Saturday, November 11, 2017

Cinderella: Stop Blaming the Victim - A Timely Interpretation of Disney's 1950's 'Cinderella'

A thought-provoking video was posted this morning on YouTube and we felt it so important, we decided to do a full post, rather than just retweeting. (Video is embedded below.)

This interesting  - and wonderful - analysis of the iconic 1950's Cinderella, couldn't have come at a more opportune time. And it might just make you pull out the movie for a re-run too, because, yes, it's that empowering.

By the way - important to note here, is that it mentions that even the Disney Company itself, now considers the Cinderella animated movie as passive, and not the best role-model for girls, with the title character relying on others to be rescued.
Yet, from the video:
But the criticisms (of the film) usually focus on our culture's shared interpretation of Cinderella, not what the character actually says and does in the film.
And yes, ironically, that conversation has been largely influenced by Disney's own marketing!
Critics of the movie probably feel they're espousing girl power by attacking the damaging idea that a happy ending equals a handsome prince. But counterintuitively, the tendency to dismiss Cinderella might actually be a little sexist. 
Perhaps there was more thought - possibly even respect - put into the movie than anyone has realized. From this video analysis, it would suggest so, or at least that the fairy tale source variants it drew on had enough substance there to subliminally affect - for the better - how Cinderella was portrayed (credit was given to Perrault as the source, but other variants were looked at during research in early stages of development as well).
KenAnderson - development for Disney's Cinderella (1950)

For the 'timely' context - and why this conversation is important to have right now - (since this post will quickly go to the archive and found later, when the world is, hopefully, different), we are in the midst of a deluge of accusations against many figures in positions of power, citing sexual misconduct, abuse and rape. These allegations are being made by people in the wake of the Weinstein accusations, who have finally felt able to come forward and be heard (though for many this is not the first time they are telling their stories). 

As the backlash continues, with people scoffing at the stories, even sometimes attacking those abused, we feel it's important to keep explaining, that reporting abuse, standing up to abuse, is very, very difficult. It's not overstating it to say "silence has equaled survival" for many, many people, on many levels, including physical safety. No one owes anyone their stories - or the details, or names. #metoo It is the first time, the pervasiveness of this abuse is clear and the victims are not being dismissed. So many are coming forward now, precisely because there is safety in numbers, but never underestimate just how hard that is to do. It changes everything and affects not only the individuals but their families too.

Fairy tales are full of women who have been abused and people are drawn to different tales, not only because they sometimes see themselves in those characters, but also because they find hope in those stories too. The recent Disney/Branagh live-action action Cinderella, though not perfect, took care to more clearly show feminine strength at work in an abusive situation, making people take a second look at the Cinderella fairy tale, as well as the classic animated film it was based on, and garnering an appreciation for it that has been largely lacking for the past few generations.

This awesome video analysis that highlights the strength of that 1950's Cinderella, is wonderful to watch - clear, beautiful and explaining the points with clips. It's a little longer than your usual internet clips, at 13-ish minutes, but highly recommended (you won't be bored).
There are two specific sections for which we have taken the time to transcribe the narrative so that the observations/ interpretation won't be lost, should the video link ever not work.

The first excerpt, analysing the Fairy Godmother appearing, is new to us with regard to the Disney Cinderella movies (both of them), though in some of the Cinderella variants from around the world, this manifestation of the Fairy Godmother as Cinderella's 'wish', that is, a maternal figure of help and guidance, is more clear. Although we don't believe this was the intent of the filmmakers to show this (based on our longtime research, though, to be clear, we are not experts on the making of this film) it makes a wonderful sense and feels like one of those wonderful subconscious ideas that were included. Perrault, who was the writer to first include the fairy godmother, does not appear to have added the magical figure for this intention, but we are rather tickled that, using this interpretation, Disney's version is the one that links this idea back to many other versions of Cinderella.
We also love that this is another example of amplifying the potential of things - that transformation (of things and people) is possible because of what already existed.
Cinderella's inner strength and tireless imagination manifest physically as the Fairy Godmother. It's when she believes she's hit rock bottom that her Fairy Godmother materializes, and the reprise of "A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes" tells us that she is the embodiment of Cinderella's dreaming or her heart's wish. When she needs it most, Cinderella has willed a loving maternal figure into existence. Since she has no real family, the fairy represents her determination to mother herself. 
The Fairy Godmother's magic work through imagination, creativity, and resourcefulness -- all qualities that Cinderella relies on for her survival, as that represent her true powers. Each magical transformation finds hidden potential in what Cinderella already has. A pumpkin becomes the carriage, the mice become horses, and Cinderella's horse, who assumes he'll pull the carriage, becomes the coachman. 
Gus's transformation especially symbolizes how imagination can help us overcome our oppressors. When he's transformed into a horse, he's finally able to escape Lucifer's clutches.

This second transcription, looking at Bruno, the dog, being paralleled with Cinderella isn't a new thought, so much as it possibly the most succinct example we've ever heard of a victim juggling the ever-present issues of needing to sometimes to be passive for the purpose of survival, versus taking action.
Cinderella demonstrates that real kindness is active, not passive. Rescuing her friends in this oppressive household is brave and heroic... When Gus gets stuck in a mousetrap, we see that Cinderella is quick to help those who can't help themselves. And she's spirited -- she doesn't hesitate to tease her friends -- or stand up for herself in her interactions with Lucifer. These interactions are important to show us that Cinderella's not a pushover. She knows when she's being treated unfairly, and, when she can object, she does. But there's a distinction between this and someone who represents a truly grave threat to her safety. When Cinderella tells Bruno to stop dreaming of chasing Lucifer, it's because disobeying Lady Tremaine's orders could result in losing his home. She knows that Bruno's situation could become parallel to her own, and she's been forced to value practicality over justice in order to survive. Near the end we see a return to this parallel between Cinderella and Bruno. At this critical moment, Cinderella decides that Bruno should disobey orders, despite the dangers, because they have a real opportunity to escape.
To be able to recognize that moment, and then act, is strong indeed.
Artist unknown - created for Disney's Cinderella (1950)

Note: (Emphasis in bold on transcripts added by us.)


  1. Good Early Sunday Morning, I enjoyed the new look at the folk fairy tale value of the dear Cinderella Tale, which a number of grandmother types remember as a young girl. The lovely ideals that come through the old story are helpful today, even though there are a variety of classic Cinderella tales, origins from other Cultures and Countries/Collectors of the oral tale, really move one to create a tale of change and growth even as an aging woman. That seems to be a different idea, but beauty for some of fades, but the inner development of soul and love of a better outlook makes a new look possible at an old life style. Thanks. Annette Keith

  2. Excellent post. I watched the video, and while I don't agree with all its arguments, this defense of a classic Disney princess made me re-think other princesses, Disney and other, whom I've admired and who operate on the basis of kindness, optimism, and good cheer. I got so intrigued, I finally blogged about it, citing Enchanted Conversation and the video ( Thanks for this inspiration; I always enjoy reading your posts.

  3. YES. This articulates so well the tension I find when I read feminist attacks against Disney; there's truth to them and yet they also seem to go too far. Glad you're back!

  4. nice post thank you for sharing with me.