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The recent explosion in female-led films, like Maleficent and Frozen, may seem a great leap forward for women on screen, but Elise Bottle thinks such “feminist” fantasies skate on thin ice.
Right now in Hollywood, female leads are all the rage – movies like Frozen, Maleficent and The Hunger Games are making it big with critics and at the box office, and feminists have reason to celebrate.
Or do they?
The problem with the entertainment industry is that when someone hits on something that’s a success, everyone comes out with their own fancy knock-offs that may dazzle and excite at first, but once you chip away at the exterior, they’re really not worth anything.
Take Frozen, for example – I think it’s an okay, if overrated, movie, but my four-year-old cousin has insisted on watching it again and again . In fact so many times I’m frankly starting to get sick of the damn thing, and judging from the internet backlash, a lot of people feel the same way. I know of at least one guy who thinks it’s just outright bad, reasoning that its popularity comes from feminists having claimed it as their own.
The way he sneered as he said the word “feminist” just broke my heart.
This, my friends, is the problem of “half-baked feminism”. You see women have been starved for representation outside of romantic films for so long that when we finally get a half-decent film with a half-decent female lead, we treat it like it’s the next Citizen Kane, regardless of whether said film actually deserves the comparison. Hollywood, being the soulless commercial monstrosity that it is, quickly churns out these undeveloped, “feminist” films in order to cash in. When people realise just how lousy these films really are, they’re going to turn on the feminists they deem responsible.
To illustrate my point, let’s take a closer look at recent blockbuster Maleficent. Much of the film has been taken down in excellent fashion by web critic ERod on his show The Blockbuster Buster, but I found he missed four key points that further weakened the film.
1) The entire plot rides on a woman doing something because of a man in her life.
One problem women face is that people tend to judge them by the men in their lives, as if they are incapable of being able to exist in their own capacity. We see countless lists of “Trends that turn men off,” and deal with the obnoxious cat-callers who insist that we would look prettier if we smiled. Maleficent is not the first story of a woman seeking revenge against a lover who has wronged her, and that itself isn’t a problem. The problem is that this is one of the only two motives that Hollywood can come up with in order for women to do anything remotely evil. Many male villains are motivated by money, power, or just a desire to see the world burn, but for female villains, the motivation is either that a dude forgot to call her back or that new girl happens to be cuter than her. Blech.
2) All women are natural mothers, apparently.
In the movie, Maleficent ends up abandoning her feelings of revenge because she starts to see Aurora as a surrogate daughter. Damn those motherly instincts are powerful, huh? Well if that were true, we wouldn’t have a Department of Child Services now, would we? Most child murder victims aren’t killed by some random paedophile lurking in the alley. The murderer is usually one of their parents, often the mother. Let’s not forget the countless abuse survivors who have and are continuing to suffer at the hands of the women who were supposed to be nurturing them. Motherhood has been over-romanticised to the point where women unfit for the job take it on without realising what a tough slog it is, and the results can be tragic.
3) The film is too cowardly to make a woman a villain.
One of the main arguments that so-called “meninists” have against feminism is that we want people to go easy on women. That’s simply not true. Any real feminist worth her salt will tell you that a woman is just as capable of vile cruelty as a man, and she should certainly be punished for it. Queen Mary I, Amelia Dyer, Bonnie Parker, Myra Hindley and Aileen Wuornos are proof that women are capable of unspeakable acts of evil just as much as men are.
4) It’s an attempt to cash-in on the success of a much better work.
My personal theory is that Maleficent is an attempt to cash in on the success of Gregory Maguire’s hit novel Wicked, which explores the history of the Wicked Witch of the West and reinterprets her as a misunderstood freedom fighter. But Wicked’s strength lies in the plot holes that Mr Maguire noticed in the original Oz stories, for example how it was weird Glinda neglected to tell Dorothy that the shoes could return her home, or that it seemed wrong that the Wizard was allowed to get away with his scam scot-free. Also, unlike Maleficent, Maguire’s Witch starts as a “good guy”, but she gradually slips into evil ways as her attempts to do good go unrewarded. Although we’re encouraged to sympathise with her, ultimately we still know she has become a villain, and cannot excuse her actions. Maleficent, on the hand, simply doesn’t have the guts to go there.
While I’m all for more women appearing in more diverse roles on the big screen, the sad fact is it will end up all for naught if those roles aren’t paid the proper respect and care they deserve. Writers need to take better care of what message their stories put across, because we’re paying closer attention than they think.