Proposal Title

Behind Every "Great Man" Narrative: Linda Woolverton and the Disney Renaissance

Start Date

June 2022

End Date

June 2022

Abstract

With the 1991 release of Beauty and the Beast, Linda Woolverton became the first woman to receive a writing credit on a Disney animated film. But Woolverton’s experience on the film was far from a fairy tale. Her hiring represents a shift in the production process at Disney Animation, as new executive Jeffrey Katzenberg reorganized operations to include a polished screenplay, sweatbox meetings, and hands-on managerial oversight. More than a positive stride in the name of progress, Woolverton’s hiring also was in direct response to the studio’s previous animated release, The Little Mermaid, in which Katzenberg felt attacked by journalists pressuring him on female representation. Woolverton was charged, in part, with updating the princess, moving away from even the version of femininity Ariel represented. Unsurprisingly, Woolverton faced resistance from the male-dominated animation team, who resented not only having a screenwriter, but a woman, among their ranks.

This paper builds upon recent feminist film history work by Emily Carman, Jane Gaines, Erin Hill, and J. E. Smyth in reassessing the varied, often underestimated, role women played in Hollywood film history. To this end, this paper actively challenges the received history of this period at the Walt Disney company, one that often celebrates visionary (male) executives and creatives at the detriment of their female colleagues. As such, this paper revises scholarly accounts of the Disney Renaissance by Janet Wasko, Douglas Gomery, Sean Griffin, and Thomas Schatz that have followed Disney’s lead in historicizing this period from a male-dominated, top-down point-of-view by instead offering an interview- and archivally-informed account of the contributions made and difficulties faced by one female screenwriter at the company during this transitional period.

Bio

Peter C. Kunze is visiting assistant professor of communication at Tulane University. His book project, Staging a Comeback: Broadway, Hollywood, and the Disney Renaissance, examines film and theatre convergence from the perspective of labor and storytelling at Disney.

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Jun 23rd, 3:00 PM Jun 23rd, 4:30 PM

Behind Every "Great Man" Narrative: Linda Woolverton and the Disney Renaissance

With the 1991 release of Beauty and the Beast, Linda Woolverton became the first woman to receive a writing credit on a Disney animated film. But Woolverton’s experience on the film was far from a fairy tale. Her hiring represents a shift in the production process at Disney Animation, as new executive Jeffrey Katzenberg reorganized operations to include a polished screenplay, sweatbox meetings, and hands-on managerial oversight. More than a positive stride in the name of progress, Woolverton’s hiring also was in direct response to the studio’s previous animated release, The Little Mermaid, in which Katzenberg felt attacked by journalists pressuring him on female representation. Woolverton was charged, in part, with updating the princess, moving away from even the version of femininity Ariel represented. Unsurprisingly, Woolverton faced resistance from the male-dominated animation team, who resented not only having a screenwriter, but a woman, among their ranks.

This paper builds upon recent feminist film history work by Emily Carman, Jane Gaines, Erin Hill, and J. E. Smyth in reassessing the varied, often underestimated, role women played in Hollywood film history. To this end, this paper actively challenges the received history of this period at the Walt Disney company, one that often celebrates visionary (male) executives and creatives at the detriment of their female colleagues. As such, this paper revises scholarly accounts of the Disney Renaissance by Janet Wasko, Douglas Gomery, Sean Griffin, and Thomas Schatz that have followed Disney’s lead in historicizing this period from a male-dominated, top-down point-of-view by instead offering an interview- and archivally-informed account of the contributions made and difficulties faced by one female screenwriter at the company during this transitional period.