If you were growing up in the 90s and early 2000s, you most likely had Disney Channel there to guide you from the awkward middle school years into teendom with Disney Channel Original Movies and television shows. While most of the movies and shows were just great fun to watch and laugh at, a number of them portrayed women and men as equals, and even most interestingly, a number of characters that completely subverted the patriarchy. Not only did a number of these films and shows critique gender norms, some of them talked about race, class, body image and even islamaphobia. And so, here are the ten Disney productions (in no particular order) that made me a feminist, before I even had a clue such a thing existed:
10. The Thirteenth Year (1999)
"The Thirteenth Year" was a great movie that took the epitome of an alpha male and turned him into a mermaid (or I guess mer-man is more accurate). The movie was great in that it looked at masculinity in a super feminist way and completely turned gender norms and expectations on their head.
9. The Proud Family (2001-2005)
"The Proud Family" was an absolute gem in that it took a black protagonist (I identified so strongly with Penny Proud) and had her explore her culture and heritage through celebrating Kwanzaa and dressing as Angela Davis for a school project. Her friends were a host of kids from different backgrounds—LaCienega, the wealthy Latina, broke out of the "poor Latina" stereotype, and Dijonay Jones completely disrupted respectability politics and was as ratchet as she wanted to be and was never made to be less than because of that. The most important episode of "The Proud Family," though, happened in Season Three with the episode "Culture Shock." This episode was my first interaction with Islam in the mainstream, and, more importantly, it highlighted the xenophobia that was plaguing (and continues to plague) the States in post-9/11 America.
8. That's So Raven (2003-2007)
"That's So Raven" was for a long time the most feminist show I had ever watched. It was absolutely groundbreaking. It talked about body shaming in the episode where Raven's body is photoshopped so that she looked thinner, and there was the racism episode, where Chelsea was hired over Raven because she was white.
7. Princess Protection Program (2009)
This movie had everything: princesses, lasting female friendships, women seizing political power against all odds, the deconstruction of essentialist ideas of femininity—need I say more?
6. Kim Possible (2002-2007)
Kim Possible was amazing. She was a crime-fighting hero, who's only superpower was her ability to multitask hanging with Ron and Rufus, saving the world (and Ron), and being captain of the cheerleading team. Not to mention her mother was a literal rocket scientist. Also, as far as villains go, Shego was the most important of them all. Completely fed up with being having ideas of super-heroism forced on her, young Shego went her own way and became a super badass villain who spent most of her day saving her incompetent boss from utter destruction.
5. Radio Rebel (2012)
"Radio Rebel" was a bit after my time, for sure, but it still made an impact. Tara is very clearly a feminist activist throughout the whole movie, but what really moved me was her anti-authoritarian ideas. She was so radical and I was sold on it.
4. Motocrossed (2001)
Completely ignoring the fact that Andy, the protagonist in this film, was my literal queer awakening, this movie was spouting all types of Grade-A feminism. Andy completely disobeys her father who tells her she isn't allowed to race, as it is too dangerous for a girl, and does it anyway. She shows not only her father but the rest of the racing circuit that not only are women strong enough to race, but sometimes they're better than their male counterparts.
3. Halloweentown (1998)
Three generations of super strong and fierce witches (four if you count young Sophie) and all their powers are passed down matrilineally? Each generation only getting stronger as she becomes a woman? An added bonus was that their romantic relationships were almost always secondary.
2. Cadet Kelly (2002)
"Cadet Kelly" is probably the most feminist film on this list. Hillary Duff and Christy C. Romano are absolutely great in this movie as physical embodiments of two different understandings of womanhood. They are both actors inside a male dominated space and learn how to completely own that space as women. Yes, they battle over a boy, but the most important take away is their character development and their relationship with each other.
1. Gotta Kick It Up! (2002)
This movie was amazing—a mostly Latina cast with each character given complex full identities. They all had their own storyline that tied back into the cheerleading squad and their journey as team. The coach, while a bit of a white savior, was also a great character as she was a success in corporate America in her own right.