Finding the Horizon Line: Intersectionality as a Part of Animated Media

Representation, though intertwined in an intersecting and overarching issue, in any form of media is addressed as several individual movements – where advances may be made in the form of fleshed out and multi-dimensional female protagonists, we as an audience will only address it for its female representation and not for the fact that the character may be straight and white. Where there may be a character that identifies within the LGBT community, it will seldom be discussed that they may be male and white. If a person of color is a protagonist, they are, more often than not, male and straight. This pattern of ignoring the intersectional nature of a large population of people is not one to originate in media – beginning in social movements such as in the feminist movement with the rise of white feminism at its forefront, or the Black power movement displaying a lack of inclusivity towards the experiences of black women. The fact of the matter is that while it is not a new phenomenon in the slightest, the ignorance towards intersectionality is still a problem in media today. Where you may see yourself in a person of color, they may be of a gender and sexuality different to your own, or any of the variations on those combinations. Although many facets come into play in what defines people as inherently intersectional, gender, race, class, and sexuality play a large role in what is largely considered what contributes to an intersectional identity.


What is rightly talked about in the rhetoric of media representation is the impact that depictions of various identities has a developmental impact on children of every new generation. However, intersectional representation is more than just cultural representation, or any one kind of background. The act of depicting one form of representation and leaving it at that is flawed – varying personalities and three-dimensional characteristics are all well and good, but seeing multiple facets of oneself reflected in characters specifically designed to pose as heroic figures towards children is incredibly influential. I know for myself, someone who identifies as a mixed-race, LGBT identifying woman of color, having a distinct lack of characters who even somewhat resembled me led to a severe disconnect with my own race and culture, sexuality, and even femininity and comfort in my body as a woman. It is not only catering to one identity at once, but reaching towards many, and growing up in a climate that depicts characters and backgrounds that reflect one’s own experiences as a child shape the way that we as people interact and identify with our varying cultures, identities, and looks. Intersectionality, in itself, finds itself in a small, less discussed, subset of the rhetoric of the diversity conversation, and it is important to address that where it is shown, we as media and content creators not only address the multiple identities of people in lieu of inclusivity, but also that in doing so,in the name of diversity, we do not shoehorn these many identities together into stereotypical pairings.


For instance, while the intersection of characters is seldom addressed in the general scope of media representation as a whole, animation’s involvement in it is even less so. And specifically, with larger, streamlined animation companies such as Disney perpetuate the stereotypical couplings of two r more of those facets. Thus, even in the few instances of intersectional characters, there is inherently the emphasis on the co-construct of certain gender and races being inherently linked with certain dispositions, classes, and backgrounds. Evelyn Nakano Glenn, in her 2002 dissertation Practicing Intersectionality in Sociological Research discusses the varying complexities of specific intersections of American labor classes and citizenship in the United States as institutions that are “co-constructing systemic inequalities” within the identities that they appeal to. Glenn also goes on to discuss how while intersectional representation is on the whole an important part of representation of the whole person, it can be portrayed in a negative way: when it further perpetuates stereotypes and social constructs as a means of “representation” and under the guise of diversity and inclusion, intersectionality can be used to insinuate that harmful link between identities such as people of color and lower classes are the norm, or queer women being linked with a given body type/image, etc.


Instances of intersectionality portrayed poorly include the link between femininity in Euro-centric women in Disney films, and the juxtaposition of racially diverse women to  their race as being indicative of their class, and not as a facet of their personality as their cultural background. Examples of recent developments in intersectional characters done well include the women portrayed in shows such as Steven Universe, which, while showing women of color and of varying sexualities, does not prescribe to shoehorning these identities together into harmful stereotypes.


11 Replies to “Finding the Horizon Line: Intersectionality as a Part of Animated Media”

  1. Lack of intersectionality is definitely a problem throughout most of the film industry. Probably because it is easier for the people casting and writing to think of diversity as boxes to be checked off rather than try to make characters more true to life. People really need to get away from thinking that everyone can only identify as one thing.

