‘Book of Life’ ticks off tropes in most sexist kids’ movie of the year

“Book of Life” is so retro-sexist, if I weren’t with my kids, I would’ve walked out. Instead, I sat there in the theater with my mouth hanging open, trying to focus on the movie’s dazzling animation instead of the cliched plot.

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Manolo, the protagonist of the movie is a bullfighter/ musician. He competes with his rival, Joaquin, a war hero, to marry Maria who is the prize to be won. That’s right, in 2014 children are shown a movie where the female’s role in the narrative is to be a trophy. Typically, as in most contemporary animation, “the girl” actually has a personality! Maria is educated, she likes to read and she likes art. Isn’t that great, parents? Maria is a smart prize. She can fence too, which she gets to do for about 2 minutes of the movie.

“Book of Life” is inspired by Mexico’s Day of the Dead, art I love and used to collect. The characters and scenery are so gorgeously colorful, I tried hard to overlook the sexism. The point where I didn’t think I could take anymore came when Joaquin is at a party with Maria by his side. He is going on and on about himself and Maria mocks him, “I bet you want a wife who can just cook and clean.” She walks away in a huff. At this point, Joaquin’s buddy comments: “Oh, she’s a feisty one!” If you read Reel Girl, you know I use the term “Minority Feisty” to describe the fake feminism that crops up in almost every animated movie made for kids:

If you see an animated film today, it’s likely to include a token strong female character or two who reviewers will call “feisty.” In “How to Train Your Dragon,” Astrid; in “Toy Story,” Jessie; in “Ratatouille,” Colette. She’s supposed to make us feel like the movie is contemporary and feminist, unlike those sexist films of yesteryear.

 

The problem is that because Pixar or Disney has so magnanimously thrown in this “feisty” female (who may even have some commentary about sexism or male domination) we’re no longer supposed to care that almost all of the other characters in the film are male, including the star who the movie is often titled for and usually his best buddy as well. The crowd scenes in the film are also made up of mostly males.

 

“Feisty” isn’t a word that describes someone with real power, but someone who plays at being powerful. Would you ever call Superman “feisty?”  How would he feel if you did?

 

The Smurfette Principle has evolved into the Minority Feisty. Now instead of a “token” female in a children’s movie, we may see a few females sprinkled around, a “minority” of them. Parents, the next time you watch a children’s movie, try not to let the Minority Feisty population distract you from the limitations female characters are almost always forced into. Ask yourself: Is the female the protagonist in this film? Does the narrative revolve around her quest? Or is she there to (play a crucial role in) helping the male star achieve his goal/ dream?

At the end of the movie, there is a wedding. I’m not going to call that information a spoiler. After the ceremony, Maria is referred to as “Mrs Sanchez.” She has no quest. Instead, “Book of Life” ticks off gender tropes to become the most sexist children’s movie of 2014.

Reel Girl rates “Book of Life” ***SS***

Reel Girl’s Halloween List of Monster Movies For Kids Starring Females

My 8 year old daughter is home sick today, and we were looking for a Halloween movie to watch starring a girl. This depressing task reminded me that once again it’s time to post the annual Reel Girl’s Halloween List of Monster Movies Starring Females. I started creating this list in my head when in 2012 no less than 3 Halloween movies came out– “Hotel Transylvania,” “ParaNorman,” and “Frankenweenie”– each with males front and center.

This afternoon, my daughter and I opted for “Hocus Pocus” which was on Reel Girl’s list, but I hadn’t seen it yet. The good news is “Hocus Pocus” has more females than males. The witches are played by Kathy Najimy, Bette Midler, and Sarah Jessica Parker. Penny Marshall is in the movie too, which was a nice surprise for me. Vinessa Shaw plays a smart, brave girl and Thora Birch is the 8 year old little sister who gets into trouble. (My daughter really liked seeing a movie with a kid the same age as she is.)

