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Interaction: Deriving and its influences

Kügenliche: Good evening. It is the eighteenth day of June 2016, and we are here today to talk about derivative works. Fan fiction, fan art, fan songs, and anything that fans of popular media create on their own. But derivative works also include reviews, critical analyses, and anything that interprets the meaning of an original piece. There is a wide variety of material, and there has been for decades – centuries, even. But only recently have people been able to share this vast volume of their own creations with the world. Likewise, only recently have the creators of the original media been able to receive and respond to their fans’ creations in large volumes. What does all this mean? Are mass media going to become more responsive to their fans’ desires? Are these creations a threat to the original copyright holders, or do they enhance the world that has been created and take it in new directions that the original creators could never have imagined? Or are there even barriers any more between the original creators and those who create derivative works? We have, as you might expect from us, convened a panel to which we may put these questions. First, joining us from Los Angeles, CA, USA, is an author who has just completed an internship at GoobNet, Ms Helena Stafford.

Stafford: Hi!

Kügenliche: Joining us live from the kingdom of Arendelle, to give the perspective of the characters, we have with us Queen Elsa of Arendelle and her sister, Princess Anna.

Elsa: Good evening.

Anna: Hi! [waves]

Kügenliche: And with me here in our studios in Warwickshire is the founder and chief researcher at the French Institute for Studies of Media Studies, Ms Jacqueline Orssey.

Orssey: Hello.

Kügenliche: Thank you to all of you for joining us. And just a reminder that GoobNet Enterprises, Inc [which doesn’t actually exist however] produces this programme for the World News Centre. So going to you first, Helena, you and a coworker at GoobNet have prepared a treatment for a sequel to the Disney film Frozen. This was in response to a campaign amongst fans, was it not?

Stafford: Yes, exactly. There are many of us who believe that it is time to see proper LGBTQ representation in major films, like animated Disney features. Frozen set things up for this by establishing Elsa as a complex, nuanced character, but not introducing any love interest for her. So Amber Lynn and I began to explore what a sequel that deals with Elsa’s identity and sexuality might look like.

Kügenliche: Well, I’d like to turn to you now, Elsa, and see what your reactions are to that. In the first film, as Helena said, your character had no romantic involvements. Do you think that by pairing you with another woman, your character has been given a chance to grow further, or do you see it as contradictory to how you were established in the first film?

Elsa: Well, it can’t contradict anything from the first film. I didn’t get a chance to explore any of that. I’ve actually been looking forward to having my own romantic subplot in the next film. Anna, of course, had hers with Hans and then with Kristoff. I think it’s only fair to give me a turn.

Anna: Well, I agree with that, but at the end of the day, our film was about the bond between sisters. It was about the way that we can touch one another’s hearts in a way that a romantic partner can’t. And Helena, that’s one thing I was pleased to see in your treatment. I mean, yes, it answers the call to give Elsa a girlfriend, but at the same time, its basis is... well, the emotional core of the story is still the relationship between Elsa and me. The fact that we both have someone we’re in love with changes that relationship in subtle ways, but those romantic relationships can never replace that familial relationship.

Kügenliche: That is certainly something to consider. Jacqueline, I’d like to involve you in this discussion. You’ve written about the relationship between creators and their fandom. How have the Internet and social media changed that relationship? Is Disney, for example, likely to respond to the campaign to give Elsa a girlfriend?

Orssey: In this case, no. I would not expect Disney to insert a girlfriend for Elsa simply due to pressure from fans. In other cases, there is a more direct link to the public. Doctor Who, for example, has existed for so much time that most of those who work on the show now were fans of it in their youth. I believe that this makes them more receptive to their current fans.

Kügenliche: Well, on that note, let us now be receptive to our current fans, you the viewers. You can now see all of the various ways in which you may get in touch with us, including E-mail, text message, tweet, and telephone. And our thanks, of course, to Olaf for helping display all of those addresses and contact numbers. We will go first to an E-mail from Joseph in London, England, UK. Joseph asks you, Helena, about your treatment for Frozen 2: Coming to Weselton. He notes that Elsa’s sexuality is not explicitly mentioned in any of the scenes that you have written, and he asks if this was a conscious choice. Helena?

Stafford: Yes, it was. It was very important to Amber Lynn and me to present Elsa’s relationship with Melina in a way that makes it natural, and not deviant or abnormal. There’s no scene of Elsa coming out of the closet, because there is no closet in this world. Nobody batted an eye when Anna fell in love with Kristoff, so why should anyone care about Elsa falling in love with Melina?

Anna: Yes, and I think that carries on naturally from the first film. Like Elsa said, she didn’t have a love interest then, so she had no sexual identity established. I’m the only one with any romantic ties, and those relationships are judged on their own merits. Like when Elsa was pissed off about me wanting to marry Hans. She had no way of knowing his intent; she was opposed to it simply because it was too soon. She wasn’t judging him, or me. Although you kinda knew that he was bad news, didn’t you?

