The Disney Princesses tell it like it is
I am really not amused at all the historical accuracy!!11!!! arguments here haha, but yeah, I feel ya. I just hate how obviously biased and racist people are while they act like they’re somehow superior for preferring “historical accuracy over representation” as if the things are mutually exclusive and as if historical accuracy is something they crave night and day.
These same people don’t give two shits eeever about the 2004304300343043040 inaccurate things that are IN EVERY DISNEY MOOOVIE (and I don’t think they should for a lot of it, like who cares that magical bears weren’t in medeival Scotland?) and in all aspects of our culture, but as soon as we have a discussion about insterting POC into our re-telling of history- (that they were a part of anyway, but even if we ignore that), suddenly “accuracy” is the most important thing to uphold ever and if you don’t like it or don’t value it about all else it’s because you’re uneducated and inferior to their giant history brains. Whevs anons, I see what you up to.
I would really love for all those Pseudo Historical Accuracy ™ people to give me a few reasons as to what would actually be the harm of showing POC in a setting they weren’t originally in (again, they were there, but for argument’s sake I’ll go with the erroneous assumptions). Like what is even your point? This is such a specific situation that you should be able to tell me exactly what the terrible after-effect would be of historical “inaccuracy” in this regard. Will the western world suddenly fall into anarchy because their understanding of a tiny segment of Scotish history is a little different?
Compared to the issues involved with under and mis-representing different races and cultures, the potential effects seem quite pale in comparison. And like, fyou anons, if this movie was being broadcast in medeival Scotland maybe I would understand your concerns that representation not be made in a big deal. But it’s not. You can’t divorce the movie from the fact that it is yet another movie being featured prominently in western culture that has no POC in it. Just because you put a little dressing of “history” on that current-era salad doesn’t make it more edible
#such a terrible metaphor, such a long rant
I posted a few tweets today about my dissatistfaction with what comes up when you search “feminist+disney” on twitter. No, I’m not upset that I’m not featured more (;D)- what bothers me is the hordes of people quick to declare that Merida/Brave are “feminist.”
I am happy that many people seem to care- at least lukewarmly- about female representation in films, care enough to rejoice when it seems like there are characters who defy more sexist conventions and the like. But at the same time, most of the people who go off declaring this stuff have no connection with the feminist community- they really have no idea other than a very broad and vague cultural understanding of what feminism is. It undermines feminism, in my opinion, to simply declare a movie or character “feminist” because they fulfill some basic representational tasks (not ending up married at the end or spending the whole movie lookin for love, being independent, not conventionally beautiful, whatever).
People who are not in touch with the community should not be speaking for whether it is embodied in any particular film. Feminism is a real movement that is already widely misunderstood and it doesn’t help matters when people constantly reiterate the idea that feminism is all about making sure everyone knows women don’t need men or corsets to be happy. Like yes it’s good to know, but such a small section of what feminism discusses/tries to challenge. Yet it just turns into a circle where everyone wonders why we still “need” feminism because they identify these points as “what feminism is about” and the dialogue becomes, “Most people are okay and happy now with their daughters having careers and not getting married and having babies right away! Women can wear pants now, have jobs, have votes, have opinions! Feminism is outdated and just people complaining because they’re bitter about their individual grievances” Etc…
To see Part 2 of excerpts/my discussion of this article by Jaclyn Friedman, click here.
“The tragedy of Brave, however, is that while it’s clear that our new Snow White is an actioned-up old-school princess, Merida is a princessed-out action hero. Brave producer Katherine Sarafian made no bones about this in a recent interview on NPR, saying:
“We tried making her the blacksmith’s daughter and the milkmaid in various things … There’s no stakes in the story for us that way. We wanted to show real stakes in the story where, you know, the peace of the kingdom and the traditions are all at stake.”
Let’s take that in for a minute: the studio whose most iconic heroes include a toy cowboy, a rat, a fish, a boy scout, and a lonely trash compactor (all male-identified, of course), couldn’t figure out how to tell a story about a human girl without making her a princess. That’s the problem in a nutshell: if the sparkling minds at Pixar can’t imagine their way out of the princess paradigm, how can we expect girls to?
The past decade may have seen a welcome increase in on-screen female action heroes, but we’re still far from gender parity in the genre, and even when they’re not princesses, they’re nearly all trained assassins or Chosen Ones. Joseph Campbell wrote indelibly about the power of The Hero with a Thousand Faces – an ur-hero who’s living a mundane life when he’s faced with a challenge through which he can discover his greatness. It’s easy to see why this matters: everyman hero stories teach every boy that he can make himself great through his own actions, regardless of how dull or difficult the lot in life he’s been handed.
Princess stories – even Action Princess stories – inherently fail the Campbell test. That’s why, until we’ve got as many Mulans and (un-whitewashed) Katniss Everdeens as we do Frodos, Batmans, Kung Fu Pandas, Rangos, Shreks, Woodys – I could go on here … to infinity and beyond – even the most liberated of princesses will always be failing girls.”