The not-so-good is that the 3 witches are obsessed with being young and beautiful. I am so over this cliche. Recently, I saw it in “Tangled” and “Snow White and the Huntsman,” both stories obviously recycled fairy tales with this tired theme (not to mention any women’s magazine you open, full of ads for potions, spells of eternal youth.) What these women are after is not beauty but power, which is what beauty has represented and signified for women in narratives for thousands of years. I wish writers today could be a little more creative in depicting stories where women are seeking power without relying on the dull and done youth and beauty cliche.

Another thing that annoyed me about “Hocus Pocus” is that in order for a spell to work, a candle had to be lit by a virgin. While I appreciated that the virgin was a boy, the word came up again and again with my daughter wanting to know its meaning. I told her it’s another word for child, but I was irritated the movie put me in that position for no important reason as far as the plot is concerned.

Finally, while there are many girls and women in this movie, the protagonist is a boy. He’s just moved to Salem from LA, and he doesn’t believe in witches. Vinessa Shaw plays his girlfriend and Thora Birch plays his little sister. It is this guy that goes through the transition of coming to believe. Still, he is a Minority Feisty of sorts, and I can’t actually recall another movie where I have seen a gender flip where the male plays this role.

Reel Girl’s list of Monster Movies Starring Females is short. It is almost the same as last year’s list, except I’ve added the wonderful “Maleficent.” My list is so pathetically short that I have included movies just recommended to me, that I have not seen myself. Those are “Journey to the Center of the Earth” and “Series of Unfortunate Events” (which I may watch today with my daughter….) We complain, rightly so, about how sexist Halloween costumes are for girl. It would sure help things out if there were more scary stories starring cool or evil powerful females. Of course, we’d still have the problem of Hermione morphing into the sexy school girl. But I digress. As I asked you in 2013, if you have any monster movies for little kids starring females, to add to my list. please let me know. Here’s the list of 10 movies. Please try to watch girl-centered films with your daughters and sons.

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Could ‘Wild’ be the antidote to ‘Gone Girl’?

I’m a slow reader, and I read several books simultaneously, so finishing Cheryl Strayed’s Wild in a couple days is a remarkable feat in my world.

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This memoir starts with the story of a how Strayed’s life unraveled after her mother’s death in her early 40s from lung cancer. Stayed cheated multiple times on her husband, left him, spiraled into heroin addiction, and then went cold turkey from men and drugs, hiking alone on the Pacific Crest Trail.

I love this book. I can’t wait to see the movie starring Reese Witherspoon.

I don’t recall ever reading a book about a woman who writes of cheating on her loving husband and then chooses to be alone. Strayed’s writing style in open, honest, and raw. Here is one of my favorite passages:

What if I forgave myself? I thought. What if I forgave myself even though I’d dome something I shouldn’t have? What if I was a liar and a cheat and there was no excuse for what I’d done other than it was what I wanted to do and needed to do? What if I was sorry, but if I could go back in time I wouldn’t do anything differently than I had done? What if I’d actually wanted to fuck every one of those men? What if heroin taught me something? What if yes was the right answer instead of no? What if what made me do all those things everyone thought I shouldn’t have done was also what got me here? What if was never redeemed? What if I already was?

 

I’ve read several interviews with Witherspoon where she speaks about the lack of roles for women, why she created her own production company, and her hopes for her daughter. Here’s one quote from the Columbus Dispatch:

In a series of meetings that Reese Witherspoon had with Hollywood executives in 2012, the actress grew increasingly frustrated by the answers she received to the question “What are you developing for women?”

The pickings were slim.

“I think it was literally one studio that had a project for a female lead over 30,” the actress recalls. “And I thought to myself, ‘I’ve got to get busy.’  ”

“My daughter was 13,” Witherspoon says, “and I wanted her to see movies with female leads and heroes and life stories.”

 

How cool is that? We desperately need powerful women, women with daughters, to put their time, energy, brains, and money into getting narratives with heroic, complex females out into the world. It does kind of bum me out that Witherspoon’s other project was “Gone Girl.” If you’ve read my blog, you know I hate what “Gone Girl” is about. Apparently, the director of “Gone Girl” insisted Witherspoon did not star in the movie. He wanted someone unknown, cold, and unapproachable. It’s interesting that being too cold is one of the criticisms Rosamund Pike is getting for her portrayal of Amy Dunne. Clearly, she is following the director’s orders.

