Black History Month is moving right along, and while everyone is out there quoting Martin Luther King Jr. or incorrectly talking about Frederick Douglass, I think it’s important that we look at issues surrounding our Black women, as well. Luckily, we’re slowly but surely getting more Black girls and women in our media! Unfortunately, from looking at depictions of Black girls and women in media, such as last year’s scandal over Riri Williams, it’s easy to see that Black (and darker-skinned) women tend to be more sexualized in nerd media than their white (and fairer-skinned) counterparts. This creates a culture where darker bodies are seen as inherently more sexual, and thus more acceptable as targets of objectification and sexual violence.
This October, Disney announced that it would soon be making a live-action remake of its 1998 movie Mulan, thus continuing 2016 as the Year of the Remake. Like most remakes, this one was immediately engulfed in controversy. There were rumors, later confirmed, that Disney was planning on inserting a white male love interest for Mulan who falls in love with her and saves China for her, thus proving that everything Hollywood touches turns to the opposite of gold. Fortunately, Disney has now said that everyone of note in the movie will be Chinese, but given Hollywood’s past missteps with this and other movies, I’m not entirely convinced of their sincerity. Yet it’s frustrating to me that Disney is already failing at basic representation when there are so many other ways they could mess up this remake that they haven’t yet addressed. So let’s take a look back at the original Disney movie and try and figure out what kind of story the remake might be.
A while back I reviewed a trailer for a little movie called Moana. I was worried about the lack of early advertising the movie was getting—I hoped that the hype among my own age group and demographic would translate to ticket sales, so that Disney couldn’t use a less-than-successful premiere to justify avoiding nonwhite Princess stories for another decade.
Turns out I needn’t have worried—Moana opened this weekend to a phenomenal box office take, only barely failing to unseat Frozen as the #1 Thanksgiving animated film opening of all time, and I’m honestly pinching pennies in the hope of seeing it again soon. To me, it was a sweet, empowering, and well-made movie; however, some native Polynesian critics felt that it played too fast and loose with their culture. Let’s get into it after the jump!
Spoilers for everything, by the way!
Sometime as I was reading the Song of Ice and Fire books a few years ago, just when Game of Thrones was getting popular and more and more fans were starting to fight over who they thought would be the best person to end up on the Iron Throne, I started wondering, “Wait a minute. We live in a supposedly democratic, meritocratic society these days that (at least nominally) no longer believes in hereditary rule. Why are we so invested in seeing an autocratic, hereditary tyrant installed on a throne, to lord it over our favorite fictional continent? Shouldn’t we be rooting for the Seven Kingdoms to become a democracy instead?” (I’m on Team Dany, by the way!)
And have you ever thought about how weird it is that, in Sailor Moon, we’re supposed to be happy that Usagi and Mamoru end up as Neo-Queen Serenity and King Endymion, absolute rulers of the entire freaking Earth for over a thousand years? The narrative presents this as a positive thing because they’re such just and peaceful rulers, and those who question Neo-Queen Serenity’s rule are presented as the villains.
As I began thinking about this further, I realized that a lot of our modern media is still in the habit of over-valuing noble blood. It makes sense that old fairy tales feature lots of royalty, secret royalty, and marrying into royalty, because back then, that was the best possible situation people could imagine for themselves. But why does this obsession still exist today when kings and queens with real power (for the most part) are not prominent anymore? You also may be wondering, what’s the harm of featuring noble-born characters? I would argue that they reinforce the false idea of privileged birth translating to inherent “special-ness,” as well as ignore the stories of those born into less privilege.
Let’s examine this in several examples below the jump!
After last week’s web crush—Rejected Princesses, for those out of the loop—I suddenly had a memory flash by in my mind. Back before I had my own Tumblr (which seems longer ago than it was) I kept tabs on a few people who I swore to follow once I set up an account of my own. Unfortunately, with the passage of times comes the passage of promises forgotten and—what I’m saying is that I didn’t end up following anyone from that set of people. Yet one of them continued to appear on my dash, year after year, and although I haven’t followed her yet, she played a huge role in raising my standards for historical accuracy in drawings.
I’ll be honest with you: I was all set up to hate Frozen. Aside from the not-really-there marketing, the egregious whitewashing, that bullshit about animating female characters being haaard, and the skeevy-looking snowman sidekick, it just looked like a kind of unremarkable movie.
Take it away, Thorin:
Spoilers after the jump. Continue reading
So, today, while derping around over at Kotaku, I stumbled upon a really cool post titled “If Disney Princesses were Final Fantasy Characters.” It’s pretty straightforward, and shouts out the artwork of one Geryes over on deviantArt. He has a project called the Final Fantasy Damsel Dossier, which consists of stylized versions of Disney princesses and official given jobs (RPG professions) as though they were characters from the Final Fantasy franchise. Here they are all together:
Gentle readers, your author adores both of the components of this fabulous artistic mash-up and has been poring over them all day. As an aside, the list includes official and un-official Disney Princesses. For example, on the right you will find Kida, the princess-then-Queen Regnant of Atlantis, who is not one of the eleven official Princesses, stylized as a Dark Knight. Most of them are thematic, e.g., Belle is Beastmaster, Merida is an Archer, etc. They’re incredibly cool; go check them out. It’s okay, I’ll wait here.
