an additional $30.

Image: Map of Seattle outlining the path from the Washington State Convention Center to Hotel Max.

Hotel Max is just a safe, short jaunt down to the Conference Center at the Washington State Convention Center, so you’ll be able to be in the city right when the convention opens, and you’ll have a place to keep your cosplay in pristine condition, or store all your Artist Alley swag. And even after our convention doors close, you can continue getting your geek on with various events around the city, or just chilling in your hotel room and watching your favorite TV series.

A Hotel Max hotel room showing a large bed with red and white bedding, and a gray couch in the foreground

And, bonus! One of the reasons why we’re so excited to partner with Hotel Max again is that Hotel Max supports our organizational mission–for every room night that gets booked, we get a $5.00 rebate! So you can make your dollar go further in supporting our organization, and also be right onsite for the convention! It’s a win-win situation, if you think about it.

To get in on this awesome deal, book online or contact Hotel Max on +1 866.833.6299 and make sure you mention that you want to book with the GeekGirlCon 18 rate. The group rate is good for October 25 through October 29.

Make sure you don’t miss out! See you in October!


*And if you’re not a con-goer yet, what are you waiting for? Passes are available right now at our Early Bird rate!


JC Lau
“Rock On!”

Panel Recap: Breaking the Bamboo Ceiling

Source: me. Description: an image of a PowerPoint slide featuring round headshots of the five panelists with their names and twitter handles.

Breaking the Bamboo Ceiling: Representation of Asians in Film, TV, and Gaming was the first con panel I ever attended, so when I heard they were bringing it back for a fourth edition, I was thrilled.

This year’s #GGCPandas included archeologist-turned-illustrator-and-costume-designer Meris Mullaley, former Japan-based sports journalist and current writer, baker, and cosplayer Tony Loiseleur, GGC Twitter Administrator and self-proclaimed media binger Kristine Hassell, blogger and gamer Sonja Marcus, and former Virginia Tech professor and current video game creator and GGC Manager of Editorial Services JC Lau.

Caitlin Foskey
“Rock On!”

Fresh Off The Press, Passes for GeekGirlCon ‘18 Available Now!

Since the convention ended last October, the GeekGirlCon staff have been busy planning. Planning what we want this year’s convention to be, what we want to be. Even though we’ve got quite some time until #GGC18 commences October 27th, we’re excited to start sharing everything that we’ve put together.

And the time is finally here. Passes for GeekGirlCon ‘18 are available right now.

Indigo Boock
“Rock On!”

Submit Your Panel Ideas for GeekGirlCon ’18!

Everyone! GeekGirlCon ’18 season is officially upon us!

On our part, we’re getting things organized and settled behind the scenes. But what we need from you all, what we need each year to make GeekGirlCon the most memorable and magical weekend we possibly can, is programming submissions. Specifically, we need the excellent panel ideas that we’ve come to expect from our GeekGirlCon family.

This year, your deadline to submit applications for all kinds of programming is April 30. You have some time, so use it to refine your applications and track down potential panelists. While you’re working, here are some FAQs about panel applications with answers from our very own Panel Program staffers.


[Image Description: Three panelists from a past GeekGirlCon sit laughing with each other.] Adaptation, Appropriation, Influence: Using Other Cultures to Build Fictional Worlds, GeekGirlCon ’16. Photo by Danny Ngan.

Teal Christensen
“Rock On!”

Geek About Town: March

We’ve made it (almost) through the winter, my fellow geeks! We’re moving from the cold and gray and rainy and to the…slightly less cold and gray and rainy. And as the temperature outside starts to creep slowly upwards, we’ve got a wide variety of incredibly, cheering, 100% certified nerdy events to help you celebrate the coming of spring!

Image Description: A gif of a person basking in the rain as a flower blossoms. Source: Giphy



Thursday, March 1st: Emerald City Comic Con

  • March 1st through March 4th
  • 10:00am
  • Washington State Convention Center
    800 Convention Place, Seattle, Washington 98101
  • Emerald City Comic Con (ECCC) is the premier comic book & pop culture convention in the Pacific Northwest. Join us March 1-4 2018!

Hanna Hupp
“Rock On!”

Finding the Helpers

Source: Wikimedia Commons. Description: a black and white image of Fred Rogers smiling at the camera while putting on a coat.

It’s been a bit over a week since the events in Parkland, Florida. To be honest, I’m struggling with the thought that the bad in our society outweighs the good and there’s nothing we can do about it. Grief and mourning are both completely appropriate reactions to tragedy, and I don’t mean to downplay the importance of acknowledging and experiencing those emotions. I often fixate on disasters and miss victories, though, which is often more painful than productive.

As Fred Rogers, one of my heroes, said: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers—so many caring people in this world.” Taking his advice, I’ve made a list of some current helpers. Check it out:

Caitlin Foskey
“Rock On!”

Panel Recap: A Q&A With Overwatch’s Lucie Pohl

Image of Mercy via by Blizzard; photo of Lucie Pohl taken by Sayed Alamy at GeekGirlCon 2017.

When I play a multiplayer video game, I tend to gravitate towards support roles. I am the medic in Battlefield, the chronomancer in Guild Wars 2—and I’m a Mercy-main in Overwatch.

“Heroes never die!” is a sort of anthem, I think. Fans of the game truly rally behind their favorite characters. One of my good friends wears her D.Va headphones every time she live streams, another can’t stop doodling Pharah. I even chatted with a fellow Overwatch fan for a little while before the panel started, seated right up front. “I’m a Winston main,” she laughed after I exclaimed how pumped I was to see Lucie Pohl, but Mercy is her close second.

Beyond simply being a game, Overwatch is a community (as proven by the lengthy conversation I had with that fan before the panel). It wasn’t surprising that I ran into a plethora of fans and supporters, from young girls to older women, all excited to hear Lucie talk.

Lucie Pohl participated in a few big panels at GeekGirlCon 2017, two of which I covered: The Voice of a Hero panel, which honored other voice actresses like Erica Lutrell, Fryda Wolff, and Kimberly Brooks, and Lucie’s personal Q&A.

Lucie is an actress and comedian, and what she had to say was memorable, enlightening, but exceptionally witty and strong.  

Indigo Boock
“Rock On!”

Hey Staffer! Whatcha Geekin’ Out About? An Interview with Kathryn Storm

[Image description: a black and white picture of Kathryn looking at the camera and holding a figurine.]

Here is our latest installment of Hey Staffer! This month, we’re talking to Kathryn Storm, who runs all the video gaming events at GeekGirlCon. Kathryn has been with the organization for several years and geeks out over tech, cosplay, and of course, video games! Read on to find out more and to get a sneak peek of what we have in store for GeekGirlCon ’18!

JC Lau
“Rock On!”

On Loving Mozart in the Jungle and Finding Relatable Characters

If I’m recommending a TV show—or any piece of media for that matter—nine times out of ten I’m talking about a story that’s distinctly women-centric. Stories about women and other underrepresented groups are so incredibly overshadowed in the mainstream that it feels wrong to spend my time and energy celebrating anything else.

However, our media landscape being what it is, I sometimes find myself drawn to books, movies, and shows that aren’t as overtly feminist as I would like. In these cases, I like to think about why, despite its less-than-ideal representation overall, a story still resonates with me. It’s this process of (hopefully legitimate) rationalization that I’ve been going through for the past few years with Mozart in the Jungle.

Teal Christensen
“Rock On!”

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