I’ve covered the above NPR quote earlier and it still makes me sad to re-read it.I think a lot of the points made here are essentially right- the princess genre will always be a problem so long as it continues to define the majority of female lead characters/how we interpret the dreams and desires and futures of girl children/what identities society sees as legitimate. It is too bad that Pixar, of all companies, still has trouble envisioning girl leads as anything other than a princess. The idea that other stories have “no stake” in them says so much about the way we as a culture interpret narratives of the female experience; the experiences of an ordinary girl cannot be universal in the way a boys’ experiences can be… that the life of an ordinary girl cannot be made appealing unless she is princess-ified… etc.
This is also why I continue to have issues with the often used theme of making a movie “empowering” for women by continuing to “challenge” concepts that have been pretty duh in our culture for centuries- yes, you shouldn’t be forced into marriage or relationships if you don’t want them, yes, no one should be able to force you to wear restrictive garments in order to look more appealing.
Constantly identifying these problems as the “major ones against women” undermines current struggles by making it appear that a “feminist friendly” character is “anti-forced marriage”, which leads people to wrongly assume that feminism is about outdated concepts and problems society has already moved past for the most part. It also reinforces what the director stated here: “We wanted to show real stakes in the story where, you know, the peace of the kingdom and the traditions are all at stake.” Nothing is seen as “being at stake” if the main woman in a story is not constantly battling traditions that do not have a whole lot of current relevance. She is not seen as interesting if she is not engaging in this- her own stories removed from these cultural pressures are not seen as interesting enough.
“I think the main problem here that most of the girls who watch princess movies are middle class or poor. To say the stakes aren’t high in a story without a princess is very insulting to the human dignity of the real girls in the audience.”
Yes, definitely. And if you go to the full article, it references how the princesses inherently live a life most girls can’t: you’re born into it or you marry into it, either way it’s the 1% type thing.
also can I just note that all those movies, now that I think about it, also use one of my least favorite “easy empowerment” tropes, “the lady is forced into a restrictive corset”?
I just want to be like “Great, thank you, empowering movie, finally the women of America will find, inspired by you, the courage to cast off their hampering undergarments or only wear them by choice rather than by force!”
Except oh wait that hasn’t been an issue for like 4 bazillion decades so it’s pretty easy to get everyone on your side with that one
#If people have overly sensitive about certain issues buttons this is one of mine haha
in Disney news today: a loose description of the plot of the upcoming Disney Pixar movie, Brave, which features a young female protagonist.
Things in the review that I like/am interested by:
“With the exception of Emma Thompson and Julie Walters, the primary cast of Brave consists of Scotland natives.”
“Merida sets out on a journey to undo the damage and break a beastly curse that could haunt her forever.”
What I am ambivalent about:
“As the daughter of King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (Thompson) she’s expected to get married and follow in her mother’s footsteps. Unfortunately, Merida has other plans that don’t mesh with her family’s.”
On the one hand I get that they’re trying to make it “historical” and that this is limiting. On the other hand, it seems like many princesses [in and out of Disney] that go out and try to get some action for themselves do so because of this “I don’t want to get married thing (or I do want to be with a guy, or the guy has made me realize there’s a larger world).”
Not that it’s bad, it’s just so common and still makes some of the reason for the adventure an outside force of romance/guy drama, rather than the girl’s own desires, tying in more that idea that romance/monogamous fairytale love with a boy (because if they avoid one they don’t want to marry, they always end up with one they do want to!) is rather essential for their character and for their future happiness. I would just like for more female protagonists to go on an adventure for the sake of the adventure, sometimes, like da guyz do.
What I didn’t like:
“Could Brave be the next girl power movie to hit theaters? Like its Disney-made predecessor Tangled (loosely based on Rapunzel), it has qualities of a fairy tale with hints of comedy and action. The protagonist isn’t a damsel in distress and doesn’t immediately fall in love with a handsome prince, which is a welcomed change.”
I feel like people herald “welcomed changes” all too quickly. The wording of this seems to imply that she does eventually and just not immediately fall in love with a handsome prince, which in my opinion is pretty immediately anyway because the movie is, at most, about 2 hours long (maybe the sentence is just a little misleading?).
Most Disney princesses and female protagonists of the last two decades haven’t been simply “a damsel in distress” but this doesn’t automatically make them “girl power”/feminist-friendly movies. Like: it’s good, and it’s a start, but really, I hope Brave pleasantly surprises me and isn’t just another churn out with vague appeals to feminism like Tangled was (sorry if you’re a fan… I’m so clearly not :P). And maybe it really will surprise me because it seems like it might be a lot more about Merida’s adventures and battles and focus on femininity as strength (and not just in a generic no-feelings kick-everyone female assassin way, which is often the extreme that strong women in film are pushed into being).