Maleficent Leading Ladies

Whilst the Brothers’ Grimm are undoubtedly among history’s greatest storytellers, their stories proffer traditional gender roles. Sleeping Beauty is one such story that promotes a pretty archaic view of women by today’s standards. Maleficent, the remake of Sleeping Beauty is thus a strange place to seek a feminist manifesto, but that is exactly what I found whilst watching it. The movie is far from good, but it does take the original story and inject some much needed feminist-revisionst flavour. My male movie buddy, whilst agreeing that the movie was terrible, failed to understand why I was so excited to see the fairytale flipped and a strong, multifaceted female character as the lead in a movie. This led to a ‘heated debate’, some dangerous ideas and me pondering the archetypal woman in the wee hours of the morning.

Sleeping BeautyMy aforementioned movie buddy kept insisting that many movies have strong female leads (citing Frozen, Salt and numerous rom-coms as his evidence) and generally arguing that people prefer to watch men in save-the-world-superman-type roles as males are physically the stronger sex and it’s therefore more realistic (particularly for comic-book heroes). I huffed and puffed and…went home to do some research.

Did you know there’s a thing called the Bechdel test? I didn’t. It basically tests to see if a movie has two named female characters who talk to each other at some point about anything other than a man. I initially thought this is setting the bar ridiculously low, however to my surprise (and disappointment) the majority of top-grossing films do not pass. Yes, you read that correctly, the majority do not pass. The entire Star Wars series, the Lord of the Rings trilogy (including the Hobbit), and all but one film in the Harry Potter series fail. In The Empire Strikes Back, Princess Leia is the only named women in the galaxy and is the love interest of both male protagonists, Han and Luke. For all of Leia’s strengths and progressive leadership dialogue, she spends an awful lot of time getting saved or kissed. Make of that what you will.

More recently, despite being nominated for best picture this year both The Wolf of Wall Street and Her fail and the only reason American Hustle passed is due to a 10 second conversation between Jennifer Lawrence and Elisabeth Röhms characters about nail polish. You might be surprised that other hit movies such as Avatar, The AvengersThe Social Network, The Lone Ranger and Run Lola Run (despite Lola being considered one of the more well rounded female characters ever put to film) also fail. Yet, when you reverse the criteria and perform the Bechdel test on male characters, it is almost impossible to find a movie that doesn’t pass.

Possibly even more worrying however, is that in movies where females have a role (leading or not), they play to an archetype being either the innocent virgin maiden, the temptress or the evil witch. Most often, it is a male hero who drives the storyline while his female opposite has already been branded as a sinner or saint, Madonna or whore – according to her moral sins or virtues. The hero however is free to be complex and flawed whilst he navigates these archetypal women.

WonderWoman

Briefly going back to comic book movies, which my movie buddy was staunch in defending, it is interesting to note that whilst the likes of Batman, Spiderman and Superman have been rebooted numerous times, Wonderwoman and Catwoman have not. Again, the majority of these stories utilise the saving of the ‘damsel in distress’ to show the heroes worth. In many cases, a single man saves the known universe whilst all that is good and pure is symbolically embodied by the rescue of the single virgin/Princess Leia character who cannot fend for herself. Basically, a woman who is anything other than a love interest, who needs rescuing (or a sexual conquest in the case of Bond) is considered progressive, much like the ‘feline fatale’ Catwoman was when she first appeared in 1940 (she only had to wait 64 years to get her own movie). It’s interesting to note that Bob Kane, the creator of Catwoman said this:

I felt that women were feline creatures and men were more like dogs. While dogs are faithful and friendly, cats are cool, detached and unreliable…cats are hard to understand as women are…You always need to keep a women at arms length. We don’t want anyone taking over our souls, and women have a habit of doing that.

I’m not calling for existing super heroes to change genders, but is it so impossible to imagine they become involved in differing and more creative story lines? Why not have Mary Jane help Spiderman save the world rather than be the one in need of saving, or invent a new female superhero to join the Avengers? Is it really such a radical idea?

According to an analysis of 2013’s fifty most successful blockbusters, films with a better balance of women made more money overall, so there is a strong audience for such changes in film to occur.
Whilst I’d agree with my movie buddy that women’s roles in film have gradually changed, what is important here is not the exception to the rule, but the dominant rule itself. Old ideas are given weight through repetition, until over time they come to form popular notions about the essential human struggle. Yes, Maleficent was more well-intentioned than accomplished but it was at least original and went against tradition; a rare feat it should be applauded for.

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Happily Ever After?

Belle up for bestiality charges?
Jasmine fighting the CIA to get Aladdin back?
Ariel losing her sight due to BP?
Pocahontas becoming a little too trigger happy?

Basically, I think you should just stop whatever you’re doing and watch this video.
It’s brilliant.

Prince Charming, wherefore art thou Prince Charming?

Once upon a time in a far away land a baby boy was born in a shining castle. His parents, the King and Queen took a risk and named him Prince Charming. As the baby boy grew up, his parents breathed a sign of relief as the boy lived up to his name and grew into a intelligent, brave, handsome and witty young man. He also had amazing teeth and a good fashion sense. It’s incredibly lucky he turned out the way he did, as it would have been very awkward to have an ugly, mentally unstable and socially retarded son named Prince Charming.

