Brave

Yet another Disney film that features a total of zero people of color.

The really awesome thing about Brave is that it is a movie that is dedicated to the growth of a mother-daughter relationship. At the end, I definitely felt like giving my ma a call and seeing how things were going. This intergenerational relationship is the center of the film, and it’s a nice deviation from finding a true love. The lack of romantic motivation is refreshing. 

Brave is really unique in a film in the sense that Merida is a princess that wants nothing to do with the realm of love. In an archery contest for her hand in marriage, Merida enters in disguise and then wins with triumph. But being a princess, her primary concerns were still princess-like (what to wear, feminine skill training, getting married, etc). Merida is a rebellious tomboy, which is a lot of fun, but she was shoved into the cookie-cutter role of a princess and it just isn’t a place that fits her. 

Merida is a warrior, like Mulan. She believes she is not burdened by gender roles nor should she have to adhere to them. Her mother, however, thought differently, and through a course of events, Merida’s mother, Elinor, is transformed into a bear. Instantly filled with regret, Merida discovers she must mend the tapestry of the family that she tore in a tantrum to break the spell before it comes permanent.

Now why would our brave (no pun intended) warrior have to save her people, herself, and her mother with a traditionally feminine skill? Was this just another part of being forced into the princess trope? Or did Merida overcome something that was difficult for her, as she was not that great at needlework to begin with (and the needlework completed by her is shabby anyway)?

Feminist rating: 10/10

Passes Bechdel Test

Fails Racial Bechdel Test

 

Frozen

Frozen was recently named the top-grossing animated film of all time. It has sold big, lived big, and nearly every person on Planet Earth has seen the damn film. So, what’s the fuss all about?

There are zero people of color in this movie. It was released in late 2013 and there are ZERO. People. of. Color.

This film is a victim of Disney fans’ “historical accuracy” argument, just like Tangled. Do those people not realize that there is a talking, autonomous snow man and that Elsa has magical ice powers throughout the film? How is that historically accurate? And if you’re going that route, let’s say Frozen takes place in Norway. Norway’s original people were the Sami people, and they looked like this:

Not very European looking. Not the blonde-haired, blue-eyed people that Frozen depicts. Argument invalid.

While the lack of diversity is certainly a problem in this movie, there were some really awesome things that happened as well.

  1. The chemistry between Kristoff and Anna is a red herring for “true love” at the end. FIRST ANNA SAVES ELSA, THEN ANNA IS SAVED BY ELSA. Disney broke it’s own rule of having a prince fall in love and save a princess with a kiss. By simply redefining this quintessential element of breaking fairy tale curses,  it opened the door for love to be defined in many different ways. Not just in the sense of a hetero romance, but between family, and even between women. That’s pretty cool. It totally destroys heterosexism and embraces female to female relationships.
  2. Elsa’s struggle with her powers is a metaphor for depression. As a person who struggles from this, and being familiar with the isolation that goes along with depression, it gave me a warm and fuzzy feeling that there was a Disney princess out there that struggles with it too. Disney, to my knowledge, has never touched on mental illness. Another barrier is broken with Frozen. How cool. 
  3.  There is a gay family in the trading post, and it is nothing that is made a big deal of. Infact, I didn’t notice it the first time I watched this film. I think it’s really awesome that Disney broke another barrier in that instance. Instead of having a homosexual as a token item in the film, he was nothing more than another character – very human and dimensional for a side character. It happens in a split second. I have included the scene here:

Feminist rating: 9/10

Passes Bechdel Test

Fails Racial Bechdel Test

 

Tangled

Tangled is my personal favorite out of all Disney Princess films, for a few reasons, but I will discuss what is problematic about it as well.

There are 0 PoC in this whole film.

There is a charismatic chameleon, but not PoC. I know a lot of people like to try to “debunk” the missing PoC in Disney due to some twisted and ignorant form of “historical accuracy” but let’s be real here. There is a chameleon that talks but no PoC. The absurd “historical accuracy” argument in regards to this film is junk.

 

A really cool aspect to this film is how it deals with toxic relationships and emotional abuse. Rapunzel’s relationship with Mother Gothel is the epitome of a toxic relationship. Gothel never actually wants to protect Rapunzel, she just wants to retain eternal youth and hold Rapunzel’s magic hair captive. Not to mention, Gothel STOLE RAPUNZEL FROM HER CRIB IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT. Talk about a parent’s worst nightmare.

Gothel makes Rapunzel feel like she’s not good enough for anyone to love her. That staying trapped in the tower and being used by Gothel is as good as life is going to get for Rapunzel. I believe that the tower is a metaphor for the way abused victims feel while in an abusive relationship. You’re under a certain fog. The real world seems surreal and scary. You feel worthless. And all the while I was watching Tangled, I saw myself in Rapunzel.

