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Man who blogs stories of thousands of 'Rejected Princesses' tells us why

Durga M Sengupta | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:51 IST

Once upon a time at DreamWorks Animation, there was a man named Jason Porath who knew his way with effects animation.

Jason dreamed of stories. Stories where the waiting and wilting Rapunzel wouldn't be measured only by her long hair, but for the terrible way in which she was imprisoned. Real stories of women who deserved their place as celebrated princesses,but were too real to be documented so.

Jason wanted to tell these stories,write them, paint them and make others live them. One day, Jason left his job and started a blog called Rejected Princesses. The blog identifies itself as one meant for “Women too Awesome, Awful, or Offbeat for Kids' Movies.”

Jason updates this blog Wednesdays with three kinds of stories: fictional princesses, women in history who deserve their princess story, and contemporary women whose stories are simply phenomenal.

Then Catch found Jason, and you can read what transpired here.

Photo: Rejected Princesses

Just where did you get the idea? Not just the concept (effects animator; I get the drift), but also how you were going to make this website work.

When I was working at DreamWorksAnimation, there was an online article that made the rounds talking about how the Frozen princesses were bad role models. It got my lunch group chatting - like, if they're bad role models, we can come up with way worse ones.

So initially, it was just a competition to come up with the worst idea for an animated princess movie, but a lot of the ideas I mentioned, of ancient warrior queens I only knew about because I'm a trivia junkie, got blank stares from my co-workers. So I decided to make a bunch of "what if" style drawings, despite having almost no artistic training whatsoever, and put them online.

Some were just dark humor, like Lolita,but a lot were interesting obscure historical figures. Those were the most popular, so I decided to keep doing it.

Your conversational tone could be mistaken for that of a humour website's. And then you have'cartoons'. Do you get queries on what you're all about? And if so,what do you tell them?

Well, the real value of my work isn't going to be evident to window shoppers. Anyone who dismisses it at a glance, based off the art or the humor, is not someone who would have been a reader anyway, so I let them have whatever reaction they're going to have - no sense in chasing after them. The humor and art are really just the things meant to lure you in and get you interested in these stories. The gateway drug, if you will.

Photo: Rejected Princesses

Are people shocked that you're a man running a feminist blog? Tell me a fun story.

Oh, yeah. Plenty of people link to me on Tumblr and say, "I love this girl's blog! So funny and informative!"

Once I re-blogged one of those posts,saying, "And I love that you think I'm a woman!" - to which I got hundreds of stunned messages saying, "YOU'RE A GUY!?"

Who are the princesses you reject?How do you decide which stories will translate well into the visual?

Anyone I feature has to have agency, conflict, and personality. Without agency, it's a tragedy. Without conflict, it's boring. Without personality, it's a resume.

Beyond that, I like drawing visuals of things I've never seen in a movie before. I drew a South African legend of a dragon-slaying princess, largely because I wanted to see a South African dragon (I based it off a crocodile). The next entry I'm doing will feature a princess in a patchwork leather burqa. I like pushing the idea of what you could expect to see on the screen.

Photo: Rejected Princesses

You've been a part of some really big films at DreamWorks. Have you pitched your stories to them? Doyou think your work can inspire traditional 'princess' stories tobreak the mould?

I pitched more stories to them than anyone else I know. Around twelve, I think? Every single one got rejected. Which puts me in fine company, really - every employee who's ever pitched a story, save the director of Turbo, who was already fairly high up in the company, had their pitch rejected.

The upside is that my contract said that any ideas I came up with while working there were, by default,property of DreamWorks... until they released them. So by pitching and getting rejected, I was essentially putting the ideas back in my control. And it was good practice, gave me something to do.

There's been a lot of talk about new age Disney projecting princesses in an increasingly progressive manner. Tangled, Frozen etc. Thoughts?

Disney's doing the best work it's ever done. Frozen was just the start. Wreck-It Ralph and Zootopia were revelations.

They have some amazing people at the helm and I cannot wait for Moana. They are deftly toeing the line between pleasing the audience and making interesting, provocative art. No other studio in the world could have made Zootopia. They're absolutely on fire.

Name one of your Awesome, Awful and Offbeat princesses. And tell me why you picked them.

Awesome: Hard to beat Noor Inayat Khan.She was someone like me. Klutzy, scatterbrained, liked singing and writing kids books. But she was an honest-to-god Indian princess living in Paris, and a pacifist Sufi mystic at that. She was a bit of a weirdo, head in the clouds. And then the World War II broke out.She put everything in her life to the side and fought in the war. She joined the British intelligence and became the only radio operator working in occupied Paris - a phenomenally dangerous job, where the average lifespan was six weeks. She lasted five months. When she was captured, she fought, despite being a pacifist. She lied, despite it being forbidden by Sufism. And made repeat acrobatic escape attempts,despite being a klutz. She was tortured and beaten horribly, and died screaming the word "Liberte." She was thirty years old.

Awful: Elizabeth Bathory, a Hungarian countess from the 1500s, has the distinction of being history's most prolific female serial killers and one of the inspirations for the Dracula legends. If you've ever heard of someone bathing in blood, it came from what they said about her. I argue in her entry that it was largely a frame job. That it simply didn't make sense for a small handful of elderly women to kill hundreds of women, compared to the much simpler alternative explanation that she was an obstacle to others' political ambitions in the age of literal witch hunts. To be clear: she was inarguably a mean person and she likely was lethally abusive to a handful of servants, but she's hardly the cartoonish supervillain that she's made out to be.

Photo: Rejected Princesses

Offbeat: I love the Inuit folktale of Sermerssuaq, a woman so strong she could lift a canoe over her head with three fingers. Although her story is very short (and off-color),it's so vibrant and bizarre - as is much of the Inuit folklore I came across while researching her.

Do you ever run out of stories? I understand you get a lot of suggestions but do you have plans for where you'll take this when you hit saturation?

I have over 1,500 people on my master list. it's growing way faster than I can cover them. I'll be at this for a while.

Photo: Rejected Princesses

Tell me about your book. Are you re-inventing literature of the princess-kind? And will children be able to read this?

The book will have 100 entries, 80 of which are brand new. The 20 web-and-book entries will have redone art and updated information.

Unlike the blog, there's no outright profanity - although the substitutions I made lose no flavor, I assure you - but some of the entries have a bit of disturbing content in them. I'm working with the publisher to organise the book in such a way that each section would have ratings, similar to a movie, so parents can easily read the kids-friendly entries and shy away from the more harrowing ones.

Some readers have asked me to leave out the explicit entries entirely. But if I did that, how would I be different than mainstream depictions of women?

We grow up with the traditional princesses. And that shapes a lot of how we perceive what perfection is. Considering your blog doesn't shy from expletives, how are you really turning tables? Is it only meant from grown ups to undo their thinking?

While it's obviously aimed at an older market, Rejected Princesses is forbidden fruit for younger readers.It's the stuff that society keeps from kids, which is instinctively what kids want the most.

I try to be the cool uncle who treats kids as adults, lets them in on the conversation. If they're ready for it, they respond. If not, they shy away.

First published: 8 April 2016, 4:15 IST
Durga M Sengupta @the_bongrel

Feminist and culturally displaced, Durga tries her best to live up to her overpowering name. She speaks four languages, by default, and has an unhealthy love for cheesy foods. Assistant Editor at Catch, Durga hopes to bring in a focus on gender politics and the role in plays in all our interactions.