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Animating Narratives: Disney, Documentaries, & Designing College Personal Statements

Department: Literature                                                        

Instructors: Haydee Smith & Nur Duru
Instructors' Emails:;
Prerequisites: none 
Section ID: 155017 

Schedule: Mon., Tues., & Thurs. 1PM - 2:30PM PST


Course Description

What do you, Barbie, and Aladdin all have in common? Perseverance. 

This course examines how the narrative forms of fairy tales, documentaries, and college personal statements depict the nuances between knowledge, wisdom, fact, and fiction. Tracing the common theme of the "overcoming narrative" across these genres enables us to observe and analyze: 1) How fairy tales have been used to create role models and ideals rooted in specific cultural systems and ideologies; 2) How documentary storytelling creates an atmosphere of credibility and truth-telling; and 3) How college personal statements translate lived experiences into persuasive narratives depicting the author’s preparedness for higher education settings.  First, our course will examine the cultural and political assumptions and consequences that drive the retellings and adaptations of certain fairy tales.  Next, our section on documentaries engages with questions about truth, multiple sides to every story, and the social assumptions made about typecasted people and communities.  Finally, our course focuses on how we can deploy the educational elements of fiction alongside the factual techniques of documentary storytelling to draft and workshop personal statements that can be adapted for college admissions essays, scholarship applications, and/or publication in non-fiction periodicals and forums.

Course Goals / Learning Objective

At the end of this course students will be able to:

  • Understand and apply the formal and content requirements of personal statements
  • Define and apply the concept of the “overcoming narrative”
  • Understand how to navigate and apply the Aarne-Thompson-Uther Classification of Folk Tales and the Stith Thompson Motif-Index of Folk Literature
  • Analyze documentary films, television shows, and publications
  • Evaluate the cultural contexts of narrative adaptations and retellings (i.e. folk tales, Disney adaptations, etc.)
  • Create an archive of personal statements targeted towards college admissions, funding applications, and non-fiction publications

Topical Outline


Unit 1: Genres and Purposes of Storytelling

  • Narrative Genres (folk tales, documentary, investigative reporting, animated films, autobiography, personal statements, anecdotes, creative non-fiction)
  • Disability Studies and the Overcoming Narrative
  • Identifying and Addressing your Audience

Unit 2: Folk/Fairy Tales

  • One Thousand and One Nights
  • The Ballad of Mulan
  • Beauty and the Beast
  • Cinderella

Unit 3: Documentary Forms

  • Expository
  • Observational
  • Participatory
  • Reflexive
  • Performative
  • Investigative

Unit 4: Personal Statements

  • Differentiating between public use and personal use documents
  • Public: college admissions essays, funding applications, non-fiction publications, editorials, op-eds, and columns
  • Personal: journaling, autobiography, memoir, social media


*Courses vary by experience and exposure to content. Instructors have the ability to change content and pace to serve the needs of students. Courses have been modified for online teaching.