Date of Award

Spring 2015

Document Type

Undergraduate Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of arts (BA)


Global Honors

First Advisor

Ellen Moore


The use of cultural studies methods such as textual analysis through diagnostic critique, to interpret and understand media culture and the political and social meanings and messages contained in film and television, offers insights into how cultures around the world are evolving into the 21st century. This paper looks at three films: Whale Rider, (New Zealand, 2002, directed by Niki Caro), Spirited Away, (Japan, 2001, directed by Hayao Miyasaki), and Frozen, (United States, 2013, directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee), and analyzes representations of gender, culture, and identity, as well as the evolution, growth, and liberation of each film’s female protagonist(s) from repressive forces. Furthermore, this paper identifies and discusses aspects of these films that maintain common themes of oppression and discuss how these representations intersect and reinforce each other. This research utilizes diagnostic critique as method and engages with feminist theory as critical theory, to examine how traditional representation of gender and cultural identity, specifically in regard to existing social struggles and recent events are changing in an increasingly globalized and interconnected world. This paper puts forth that 21st century international films such as Whale Rider and Spirited Away contain powerful representations of gender empowerment and cultural preservation that reflect events of the late 20th and early 21st centuries and react to the homogenizing forces of globalization. Frozen encourages empowerment of the female; however, this empowerment is contingent upon traditional standards of Western beauty, sexuality, and race, and fails to offer effectively powerful cultural diversity.