Warning: there are some intense spoilers of Frozen 2 below, you might want to see the film before you give it a read.
You can imagine my dismay when I leaned back in the theater, ready to be amazed by detailed animation and a vocal track that would be stuck in my head for daysㅡ and was immediately slammed by racial themes floating around Disney’s newest, Frozen 2.
The film begins recounting an expedition Anna and Elsa’s father had been on when he was a child. Looking to form a new bond with the people of a magical forest, the people of Arendelle (Elsa and Anna’s kingdom) journeyed to this new people and their land, Northuldra, in order to bring them gifts. But what happened between the two groups was something neither saw coming.
I almost threw up in my popcorn when this mysterious group of people was revealed; with primitive, leather clothing and a strangely close relationship to nature, I was immediately reminded of stereotypes related to my own cultural background. It was clearly a take on Indigenous communities; those whose history with people like the ones Anna and Elsa were related to had not ended so favorably.
In the first few moments of the film, I was ready to blow my top. Even featuring a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, the film was really trying to shove the whole western culture down the viewer’s throat. And it wasn’t sitting right; I thought Disney was done making questionable movies about my culture back when Pocahontas finally moved off of people’s watch list. I thought maybe after Moana, with what brilliance they did portraying that culture and even employing people of that background, all was forgiven. We would settle with not seeing any more Indigenous representation in Disney ever again. I was okay with thisㅡ it wasn’t like I wasn’t used to not seeing the representation in mass media, anyways.
Irritatingly, the film clearly painted them as the “bad guys” at first. Something happened, while the people of Arendelle came to the mysterious forest-dwellers with a gift and good company. Something bad: The primitive group turned on their new friends, and drove a wedge between what could have been a long-lasting alliance.
As it continued, and the story advanced to show that nobody was really sure what had happened between the two groups that fateful day, I started to doubt my quick judgement of the film. After all, what it was trying to say was true, at least in terms of the Indigenous people in Canada and the US. Nobody seems to know, or to be able to agree on what happened throughout our history that could have led to where we are today.
While the stereotypes the film perpetuates aren’t exactly my most favorite thingㅡ I wish I had a magical relationship with nature and the elements that it entailsㅡ it did surprise me in what it had to offer today’s young people about the history of Canada, and the US.
The story moves on to reveal how Elsa and Anna’s grandfather himself, had been the one to turn on one of the Northuldrian elders. That the great gift promised to them by the Arendellians was, in fact, a ploy. That it wasn’t necessarily the Northuldrian’s fault that the alliance had been severed so quickly.
Indigenous people in North America have faced the same misunderstanding throughout their relationship with Western settlers. Treaties signed together in good faith turned out to be used against them, weapons the likes of which no one had seen before interrupted their way of life, and in the end Indigenous peoples got the worse part of the deal; a cloud of fog eternally placed over their heads.
But the film sends a more hopeful note home about reconciliation than I’ve heard in a long, long time. Arendelle is able to accept the fact that their ancestors had been in the wrong back then. They are able to allow the Northuldra to come back into their own; to become one with the forest once again. And most importantly, they even become allies.
However, reconciliation in North American countries is not something that will resolve itself an hour and forty minutes, unfortunately. Though that certainly doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
While the film’s exact ending may have seemed like a cop-out to a much larger and more complex problem, it does send a message of hope to those on both sides of the water. Reconciliation is something that takes long, committed work. But while usually people believe reconciling with Indigenous peoples is something that will take away from them (either in money, or land, or other things), Frozen 2 sends the message that reconciliation is possible; and that it doesn’t have to be a win-lose situation.
And with companies like Disney finally contributing to the conversation in such a way that not only promotes the education of young people but also showcases the side of a story that’s been disregarded throughout historyㅡ it may be more likely than ever before.
…Though I’m not sure how much of this a six year old will pick up on, come to think of it.