New faculty podcast critiques Disney’s influences, centers diverse perspectives

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Once Upon a Patriarchy, a new podcast produced through the graduate program in Writing and Digital Communication at Agnes Scott College, premieres November 8, 2018 on iTunes and Stitcher.

palma_once-upon-a-patriarcy.jpgIn each episode, fairy tale and media studies scholar Dr. Shannan Palma, founding faculty director of the writing and digital communication program, and award-winning survivor advocate Wanda Swan, director of the Office of Respect at Emory University, sit down with a special guest for a creative, laughter-filled conversation that both celebrates and critiques Disney’s influences on generations of Americans.

Tracing the fairy tales’ origins in folklore and significant adaptations in cinema, season one’s six episodes focus on Disney’s fairy tale adaptations, both animated and live-action, and center the voices and perspectives of people of color and LGBT and queer individuals.

Guests include JaNae Taylor, owner and host of Minding My Black Business, Susana Morris, associate professor of English at Georgia Institute of Technology and member of the Crunk Feminist Collective, and Tiffany Del Valle, director of diversity programs at Agnes Scott College, among others.

“I’m really interested in the power of digital communication to democratize scholarship and cultivate important conversations in a way that’s accessible and fun,” says Palma.

“I’ve written about the way that women use fairy tale referents as a form of coded language for discussing gender norms without using the language of feminism. However, there are also layers upon layers of racial coding throughout Disney that need to be sorted through, and there’s the intersection of race and gender and how that impacts children of color growing up. That’s not something that’s really been explored in fairy tale studies.”

Swan agrees with this sentiment and highlights this as a driving force behind her interest in the podcast and her "perpetual mood for activism that centers blunt interrogation and “petty activism” as a form of resistance.

“I am a petty, black, nappy, fat feminist who enjoys disrupting areas of space that were not historically intended for my flourishing and thrive. Sadly, this also includes popular Disney tropes where, even as a child, I was able to see connotations of the criminalization and/or marginalization of minoritized characters and their lack of access to a traditional “Happily Ever After.”

One night over dinner, Swan shared her reflections on Ursula from The Little Mermaid. Palma impulsively asked her, “would you do a podcast with me?” When the idea still held appeal for both of them almost two years later, they decided to make it happen.

They quickly determined that Palma would handle the production aspects and provide background on the literary history of the fairy tales, while Swan, nationally recognized for her anti-oppression approach to preventing violence and facilitating difficult dialogues, would serve as lead host and guide the discussions.

“Each week we strive to bring you a specific dialogue that uncovers a piece of the Disney formula that we both found to be simultaneously interesting and troubling,” says Swan. “It’s an opportunity for us to examine those values of Disney learned early and how that impacts how we maneuver through life.

The learning curve for producing a professional-sounding podcast was less steep than they might have feared. By episode two, Palma had gotten the hang of sound recording and editing, and Swan had identified three questions to shape each episode. What insights come from rewatching the films and understanding some of the choices made in adaptation? How does this conversation relate to or impact how you work to unravel oppression? And, how would you retell the story?

Season one topics range across psychosocial development, literature, intimate partner violence, police violence, colonialism, and queer desire, but Swan and Palma keep guests laughing and engaged throughout.

Palma plans to produce additional podcasts aligned with the graduate program in Writing and Digital Communication’s mission to further inclusive digital communication. They’re colloquially calling the production side of the program the DigiComm Media Lab. The next one she’s considering would entail collaboration between graduate students and a local community organization.

In the meantime, Once Upon a Patriarchy is wrapping production of its first season and beginning pre-production on its second to be released in spring 2019.

Follow Once Upon a Patriarchy on Twitter for hashtags to use when you listen to the episodes or rewatch the films. Join the conversation.

Agnes Scott College educates women to think deeply, live honorably and engage the intellectual and social challenges of their times. Students are drawn to Agnes Scott by its excellent academic reputation, exceptional faculty and metropolitan Atlanta location—offering myriad social, cultural and experiential learning opportunities. This highly selective liberal arts college is known for its diverse and dynamic intellectual community. Through SUMMIT, it provides every student, regardless of major, with an individualized course of study and co-curricular experiences that develop leadership abilities and understanding of complex global dynamics.