The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Critical Media Literacy and Disney Female Characters
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The purpose of this research project was to use a qualitative approach to explore Critical Media Literacy (CML) with young girls by collaboratively analyzing Disney animated films. My goal was to provide a safe and encouraging space for children to share their perspectives and opinions of Disney animated female characters featured in The Little Mermaid (Ashman, Musker, & Clements, 1989), Cinderella (Disney, Geronimi, Jackson, & Luske, 1950), and The Princess and the Frog (Del Vecho, Clements, & Musker, 2009). I used CML as my theoretical framework as it provided an inquisitive approach to watching films, which, in turn, encouraged the participants to use critical thinking pertaining to the images of female characters in Disney. I also incorporated feminist theory as the majority of discussion revolved around the physical appearance of female characters as well as the participants’ understandings of femininity. I conducted two focus groups with 4 young girls, aged 7 to 11, to gain insight into their understanding of Disney female characters. An inquisitive and collaborative approach to watching films revealed three themes: (a) powerful women in Disney are mean and ugly; (b) heterosexual relationships are paramount; and (c) Disney Princesses are always pretty and nice. I concluded by recommending the importance of CML and collaborative film-watching with young children as the simplicity of asking questions encourages young people to become aware of, challenge, and think critically about the media they are consuming.