After Charming finished high school he got a bachelors degree in ‘rescuing damsels in distress’ and a masters degree in ‘dragon slaying’. Rumor has is, he even started his PhD in ‘understanding women’ but the rumor can neither be confirmed or denied. Prince Charming however, will be most remembered for his many high profile relationships. He started dating his first girlfriend Snow White after he kissed her and she woke out of her enchanted sleep. Talk about being at the right place at the right time! Given all the magazines and TV shows were obsessed with publicizing ever detail of their relationship, women of all ages soon began to fall in love with Price Charming and started singing “someday my prince will come…” in his honor.

After Snow, Prince Charming moved onto Cinderella. We don’t know why he left Snow for Cindy but one can assume it’s because he developed an infatuation with blondes. Remarkably, despite 13 years passing between him dating the two princesses he had not aged at all. Many women began to regret not asking Charming which face cream he used. After his relationship with Cindy became public knowledge, Prince Charming became a household name and the source of many women’s fantasies. Female peasants mobbed him every time he left the castle, and he got more princess ass than he even knew what to do with.

Nine years later, Charming left Cindy to be with Sleeping Beauty Aurora (yet another blonde). But this relationship was complicated and Aurora had baggage to say the least. Prince Charming had to rescue Aurora from the highest tower of the castle. Luckily, he completed his masters degree so was qualified to slay the dragon that stood in his way. Once again Charming kissed Aurora, she awoke from her slumber (these princesses really like to sleep) and they started dating.

But unfortunately, this is where the story starts to get a little blurry. Woman began to realize they didn’t need Prince Charming and he was therefore made redundant. They started burning their bras and singing along to Aretha Franklin demanding RESPECT. Prince Charming’s status died and he became a D-grade celebrity. His legacy (somewhat) lived on with Prince Eric and Prince Naveen but they served to be just secondary characters in the princesses lives. Ariel was badass, made her own rules and saved herself. Besides, she was a redhead so it’s doubtful Charming would have even been interested. Prince Naveen on the other hand turned his princess into a frog. Counterproductive and rude if you ask me. But Tiana figured it out and saved both their arses. It’s clear the standards required to be a prince have slipped over time, and now the princesses are the ones saving the day (hallelujah!)

But despite the women’s liberation, and progress being made, Prince Charming’s lineage has been explored and today women have found his descendants. Two of his more famous cousins (twice removed) include Edward Cullen and Christian Grey. It is believed they’re from his fathers side.

Both of these descendants seem more sulky than sparkly (unless of course Edward goes into the sun – then he’s sparkly, but not in the good way). Nonetheless women around the world have fallen in love with them both. However, somewhere along the genetic line, some bad DNA got mixed in (the family tree is very complicated) and the cousins turned out quite different to Prince Charming. Unlike Charming, they’re overly protective, controlling, dangerous and downright weird. Edward is prudish, old fashioned and about as cuddly as a rock. But he’s got the saving the damsel in distress thing down pact. It’s possible he got the same university degree as Charming. And so long as you ignore his temper, his stalker tendencies and maddening urge to drink your blood he’s quite chivalrous and dependable.

What I assume Christian Grey looks like. He’s managed to elude the paparazzi so far.

Christian (who was much harder to track down, due to his adoption papers being sealed by the courts) is anything but prudish, but is still hideously old fashioned when it comes to anything outside the bedroom. And we can’t really comment on his cuddling ability, given we doubt he even knows how to cuddle. Whilst Christian has inherited his good looks, his fortune and his charm from his genetic links to Prince Charming, he’s not without his faults. Firstly, he is a stalker. As in ‘I should get a restraining order against you’ stalker. He also doesn’t like being touched. If you touch his chest he’ll have you aggressively pinned down before you can even say ‘control freak’. He’s incredibly overbearing; to the point that he controls what you wear, drive and do with your time. And he has major food issues. Think a Jewish mother and Italian grandmother rolled into one. Ow and you have to sign a contract to be in a relationship with him. Yup, these are just some of his ‘fifty shades’. And yet countless women fantasize about being his princess.

The cousins appeal to women because of their looks, strength and large bankrolls (no, that’s not a euphemism for large appendages, they’re just both ridiculously rich). But I still don’t get it. Why do even the most intelligent, independent and liberated women go weak at the knees for these control freaks? Shouldn’t we be celebrating that we can now make our own decisions and not fall for the idea of someone that controls everything we do?
Prince Charming (in the old fairy tales) gave us someone to dream about. Someone that will slay dragons, climb castle walls and stop at nothing to fulfill true-loves kiss. The more recent fairy tales had more realistic, independent and inspirational princesses. But we still dreamt about the fun loving princes who we’re their partners in crime, treated them well and celebrated true love. Yet, today women worldwide fantasize about violent, strange control freaks. Is it just me or does this not make sense? Call me old fashioned, but I’ll take Prince Naveen over Mr. Grey anytime.

As for Prince Charming, the last reports suggest he was rejected by a girl called Fiona. Evidently she chose an ogre over him. Maybe this story doesn’t end with a happily ever after, after all?