Seeing this cast me back to other Disney Princess remixes I’ve seen, like this one by Mike V where Capcom fighter characters collide with our favorite Disney ladies. In case you were wondering which of them was the best, it is hands down this one of Lilo as Tron Bonne. There’s also a hilarious one of Disney Princesses twerking which is worthwhile, if nothing else, because it generated the phrase “a twerk is a wish your booty makes.”
Besides the fact that these are all cool and hilarious, the frequency with which Disney Princesses are being remixed is an object lesson in how cool art has the potential to make the things we love even better if we are willing to let it be re-used, combined, and re-imagined. Most geeks already know this and can explain it in one word: fanfiction. But people are protective of their art, usually for two reasons I can think of: one, because they’re worried about it being taken from them and used, without credit or compensation; and two, because they don’t want it used for a purpose or interpreted in a way that they did not intend.
The first of these is exceedingly reasonable. Many artists receive very little compensation for the work they do, despite bringing skills and ideas that have taken their whole lives to develop. This is well-illustrated in the story of Picasso and the napkin sketch, wherein a fan asks the great painter for a little sketch on a napkin. He complies, and hands over the sketch asking for, oh I don’t know, 5000 EUR (they would have used pesetas, probably; no one knows what those are any more.) The woman recoils in terror, saying “But it only took you 3 minutes.” He replies, “No, ma’am. It took me my whole life.” More on that here.
The second is probably just as common a concern, but it is philosophically stillborn. To quote Joss Whedon: “All worthy work is open to interpretations the author did not intend. Art isn’t your pet—it’s your kid. It grows up and talks back to you.” To me, if your art is incapable of supporting any interpretation other than the one you intended, then your art is weak. All art, all ideas, inventions, what have you, come from combining or altering elements of things that have already been. And that’s okay.
Just think of all the incredible art which blatantly rips off, references, or remixes other work. The Magnificent Seven is an obvious and long acknowledged interpretation of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai and everyone knows that Kurosawa’s Ran is King Lear. The Lion King takes from the Bible, Hamlet, and Kimba the White Lion, and is no less awesome for that fact. Banksy, anyone? It doesn’t do anyone any good to act like art, or writing, is slave to its creator. Everything is a remix of, or reference to, some thing or things that have come before. After all, there are only so many stories in the world.
But, I think that the “Disney Princess as X or Y” phenomenon (a couple of years old, in earnest) is special because of how important they are to us, culturally. Remember when it seemed that the appearance of Merida from Brave had changed to make her seem leaner, more “feminine” and less stocky? To quote Boondock Saints, “there was a firefight!” The Disney Princess are a multi-billion dollar institution, an important cultural touchstone, and they influence the self-image of young women and how our U.S. culture understands gender roles. Artistic remixes of Disney icons are an exemplar of the idea that nothing is too sacred or too important to be redesigned or reinterpreted. To say nothing of the fact that it produces beautiful things like this:
I think this is somewhat common knowledge, but there exists a line of wedding dresses based on Disney Princesses that is endorsed by Disney. There are also bridesmaid dresses, flower girl dresses, and accessories of various kinds. So in case you wanted the perfect Disney Princess wedding, you are now several steps closer.
We bash Disney and how it has poorly influenced little girls through its portrayal of women, specifically the princesses, plenty of times. No one is pulling the wool over our eyes. We realize it and we talk about it all the time. According to Disney, girls should be skinny as rails, and they always need a man. This is blatantly wrong; these stereotypical definitions of beauty are degrading to girls everywhere and send a poor message to the youth of our society.
So let’s say someone recognizes that Disney has given them an unrealistic idea of society and societal gender roles, like we have. Does s/he have an obligation to society to try and correct their extremely incorrect views so that they do not get passed onto others?
I’d say yes. In a sense, we as a society try and (many do) convince ourselves that Disney has their audience’s morals and values at heart and their goal is to help (essentially) raise upstanding citizens. However, Disney is a company. Their goal is to make money. In a sense, they don’t care about society’s values as long as they get a nice paycheck at the end of the day. But we keep buying their products because we believe their products are good for small children. So it’s sort of a Catch-22. We have to break the cycle somewhere, and Disney isn’t going to change for shits and giggles. So it’s up to us to change. If you don’t like what they’re selling, don’t buy into it.
But do we have a moral imperative to not buy into it? I’d say yes. There are a lot of different ways to go about proving why, but I’m going to choose a more roundabout one simply because most of you have probably heard of it. Utilitarianism, a concept first coined by Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, advances that individuals should maximize utility, aka maximize happiness and minimize pain, for society. Disney, by putting forward bad examples of female role models for little girls (and boys) to follow, is detrimental to society, or causing pain. That pain needs to be corrected so that happiness (and therefore utility) can be maximized. Because we as a society have a moral obligation to maximize utility, individuals who understand the pain Disney is causing have an obligation to speak out and try and eliminate this pain.
What on God’s green Earth does that have to do with Disney wedding dresses? Essentially what the wedding dresses do is propagate the princess image (and its accompanying pain) outside the fictional sphere. This is more detrimental to maximizing utility because it makes the Disney princess image (seemingly) more tangible or achievable, when in fact it’s not. Reinforcing the princess image outside of a Disney movie is a terrible influence on society.
Does this make sense to all of you? Lose anyone? Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments!
In February, I wrote an article on what I dubbed “Disney Princess Syndrome”. At the time, I stated that most of the Disney princesses seem to feel the need to be married, no matter what the cost.
The thing is that, the more I thought about it, the more the Disney princesses bother me. So I have to tackle this again, albeit in a slightly different way.