Elsa: No, I didn’t. I didn’t have any idea.

Anna: I think you could tell. I think the alarm bells were going off.

Kügenliche: All right. Well, in –

Orssey: Sorry, could I...

Kügenliche: Yes, Jacqueline. Go ahead.

Orssey: Thank you. Yes, I just wanted to add to Helena’s point about portraying Elsa’s relationship. This is something we find often in derived works. There are so few gay and lesbian characters in popular films and television, and yet gay men and lesbians make up a substantial portion of the viewership. They find themselves tremendously underrepresented in the media. It should be no wonder, then, that they take matters into their own hands and write slash fiction, or femslash fiction, or transgender fiction. They are simply filling in a gap that the media has left.

Stafford: Yes, that’s right. That’s exactly what this whole campaign about Elsa is about. People are saying, “Hey, we’re ten percent of your viewing audience. Is it too much to ask to have ten percent of the media you create be about LGBTQ characters?”

Kügenliche: Is that where these fan works come from? Dissatisfaction with the source text?

Orssey: On occasion. More often, though, it comes from appreciation for the source. Fan art, or fan videos, or fan fiction take what the source has provided and build on it. Derived works allow us to look at a source in a new light. For instance, fan fiction about a film or a television programme is not constrained by what can be realised on screen, or what the studio will greenlight. Instead of settling for the limitations of the medium, fans can ask: What if those limitations did not exist? What if these characters could be placed in a completely different context, or in a slightly different one? What happened after this episode ended? What if characters from this fictional universe could meet characters from that fictional universe? In a way, this is what we see already from major studios. The Marvel Cinematic Universe, for example, or the recent Superman vs Batman film. These are all crossover fanfics that simply happen to be commissioned by major studios and turned into feature films.

Kügenliche: Well, that is a lot to ponder. But first, it is time for another question. Sam in Savannah, GA, USA sends an E-mail asking about the mass shooting event in Orlando, FL, USA last weekend. Sam argues that the person responsible for that event suffered from internalised homophobia and believes that this can be worsened by the lack of gay and lesbian role models in film and television. Helena, is that what motivated you and Amber Lynn to pursue this project?

Stafford: In a way. Of course, the event in Orlando happened after we finished writing. It was a complete shock to hear about, utterly devastating. For me, as someone who is working through my own identity and trying to figure out who I am... it’s appalling to think that people should fear for their lives simply because of who they are. Not just homophobia, but religious violence, race violence... I can’t understand any of it. I can’t understand how anyone picks up a gun, or a bomb, and concludes that using it on innocent people is justified in some way, or that it’s making the world a better place. I can’t... I can’t understand it.

Kügenliche: But do you feel that representation in the media, or the lack thereof, is a contributing cause?

Stafford: We can never know. We can never know what the person was thinking when he did it. But even before that happened, it was perfectly clear that we need greater representation of LGBTQ characters in the media. There are plenty of films that portray LGBTQ characters in a positive light, but they are not receiving the attention that they deserve. We thought that needs to change.

Orssey: There have been recent examples of this in American television. These include Modern Family and The Real O’Neals.

Stafford: But that’s the point exactly. Out of the hundreds of television shows, it’s a tiny fraction that includes LGBTQ characters as anything other than a stereotype or as a running joke. I think more representation will help all of us, including those who are straight, understand that everyone is different and that everyone has a valid place in our society.

Kügenliche: Well, we will turn now to another question. Emily in Whittier, CA, USA, are you there?

Emily in Whittier: Yes, hi.

Kügenliche: Hello Emily. What is your question?

Emily in Whittier: I wanted to ask about what you were talking about earlier, about LGBT representation in the media. But there are also so many movies and TV shows about white people. Isn’t it more important to have racially diverse casts in media? This has been an issue for a long time, and even today, the most popular movies and shows are always about white people. Isn’t it long past time to change that?

Kügenliche: Thank you for that, Emily. Helena, what would you say to that? Is racial diversity also important?

Stafford: Of course it is. All types of diversity are important. Any work that can move away from cisgendered, white, heterosexual males – in any direction – is a positive step.

Kügenliche: Would you consider a more racially diverse set of characters in your version of Frozen 2?

Stafford: Of course. Absolutely. Amber Lynn and I considered stating in the text that Melina was black. In the end, we didn’t want to specify a particular race. She could be Latina, or Asian, for example. But we definitely wanted more racial diversity in Weselton, especially since it was sort of playing the role that New York City did in Coming to America. In Coming to America, most of the characters we meet in Queens are black. We wanted to take that concept one step further and drop Elsa and Olaf into a fantastically diverse, but still realistic place.

Orssey: Yes, Disney has previously shown a commitment to diversity. Such films as The Princess and the Frog, Mulan, and Lilo and Stitch all featured nonwhite characters. Frozen did not feature any; no doubt there are many of us who will be hoping to see more diversity in the sequel.

Anna: Yeah, now that you mention it, everyone in our first film was white. And not much socioeconomic diversity either.

