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The re-contextualisation and representation of women’s roles in the television series Once Upon a Time.

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This dissertation explores the representation and re-contextualisation of female roles in the contemporary television series, Once Upon a Time. Women in the media and society have long been undermined. Women, especially in the fairy tale genre, have been assigned stereotypically feminine roles that underline the roles that women in society are expected to follow. In a more contemporary world, representations of women in the media and the role they play in society have changed. Playing a critical role in changing this has been feminist thought and activism, which has resulted in an increased number of texts that showcase women in roles that are not only stereotypically feminine. A qualitative research approach was employed for this study, informed by an interpretivist paradigm. Two fairy tale characters, Snow White and Little Red Riding Hood, were analysed across three filmic texts that were purposively sampled: Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) and Jetlag’s Little Red Riding Hood (1995) were analysed in order to understand more traditional representations of Snow White and Little Red Riding Hood, and the third text, season one of Once Upon a Time (2011), was analysed in order to understand a contemporary representation and re-contextualisation of these characters. This study used three analytical methods: content analysis, visual/semiotic analysis, and actantial analysis, all of which incorporated textual analysis to support and further develop the findings. Ottosson and Cheng’s (2012) feminine and masculine trait categories were used to inform the content analysis. The study finds that Once Upon a Time highlights a world that is not male dominated but still contains some of the values of patriarchal society. It also challenges the heteronormative desire for love that is expressed by most fairy tale characters. Furthermore, the study suggests that the society you live in affects the privileges that you have. For example, white middle-class females have more options with regards to independence and being open about their sexuality, while women from poorer areas have limited choices due to their financial status and the society they live in.


Masters Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg.