First published at SheRa Mag on March 24, 2015.
I’m a gushy girl at heart. I can sit through Notting Hill as many times as most people can watch Game of Thrones and still bust out big wet ones at Roberts’ “I’m just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her” line.
Needless to say, when I dragged my tattoo-sleeved boyfriend along to Disney’s Cinderella remake last night, at the point when the prince finally finds his clandestine princess and chooses “love” over “advantage,” and then when Cinderella turns to her wicked stepmother and says, “I forgive you,” I was a melting mess.
Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella (nope, I didn’t realize he was a Disney director either…) delivers in spades in as far as wanderlust romance and fairytale fabulousness is concerned. But in its handling of gender and female stereotypes, Disney has a lot to answer for.
You don’t have to have sat through the movie to have grasped the visual ambience of Disney’s latest blockbuster hit. Los Angeles is literally plastered with giant billboards of actress Lily James as Cinderella, wearing her iconic blue gown, and in mid-flight—I later realized that these billboards depict the moment in time when Cinderella dashes out of the palace towards her pumpkin carriage before the clock strikes midnight.
What’s so arresting about this marketing image is not Cinderella’s royal blue dress, nor her lovely long blonde locks. It’s her waistline that begs reflection. Is Disney for real? I originally thought they must have photoshopped Cinderella’s waist to look like Barbie. No one has a waist as small as their wrist! Nor should they!! And these days, such dated representations of women are deemed culturally offensive. I mean, aren’t they??
But having now seen the film, I realize that the costume design across the board imagines women in oppressive corsets with dainty, full skirts. Whether Cinderella’s waistline was photoshopped to appear even more petite on Sunset Blvd or not, she remains strapped into such old-fashioned, and dare I say, sexist attire throughout the duration of the film. Furthermore, a far cry from Disney’s more recent feisty, badass heroines (Frozen, Maleficent), James’ Cinderella does just as the original fairytale suggests: she simply surrenders to servitude and keeps company with the mice in her attic. Blah… And even before her parents die, when Cinderella’s life was seemingly all cuddles, squirrels, and bluebirds, she was almost too peachy sweet. It’s as if the character possessed no dualities, no dimensions, and certainly little heroes fight.
But why? It’s 2015…
Sure, Cinderella rode bareback, twice, through the woods—symbolic of liberation, I guess. But these scenes felt a little token and out of character. It’s as if the filmmaker had said to himself: feminist scene = tick!
Last year I met Disney writer Linda Woolverton at Newport Beach Film Festival who spoke about sneaking in feminist messages into archaic fables. Woolverton is the force behind the 1991 reimagined, sword-swinging Belle in Beauty and The Beast; she went gothic in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland; and envisioned both good and bad, vulnerability, and strength in the matriarchal villain, Maleficent.
Evidently, Woolverton was not in the development meetings for Disney’s most recent exploit (although I’d love to have seen her version had she been given the chance). On the contrary, writer Chris Weitz and director Branagh were devoutly committed to the fairytale’s original lineage. That or they lack any imagination. (Or perhaps they missed Emma Watson’s whole HeForShe campaign..?) In any case, what’s the point in a remake when the only things that change are the actors and the production values?
While it’s worth acknowledging the racial diversity in the remake’s casting (Nonso Anozie’s Captain was a particular headliner!), it’s just hard to understand why, in 2015, when tackling a fairytale that dates back to the 1600’s and therefore carries with it fiercely dated stigmas—particularly damaging to women—the approach wouldn’t be from a cultural and political standpoint that both reflects a more progressive world and imagines an even better one.
Feature image source: hollywoodreporter.com