Elsa: How do you mean?

Anna: Well, there were five main characters, right? You and I are both royalty, and so was Hans. Olaf is a snowman, but he was based on the snowman that you and I made as kids. So count him as royalty, or at least royalty adjacent. So out of the five of us, only Kristoff is not from a privileged background.

Elsa: Olaf is from a privileged background?

Anna: Of course! Us! We’re his background!

Elsa: I don’t know. That’s... that’s just a strange conclusion to come to.

Anna: Anyway, I liked that Coming to Weselton had more representation from all classes. Starting with the opening song, where you’re walking through town and meeting everyone.

Elsa: Yeah, and in fact, the entire story takes an interesting approach, with the role reversal.

Anna: You mean, with you going out into town and me hiding in the palace?

Elsa: Yeah, exactly. It’s a reverse of the first film. The first one starts with me running off and hiding from the rest of the world. In fact, if not for you, it’s the origin story of a supervillain.

Anna: Yeah, but if not for me, you don’t run off and hide in the first place.

Elsa: Well, anyway, I’m the one meeting everyone in town, and then going to Weselton and meeting everyone there, while you’re the one who doesn’t want to see anyone. So it’s a role reversal, but it’s the kind that you can only do in a sequel. I ran off and hid in the first film, and everyone goes, “Oh, that’s just how her character is”. But if you run and hide in this film, everyone goes, “Wait, what’s going on with Anna?”. The characters are already established. People who have already seen the first one are going to recognise right away that there’s something wrong here.

Anna: And then, in your absence, I’m ruling the kingdom. And I saw some places in there where I adopt some of your character traits.

Elsa: The desire to be alone, you mean?

Anna: That, and the protectiveness. Like the scene where Olaf tells me about Melina, and I’m like, “A hockey player? Wait, has Elsa played hockey? Was she hurt?” The fact that Melina plays hockey is not interesting to me, not in itself. It’s knowing that she would probably try to get you to play, and that you could get hurt. That’s what I’m concerned about in that scene.

Elsa: Exactly. You’re the one who’s afraid, and I’m the one who’s fearless.

Anna: And the relationship with you and Melina... it’s more realistic. It’s not like those love at first sight stories.

Stafford: That was important to us too. We really wanted to slow play the relationship so that Elsa and Melina could establish themselves as friends, and then build on that. We even got Elsa stuck in the friend zone for a bit in the middle there.

Anna: So what about Melina’s character? Do you think that’s the kind of person you would be attracted to?

Elsa: What? I... I don’t know.

Anna: You don’t think she’s your type?

Elsa: I... I... I don’t know what my type is.

Anna: You don’t?

Elsa: No. That aspect of my character hasn’t been established yet. Maybe she is. Maybe her eagerness would get on my nerves. Maybe I like more subdued people. Maybe I like dreamers, or thinkers, or artists, or musicians. Maybe none of the above. Maybe I’m asexual, or aromantic. Maybe I like dom/​sub stuff. Maybe I like pegging.

Anna: [covers ears] Whoa! I don’t need to hear this!

Elsa: The point is, I haven’t explored that aspect of myself. And it sounds like, in that sense, it’s kind of an autobiographical story for you, Helena.

Anna: It’s a good story. It’s a shame it will never get made.

Elsa: Yeah.

Stafford: Well, Amber Lynn and I never had any delusions about that. I mean, yes, we wanted to come up with something that is very much in the Disney style, but the fact is that there are a few things in there – mostly the relationship between Elsa and Melina – that would keep this from getting made. But in a way, that was what freed us, because we knew we weren’t going to try to pitch it in real life. We could put in things that would probably lose us a G rating, like the fight between Elsa and Anna, or the crested tit joke. Amber Lynn came up with that one, but then she wanted to take it out. I insisted on keeping it. I kept telling her, who cares if it’s not going to make it to the shooting script? There isn’t going to be a shooting script.

Orssey: But outside of the lesbian relationship, there is very little that seems out of place. If you take out Melina and put in, for example, Melvin, I would say that it becomes something that Disney could very easily greenlight.

Stafford: Yes. We were writing this for the parallel universe where you can put LGBTQ protagonists in mainstream films and nobody protests it.

Kügenliche: That’s what enabled you to... let it go?


Stafford: Really?

Anna: [facepalms]

Elsa: You see? I told you! I knew somebody was going to say that eventually!

Kügenliche: Well, perhaps we should end our programme here, before I am banished from the kingdom of Arendelle. Let us thank Ms Jacqueline Orssey, Princess Anna, Queen Elsa, and Ms Helena Stafford for joining us this evening. Next week we will be discussing the 2016 Men’s European Championship football tournament and the security surrounding it. We’ll be joined by a player, a security expert, a stadium manager, and a cockerel who was banned from entering any of the stadiums. Please do send in your questions for any of them. Until next week, then, good night.

Orssey: So what do you two think of Donald Trump?

Elsa: Well, far be it from me to criticise anyone with a carrot for a nose.