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Frozen II and the Cost of Decolonization

I’m going to start this off with a pretty controversial statement, Frozen is the best Disney movie. I grew up with the Lion King, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, etc.—but none of those can beat a movie that centers sisterly, familial rather than romantic love, features Idina Menzel’s amazing voice, and arguably is an apology for queerness. Given Frozen’s indisputable G.O.A.T. status, I was excited to see Frozen II recently, though admittedly it took me far too long to find the time! 

In many ways, Frozen II didn’t disappoint. The power ballad with Kristoff, “Lost in the Woods,” was incredible and the writers still decided to focus on the sisters’ relationship rather than making a romantic plotline the center of attention. The film also called into question the colonial narratives that we—we being those of us from colonizing nations like the US and nearly every European country—were taught and generally have a difficult time giving up. Though the more explicit myth of the white man’s burden has largely gone by the wayside, it still resides in our subconscious, as does the invisibilization of native peoples. Frozen II calls into question, indeed goes directly against, stories that claim colonizing nations were sharing their wealth of technology and “civilization” when they forced them upon the native people groups they encountered. 

However, the climax of the film raises a real-world question: What must colonizing nations do to meet the demands of justice? In the film, a dam made by the colonizing nation of Arendelle is the symbol of colonialism, a “gift” given by Arendelle, which in fact was meant to destroy the Northuldra, the native people that they feared. We are told that demolishing the dam will create a tidal wave that will destroy the nation of Arendelle, and several of the main characters act nobly to do so with the intention of restoring order and justice, despite the fact that they know it will mean the end of their home and way of life. Yet, dramatically, Elsa—whom we discover is the product of a secret marriage between the colonizing and colonized people groups—rides the spirit of the water in front of the tidal wave and uses her magic (magic that is a product of her Northuldra heritage) to create a wall of ice and shield Arendelle from destruction. 

So, what are we to take away from this powerful film? It seems that, somewhat akin to Abraham in the Biblical narrative, colonizing nations must be willing to give up their way of life, though ultimately no sacrifice is required of them or us. For, at the end of the film, Arendelle returns to its former way of life, more or less unchanged. It is saved by the magic of the native people, with whom contact has been restored. Elsa, the bridge between the two people groups, has brought them together. Yet, does this not assume that the problem needing to be solved was merely communication, when in fact the problem was the unprovoked attack by the colonizers upon the native people’s way of life? 

Frozen II is reassuring to liberal sensibilities. It teaches us that acknowledging the sins of our past is sufficient to ameliorate their harmful effects. It encourages white tears regarding the historical treatment of Native Americans and other colonized peoples, but does not mandate what justice truly requires: anti-racist action to address the ongoing oppression of these people groups today. So, Frozen II does take steps forward—acknowledging the fact of colonization is still needed in American society—but it fails to be actually antiracist and decolonial

How might the Christian story inform our response? There are many places to turn, whether to Genesis 1 and the fact that all humans are made in the image of God, or to God’s self revelation as the God of the Oppressed in the Exodus narrative, or to the fact that Jesus was to set up an alternative kingdom for a colonized people. However, here I wish to turn to what is perhaps the most misunderstood book in the Bible, the book of Revelation.1 As scholars like Brian Blount and Michael Gorman argue convincingly, this book contains a deeply subversive message to early Christians, who lived in the midst of an empire that seemed omnipotent and eternal. The problem these Christians faced was likely not systematic persecution, but rather the temptation to see Rome as the true ruler of the world rather than Christ. What John unveils in Revelation, then, is that God is in fact in control of the world, and that one day the Roman empire will be exposed as the bloodthirsty abomination it was the whole time. John the Seer is working to show the recipients of his letter that Roma,2 Rome’s patron goddess, is deserving of neither worship nor admiration, since at her heart she is a drunken harlot with a proclivity for murder—in particular, physically and spiritually murdering God’s saints.

American Christians have much to learn from John’s message. Though America is not Rome, it did build its wealth and power upon a foundation of empire and colonization, and it continues these injustices in the present day. However, there is always hope for redemption. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who is the primary person I study, had more reasons than most to give up on America, yet he maintained hope that America could be “born again”3 and become a redemptive force in the world. Like John, Frozen II calls for us to see American imperialism and colonialism for what it really is—yet John calls us to go even further, to do the seemingly impossible work of faithfully preparing the way for God’s New Jerusalem. 

In conclusion, despite Frozen II being an enormous step forward for Disney and other major production companies in terms of its portrayal of native people and the false righteousness of the colonial project, its narrative falls short. More is required from those of us who have benefited from colonization. For, unlike the rather idyllic ending of Frozen II, the problem in our world is not lack of communication between colonizer and colonized people. The problem is injustice and abuse of power. Our way of life continues to be dependent on the demonic systems and structures of colonialism. Thus, if we are ever to quiet the ghosts of our past and do justice to the colonized people in our present, we must not look to dictate the terms of reconciliation, but rather listen to the always, already present voices of those we have labored so long despite being silenced. Giving up our unjust power will require more of us than a mere willingness to change our way of life. It will require genuine transformation, metanoia. This transformation is what is required of those of us who inherited said unjust power, and by God’s grace our transformation will ultimately work towards the creation of a world where all people are able to lead more human lives.  

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David Justice

David Justice

David Justice is currently working on his Ph.D. in Christian Theology with a minor in Women’s and Gender Studies at Saint Louis University. He primarily studies Martin Luther King Jr. and liberation theology. He earned his B.A. in Philosophy from Greenville College, after which he earned an M.A. in Philosophy from the University of Missouri in St. Louis and an M.A. in Theological Ethics from Saint Louis University. He, his wife Mariah, and their two sons Abraham and Theseus live in St. Louis. They enjoy spending time together and seeking out the construction vehicles Abraham so enjoys. In David’s little free time he likes to watch E-sports and tweet about funny things his kids do. Follow him on social media: @DavidtheJust.

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