Friday, September 27, 2013

"This (Branagh) Cinderella better be feminist..!"

Quoth the article at (gotta love the site name, especially with regard to this topic):

Galloping bareback through the countryside in a teal dress, James, of Downton Abbey fame, looks like she'll bring a confident sexiness to a role. 
Then again, it's only a photo. 
Cinderella doesn't, necessarily, send the best message to young girls out there. If you grin and bear it, if you stay kind and helpful, if you don't speak up, an older person with a wand will show up and help you look pretty enough to catch the eye of a prince. After all, marrying well is the most important thing. Wealth, nice clothes, and a husband will give you the happiness you've always wanted. 
The tale dates back to Charles Perrault's version from 1697, yet, some 316 years later, it's still getting air time. The cartoon Cinderella, which I grew up watching, came out in 1950, and featured catchy tunes, adorable mice, and the scariest pumpkin transformation your 7-year-old eyes ever did see. It's message stayed true to form, though — cartoon Cinderelly was nice and all, and sung with birds, but she was still pretty weak. 
It will be fun to see how 2015 Cinderella differs from 1950's Cinderella. The film's director, Academy Award-nominee Kenneth Branagh (Jack Ryan, Thor), said in a press release that Lily James's Cinderella "combines knockout beauty with intelligence, wit, fun and physical grace," which, and I might be grasping at straws here, sounds promising. Cind be smart, y'all. 
Plus, Cate Blanchett and Helena Bonham Carter are on board —they're the evil stepmother and the fairy godmother, respectively. Our Cate and our Helena wouldn't sign on unless this movie helped to reinvent Cinderella, right? 
Emphasis in bold is mine. You can read the whole article HERE. And here's another one, titled: A First Look at Disney's Strong and Sexy Cinderella.

I'm not at all surprised that this topic is being discussed. It's going to be a hot button topic for family movies again soon too, with Disney's (sadly-not-going-to-be-a-fairy-tale, just a fantasy movie) Frozen having two female leads, one of them being (apparently) evil. Heidi has an interesting post and article excerpt on the topic HERE.

Having recently completed the Origins and Evolution of Fairy Tale Princesses MOOC, in which Cinderella had a whole week to herself/her own tale, the anti-feminist aspect of the Cinderella tale is one of the complaints many people had about the earlier versions BUT...

( - and this is a pretty big BUT that really hasn't been resolved to anyone's satisfaction, so I'll just draw your attention to it. You're welcome to weigh in in the comments - )

.. of the three versions of the tale we read:
- Basile's Cindy was bawdy and a little shocking (plus she commits murder and doesn't get the comeuppance you'd expect from such a heinous act) yet this tale clearly includes romantic love (the Prince is clear on his attraction to Cindy herself  - not justher shoe/foot in this one),
- the Grimm's, which was the most recent of those we read, was more of a tale of coping with (and moving beyond) serious, almost debilitating grief and, apart from hiding and avoiding being caught for attending the ball, this Cinderella didn't show very much initiative
- while Perrault's Cinderella (which is the one Disney drew their version from) was sly and mischievous (a fact that didn't translate to Disney's version at all), intellectual and calculating (though also kind), balancing a whole lot of work, responsibility, planning and being more than ready to act on opportunities given her.

Ironically, Perrault's was the most "feminist" of all in many ways yet in Disney's version she completely lost her edge.

In all four versions - including Disney's - it's the most recent Cinderella in which our girl is the weakest!
Cinderella by Inshoo
I find it very odd that no one is talking about this. Most people have this idea that the old tales are anti-feminist. If you read them in context, that's rarely the case. The women in the stories are almost all unusual or unique in some way and often acting against the norm. This is certainly true of the older (and world wide) Cinderellas. It's our popular versions (you could even say summaries) that portray these women, particularly Cindy, as the antithesis of feminism. (And what does that tell you??)

I'm curious to see if Branagh and his screenwriter will put back some of Perrault's originally intended spunk, making it clear that she's not passive and is more than capable of combining grace with the sharp intellect and action that would be required of her at court.

Cindy is only one of the iconic women characters under the feminist microscope at the moment. With Disney having recently bought Marvel and super hero movies making big bucks at the box office, the lack of a Wonder Woman movie and how difficult it seems to be to write a decent script for such a character (or any other female superhero movie) seems to be a sore point. (Check the link for a good discussion on the topic, along with Lynda Carter - the original Wonder Woman weighing in.) While it may not immediately seem related, the conundrum of writing a feminist icon seems to be one Hollywood just can't get its head around. (This is just bizarre to me.) With Buffy and the urban fantasy genre having made huge strides in the "capable woman lead" arena, the criticism is that (once again) these female superheroes are really just the comic book versions of business women acting (and dressing) like men in the work place to get ahead.*

By these definitions I know ZERO strong women. But this just isn't true - I know plenty. It's just that most of them can't wield a sword like a Samurai and crack Nazi codes all while cooking a hot breakfast and running their own multi-national company, which apparently takes them out of the "strong women" running. (There's an interesting article HERE discussing Cinderella, Wonder Woman and what a strong woman actually is with regard to these two examples.) I guarantee you, you'd be impressed by these women I know, though. They do seem like Wonder Women and both the women - and men - around them are somewhat in awe of them.

So are we saying that our iconic super women (ie ideal representatives) need to be even more "super" than super men??

I would argue that at least two of the Cinderella's we read in the MOOC were more-than-averagely-strong women. Exactly how much do you expect of someone who's oppressed, abused and exhausted by long days of physical labor?**

Have we forgotten what a strong woman looks - and acts - like?***

It certainly seems people can't agree. (At least in Hollywood****.)

* There are plenty of books with strong and iconic female leads and/or heroes and we have a whole lot of amazing examples throughout history currently surfacing (particularly from World War II) as well.

** Most women - and men - I know, wouldn't survive such a situation well at all but that doesn't mean they're not strong either.

*** Other than gorgeous, because apparently all icons have to be stunning proportioned and physically enviable...

**** I'm curious to see if the Fables movie includes Cinderella. She's not at all meek (she's actually a super-secret super-spy, one that even most other Fables don't know about) yet she's not shy about her love of luxury - or shoes - either.

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