Bread and Circuses: Maleficent

I’m just going to jump right in here. For the most part, I’m happy with Disney’s live-action remakes of its animated movies. Cinderella was a wonderful homage to the 1950 animated classic and as much as Emma Watson has irritated me over the past couple years, I’m eagerly awaiting Beauty and the Beast. Maleficent, however, is another story. I’m in the minority, I know, but I am decidedly unimpressed with the Sleeping Beauty rehash.

Why, do you ask? It’s supposed to give girls an empowering role model in a strong female lead and who better to repackage than one of the most bad ass Disney Villains ever? All we have to do is make her not-evil anymore and then girls have someone to look up to and admire. How better to make her sympathetic than to break her heart, make the king a conniving bastard and redeem her with maternal instincts?

Oh, I probably should’ve said spoiler alert. Ah well, it’s been out awhile, not my fault if you’ve been under a rock.

Apparently, women can’t have motivations other than being in love or fallen out of love. We can’t be ambitious or cunning or cruel or willingly embrace the dark side without a man hurting us. And once we recover from the hurt, we’re magically good again. We can’t desire power or want to be queens in our own right and willing to destroy the world to get achieve that. We’re inherently good, trustworthy, tender hearted, nurturing and altruistic, all from the intrinsic power of the XX chromosomal makeup. Clearly we’re not human.

Now, why am I complaining about women being “respected”? Shouldn’t I be celebrating the defeat of the Wicked Witch and Evil Stepmother stereotypes? Aren’t I glad that men are finally taking responsibility for all the negativity they’ve heaped on women through storytelling over the course of human history?

No. It’s not true respect. It’s the equivalent of being patted on the head and being called cute.

This movie is disingenuous to both sexes, portraying men as either subservient, bumbling or conniving and placing women on a false pedestal of grace. Princess Aurora sees the good in Maleficent and inspires her maternal side, thus redeeming her from bitterness, which is caused by Stefan seducing her then cutting off her wings (gruesome much?) as a trophy to claim the throne. Maleficent tries to recant her curse because she inexplicably loves Aurora and can’t, but her kiss of mother’s loves saves the princess anyway. Then, her bitterness shed and empowered by the love for her charge, she goes onto defeat her enemies, regain her wings and happily ever after happens.

One of Disney’s most powerful villains was reduced to a woman scorned. Seriously. She’s not evil, just heartbroken. Emotionally traumatized. Really, she’s good underneath it all, look her motherly affection saved the princess. What’s truer than a mother’s love? I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way. (Please tell me someone besides my parents will get that reference.)

My point is, it’s not true respect or equality if there’s no recognition that women can be bad too. Yes, we can accomplish great things, achieve great good, but we can also do great evil if inclined. And that inclination is not always the product of men. We have minds and wills of our own. We need role models and good examples, yes, but we also need cautionary tales and horrible warnings. Both exist in the world. Real life girls will encounter women who will guide them, help them, challenge them, love them, hate them and try to tear them down. They will meet just as many men who will do all of the above. It’s irrespective of sex. It comes down to human nature and the choices people make. How can anyone make an informed choice when they’ve been fed false information their entire lives? If you really want to empower girls, treat them as dynamic people.

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