PhD Candidate Ailsa Lipscombe wins Charlotte Frisbie Student Paper Prize

Ailsa Lipscombe

Ailsa Lipscombe, Doctoral Student in Music History and Theory, was awarded the 2017 Charlotte Frisbie Student Paper Prize. Lipscombe's paper Disembodiment as Disempowerment: Indigenous Vocal Performance in Disney’s Frozen won the prize. 

The Charlotte Frisbie Student Paper Prize recognizes the most distinguished student paper in ethnomusicology of Indigenous music research presented at the SEM annual meeting. The prize comes with a cash award of $100. All students giving papers on Indigenous topics at the SEM conference are encouraged to submit their papers, as presented (not revised), for consideration.

Abstract from Lipscombe's paper:

The 2013 release of Disney’s Frozen reignited discussions about the franchise’s visual and sonic representations of gendered and racialized bodies. Critiqued as their most progressive film yet, but also as a classic case of “Disney whitewashing” (Tucker 2014), the absence of indigenous bodies in moments of performed Sámi music reduces indigeneity in Frozen to the task of merely cultivating a mood of “Otherness.” This paper examines how Frozen navigates body politics and cultural agency through the staging of vocal performance. Unlike the “palpable physicality” (Stilwell 2015) of solo singing by principal protagonists in the film, all three moments of disembodied vocal performance belong to expressions of Sámi musical traditions. The opening choral piece “Vuelie,” praised by Jérémie Noyer (2014) for giving Frozen its “native spirit,” exemplifies a form of musical landscaping, whereby Sámi music is used to render the non-localized Scandinavian setting “authentically” and natively different. However, these untethered indigenous voices are only granted the ability to sing by Queen Elsa’s performances of whiteness. Indeed, as she fights to be sovereign of Arendelle, she demonstrates her control over the nation-state by determining when Sámi music may sound and when it must disappear. These notable performances of disembodied indigeneity thus continue to raise concerns about racial representation in mainstream animation, relegating autochthonous cultures to the land rather than to a character. The invisibility of Sámi bodies in Frozen reveals that the inclusion of indigenous musical materials is not enough to permit racially-marked characters to “let go” of Disney's tropes of disempowerment.