  2. I never heard of the word intersectionality until now, and it was very interesting. I’m curious how future characters are going to be because as you said there’s so much more to a person regarding different assets. I definitely think it’s easier to develop a character within shows because they have so many more episodes, so I’m curious how feature length films are going to go about that.

  3. I completely agree with the points that you made in your article. It’s funny how we as consumers demand for three-dimensional characters in films yet we hardly (or never) get animated characters whose identities intersect. It’s definitely something that the industry should explore to give their complex audiences new and complex characters.

  4. Having a POS or LGBT person as the lead of a film or show is an undeniable victory for representation, but I did not realize it is just scraping the surface. Studios tend to only represent one or the other while forgetting about the cracks in between. I agree with the other comments that people are complex and characters thus should represent that. Since there isn’t much diversity in Hollywood’s director chairs, I’d imagine filmmakers are nervous about representing a world they don’t know of. They’d be nervous enough making a movie about a woman or person of color, but add more complexity and chances of misrepresentations are high. The solution would be to diversify directors, of course.

  5. It’s sort of incredible how intersectionalism is such an ingrained aspect of the human experience but is so often ignored or left out in film and TV. No one in the real world truly identifies as one thing but when it comes to media I find that many characters are defined by their race, gender, sexuality, class, etc, and this is normalized. Film and television can be tricky in representing marginalized groups because they can hide any necessity for dimension behind entertaining characteristics like someone who’s really funny or angsty, so that audiences feel like “this is enough”. But for people who have never had the pleasure of seeing themselves portrayed correctly on screen, we know it’s not enough and that intersectionalism is greatly lacking.

  6. Intersectionality is an incredible problem in our industry that must be addressed more. And I agree with all of your opinions in this blog post Eva, it is extremely messed up the way people want to make characters even though we know more complex characters are going to benefit children and adults alike. Not only that, having more complex characters give us a better image of what the world is like today. Having cookie cutter characters who are the exact same in every movie and every TV show is not only boring but unrealistic.

  7. This is a very interesting topic that I never knew the true naming of. Growing up, there were not a ton of great representations that I saw myself in, in popular media. With our industry being so accessible to the audience, it is important for different walks of life to be portrayed, but sadly it is often stereotyped. You don’t see a ton of intersectionality in today’s media, but with my experience of those around me, I really believe that this will change. it’s important for those to see themselves being portrayed on screen, knowing that there are people like you and you are not alone. You meet so many people during your life from many different backgrounds, but it’s not often seen on the screen which is disappointing to say the least. But as we enter the industry, some of us will have the ambition to change what the standard is for our characters we decide to portray on the screen.

  8. Thank you for speaking up about this and your experiences. The more it’s discussed, the more people will become aware of the issue and that there’s so much more diversity than what’s being represented. This may be too optimistic, but I think our generation of animators are more aware of these things and once we get into influencing positions in the industry, we can really make lasting change against this lack of representation.

  9. Wow, thank you for talking about this I definitely agree that while there are circles of discussion talking about representation and issues for different groups of people (i.e. the LGBT community, different ethnic/racial groups) happening more often nowadays, people definitely do not really talk about all these different issues together. I often forget that while talking about issues I face or will face as a woman in this industry, I can also discuss how that ties in with my position as a person of color and a first-generation student from an immigrant family. Within talking about an issue, we disregard other issues within that sect such as black women or women of color receiving even worse, sexist treatment than white women, etc. I think bringing this kind of topic to light definitely is a foot in the right direction and I’m definitely looking forward to doing more research on the matter.

  10. This is huge!! I run an on campus org that has an emphasis on intersectional feminism and it’s sooooo hard to bring in pieces of media to share because there just aren’t enough intersectional characters. Even when writing my journals on shows I watch (which often feature female characters), my critique was always that there were almost no characters of color. I really hope to see improvement with this soon!

  11. A lot of times, when I see a person of color or an LGBT character in a film, I want to see it as a success. However, as you’ve mentioned, simply portraying these characters as they have been so often before is not the answer. Intersectionality is definitely something that more creators need to consider when making their characters. When it comes down to it, there is so much more to the real world and real characters that filmmakers often try to gloss over; but most of the time, these qualities are what make these stories and characters so much better.

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