The really cool thing about Tangled is that it breaks barriers on abusive relationships. While a lot of people think of abuse as something that happens in intimate relationships, it also happens in parent-child relationships. It’s always important to remember that. Also in this instance a woman is the abuser. While abuse IS a gendered issue, and 9 out of 10 times the abuser is a man, women can exert abusive behaviors as well.

Here is a power and control wheel, designed by the National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence. Mother Gothel exerts many of the behaviors on this wheel in her relationship with Rapunzel.

 

Watch Gothel’s big musical number in relation to the power and control wheel. You’ll understand where I’m coming from. Seeing myself represented in this film was a major step in my recovery from a abusive parental relationship that I had. Representation in media and discussion of tough topics is so extremely important.

Feminist rating: 9/10

Passes Bechdel Test

Fails Racial Bechdel Test

 

 

Sleeping Beauty

 

Again, another Disney film without a single person of color.

Largest problem with Sleeping Beauty aside from the lack of diversity: the awakening of Aurora through a true love’s kiss. Because men hold the key to everything, yes? Also there is a large amount of heteronormativity at play. As a baby, when the curse is softened by a good fairy from death to sleep, the good fairies and the king and queen assume the kiss will be from a man? Yuck.

My second largest problem is that Aurora, our princess, literally does nothing but sing, be pretty, talk about falling in love, and sleep for the entirety of the film. Talk about a lame representation of the female gender. Here we have another princess that encompasses the cult of womanhood, being small in stature, tiny in waist, conventionally beautiful, kind, talented, etc.

Again Disney has our young princess fall in love at first sight, conveying an incorrect message to our children: that love is easy, that it happens instantaneously, that it will be based entirely on what you look like, and that it will be the pinnacle of your life. Was I the only one that was disillusioned by this “true love” thing while experiencing relationships in real life?

Disney is also buying into heterosexism with the film and perpetuating it. Heterosexism is the belief that relationships must always be in terms of a man and a woman. Maleficent, spurned by men, is perceived as out of control and evil. She is green in color and looks nothing like our beautiful princess. Maleficent is perhaps, however, the coolest antagonist of a Disney princess film.

Although this movie is old, released in 1959, it is entirely problematic that Aurora is only 16 years old when she “falls in love.” While aging may have been different in the late fifties, our kids NOW are watching and absorbing the messages from this film. At 16, they are still a kid. Love is entirely out of reach psychologically, as children develop well into their early 20s.

 

Feminist rating: 0/10

Passes Bechdel Test (with flying colors)

Fails Racial Bechdel Test

 

 

Cinderella

Starting this off with: THERE ARE A TOTAL OF 0 POC IN THIS WHOLE FILM. 0. 0 POC. 

Cinderella is a problematic princess from the moment the movie begins. Right off the bat, when her father remarries and she is tormented by her step-mother, step-sisters, and even the cat, we see Cinderella become the embodiment of the cult of woman. She is, essentially, the perfect woman. She does chores without complaining, does the cooking without complaining, all the while being sweet, nice, kind, thoughtful, and pleasant to be around. She is thin, blonde, blue eyed, and loving. Give me a break.

The ruler of the kingdom decides his son must marry so that he can meet his grandchildren before he dies. He orchestrates a dramatic and over-compensating ball where the single women of the land must be on their best behavior, look the most attractive, and all around compete for one man’s attention. His name is literally Prince Charming. There’s nothing quite like promoting girl-on-girl competition, Disney, for girls to feel the need to replicate as they get older. And remember the ball was thrown specifically to find a wife for the prince to procreate with. In Cinderella, it seems, women are nothing more than breeding stock that must preen and parade themselves around men, vying for their attention.

The step sisters are animated quite different from Cinderella. With Cinderella as the embodiment of the cult of womanhood, it naturally spurns the audience from the sisters. They are loped in with the antagonist, Lady Tremaine, and are unladylike, unfeminine, and larger bodied.

Another issue I take with this film is that Prince Charming fell in love with Cinderella on sight. This encourages the already damaging social norm that women are only worth what they look like. Would Prince Charming have found her attractive in her maid garb? I’d like to hope so, but with the little attention he was giving the other women at the ball, would he have even given a servant-looking woman a thought? He was very kind to her at the end with the shoe search, but that was after he  was already “in love” with her.

Takeaways from Cinderella as a socialization agent: 
women are meant to clean
women are meant to cook 
women have to be thin
women have to be attractive
women have to be kind ALL THE TIME
women have to be gentle ALL THE TIME

and you will bag a man sans effort

Feminist rating: 0/10

Fails Bechdel Test

Fails Racial Bechdel Test