See Jane Spotlight

How Frozen 2 Resonates with Audiences by Melting Gender Stereotypes: Up-Close with Geena Davis and Disney Animation’s Jennifer Lee

Brought to you by Facebook SEEN

© 2019 Photos by Brian Knott

By Mary Ellen Holden

Frozen 2, Walt Disney Animation Studios’ sequel to the 2013 animated blockbuster, has set several records, including the #1 animated global opening of all time. The film breaks down traditional fairytale stereotypes and introduces a new set of universally appealing storylines based on sisterly love, compassion, and self-discovery as they set out to find the origin of Elsa’s powers to save their kingdom.

On December 5th, in Los Angeles, the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, Disney and Facebook hosted a screening of Frozen 2, coupled with a candid fireside chat between two leading changemakers, writer/director of Frozen 2, Chief Creative Officer of Walt Disney Animation Studios, and Academy Award-winning filmmaker Jennifer Lee, and 2x Academy Award-Winning actor and Institute Founder and Chair, Geena Davis. The conversation was made possible through Facebook SEEN, a program created in 2017 to support and drive awareness of underrepresented filmmakers in the entertainment industry (Instagram @seen). This program spotlights and directs attention to films by underrepresented filmmakers in spaces such as Sundance, SXSW, ADCOLOR, and Facebook Community Boost. The initiative also provides filmmakers with data and strategies to highlight audience demand for these films.

Below are exclusive excerpts from their behind-the-scenes conversation made possible by Facebook to shine a light on the making of this film and to share insights on why this style of storytelling is resonating with audiences everywhere.

Together: Hi, I’m Geena Davis, and I’m Jennifer Lee writer and director of Frozen 2.

Moderator: How do you know each other?

Jennifer Lee: We got to meet nine years ago, [when Geena] came to speak to Walt Disney Animation Studios. You changed my life! I have since stalked you a bit and followed the incredible work that you’ve been doing. As you won the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at the 2019 Governors Awards, I got the courage to come up to you and say that we’d love to have you return to Disney Animation and talk more about what we can do for women and diversity in the industry.

Geena Davis: I was so thrilled that you did. I’m kind of a stalker too, as I am such a fan of your work. I’m so grateful for you.

Moderator: Why do you think it’s important that this story is being told now?

Lee: Frozen 2, at its core, is the story of two sisters who tackle big things in the world like fear versus love and how you navigate an ever-changing world and grow up.

Davis: It’s so wonderful…what I love most about it is that it’s from a female perspective, a female point-of-view and gaze. It’s so important to see female characters taking risks, making mistakes, and having to deal with the consequences of their own mistakes and being in charge of their own fate. That’s really what I most love about it.

Lee: I think it’s a huge thing as women we are participants in the world in a huge way. Characters go through all the same anxieties and fears that we do. Stepping into and participating in this world is important. While Anna and Elsa don’t do it perfectly… they are navigating the strength that they have which is something we don’t always recognize in ourselves.

Davis: And, other characters in the movie are trusting them to make their own choices and decisions and looking at them as leaders.

Lee: It was huge as we’ve had a great response to Kristoff. Kristoff is a true Disney prince because he believes in the women, and he supports the woman he loves and asks her, “What do you need? I’m here.” Versus, “I’ve got this.” Those are the men in my life; and, there’s authentic support which has been a fun part of this as well.

Davis: Yes, that’s special and something you don’t often see in fiction.

Moderator: What do you hope for people watching this film?

Lee: At the end of the day, Frozen 2 is about hope, and it’s about how you persevere. Perseverance is the #1 thing. There are so many great challenges in life, and change is so hard to navigate, but a lot of us do participate and persevere.

Davis: Absolutely. And I think girls especially can come out of this film feeling empowered. That’s what happened with the first Frozen film and this one as well where you see characters that look like you are facing adversity and struggling through but, finding their voice and their strength. That is incredibly empowering.

An Insider Look at Frozen 2 with Jennifer Lee

The main theme of Frozen 2 has to do with fear vs. love as you navigate change and grow up in the world. I personally connect with this, as one of the hardest things in life is navigating change and tackling the world that you live in as you grow up. This is more complex than good vs. evil. In this ever-evolving world, it’s timely but also timeless as we all go through it.

One of the things that makes this film and these characters so relevant is that our world seems to be changing at a faster and faster rate – we are navigating changes in our communities, in our culture, our society, and our environment. There is a lot of fear in what…the right choice is; but, also that courage to do so, to step into the unknown; the courage to participate in this world and make it a better place.

Getting to work on Frozen 2 is such an incredible privilege for me to have two strong female leads, these incredible sisters and to create these aspirational characters that can speak to men, women, boys, and girls. It’s been…the creative experience of a lifetime.

When asked to provide advice for women filmmakers and storytellers entering this industry, I would say “don’t give up, listen to constructive criticism, don’t take it personally and don’t let self-doubt get in the way. Just bring your passion, and with each experience, you will grow and learn.”

An Insider Look at Frozen 2 and Filmmaking with Geena Davis

I founded an Institute on Gender in Media to examine how female characters are portrayed to children.

I recently saw Frozen 2 and was absolutely blown away by it. I was an enormous fan of the first film; it was culture shifting in the way it transformed our ideas about fairy tales and who rescues who. It’s the love that the sisters have for each other that saves the day. Frozen 2 is an extraordinary expansion of how they work together and support each other. They go through some pretty hair raising, challenging, and frightening things, but through their partnership, they succeed. It is so important for boys and girls to see women in charge of their lives and finding their own solution to their problems.

It’s incredibly valuable that we have these Frozen movies and that we have more and more like them. We need to see stories, told from a female perspective that shows the female characters doing interesting, important, and challenging things. We need to see them in charge of their own fate. It’s crucial for girls and boys to see girls facing their problems, triumphing, and being leaders. We don’t have enough real-life role models for girls to aspire to so they can look at these fictitious characters and say, “I want to be like that.” “I could do that too.”

Jennifer Lee is an incredible role model…who’s blazing a trail for everyone. It’s incredibly important to realize the value of female storytellers as we are in our culture weaning out half the population when only 4% of films are directed by women. We need to do much, much better in this area. Having a female storyteller and a female director only enhances how the female characters are presented so, it’s very important to our society to evolve in that direction to really embracing the contributions that women have.

IF SHE CAN SEE IT, SHE CAN BE IT