I, for one, am thrilled Witherspoon is starring in “Wild” instead. I’m a huge fan of her work, especially “Freeway,” one of her early movies where she plays a violent, heroic Red-Riding Hood. I just read an article about Witherspoon in Vogue and there is no mention of “Freeway.” There almost never is which I don’t get. Have any of you seen it? It’s such a great movie.

“Wild” like “Gone Girl” is a best-selling book which hopefully will metamorphose into a blockbuster movie. I haven’t seen it yet, but I’m already hoping Witherspoon wins another Oscar.

 

‘Penguins of Madagascar’ preview gives female one line: ‘Where’s the sound?’

Last week, my 3 daughters (ages 5, 8, and 11) and I saw the preview for Dreamworks upcoming “Penguins of Madagascar.” A female has just one line in the entire preview. Ironically, she says: “Where’s the sound?”

Even before seeing this, I had an issue with the ubiquitous frat boy penguins. In the earlier film “Madagascar 3″ (yes, three) one of the 4 brother penguins (yes, brothers) chides the others: “You pillow fight like a bunch of little girls.” Here’s that preview:

As I blogged after my kids saw that preview:

Why would kids need to hear a line making fun of how girls fight? What writer or producer or director could possibly think perpetuating that stereotype would be funny for girls to hear? Or were they, more likely, not thinking about little girls at all?…“Madagascar 3,” by the way, features the same 4 main characters as in 1 and 2. Guess how many are female? One, Gloria the Hippo.

 

Does Gloria get her a spin off movie where she is the protagonist? No, DreamWorks decided that the 4 penguin brothers should star in their own narrative., captioning their story: “When the world needs saving, heroes become legends.” I have a special sore spot for sexist spin offs. This is because, so often, when I write about the lack of females in movies like Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Tintin, Superhero sagas, the list goes on, commenters invariably write me that the girls gone missing is nobody’s fault, it’s how the original story is. With a spin off, Hollywood has a clear an opportunity to create a new narrative with a female star, but what does it do? Manage to be even more sexist than the original.  After 3 Shrek movies (yes, three) did Fiona get her own trilogy? No, Puss In Boots got his spin off film. That movie had a fabulous Minority Feisty, Kitty Softpaws. I’m still waiting for her spin off movie. I’m still waiting for the Wonder Woman movie, but what do I get? Batman vs Superman, because after all, we’ve only had 8 Batman movies and 9 Superman ones.

So, please, don’t tell me anymore that movies lack females because the cast of the original story does. And please, don’t tell me movies are sexist because that’s just how it is in nature. Animals don’t talk in nature, nor do planes or cars, and that doesn’t seem to bother anyone much. Hollywood is sexist because it’s run by men along with the rest of the world. Parents need to seriously consider if they want things to stay this way, if they want yet another generation of children to be conditioned to expect and accept a world where females go missing.

We all want complex female heroes and villains, ‘Gone Girl’ doesn’t deliver

The psycho-female stereotype of “Gone Girl” has her defenders. Of course, the writer, Gillian Flynn, who posts on her web site:

“I’ve grown quite weary of the spunky heroines, brave rape victims, soul-searching fashionistas that stock so many books. I particularly mourn the lack of female villains – good, potent female villains . . . The point is, women have spent so many years girl-powering ourselves – to the point of almost parodic encouragement – we’ve left no room to acknowledge our dark side.”

In spite of Flynn’s claim that the lack of representation of heroic females in narratives is a problem solved, here are some facts: In movies today just 30.8% of speaking characters are women; 28.8% of women wear sexually revealing clothing; 10.7% of movies feature a balanced cast where half of the characters are female. Want more stats on the lack of women? Go to the Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media.

But reality doesn’t stop Maureen Dowd from repeating Flynn’s claim that she’s just being original. In the New York Times today, Dowd writes:

Given my choice between allowing portrayals of women who are sexually manipulative, erotically aggressive, fearless in a deranged kind of way, completely true to their own temperament, desperately vital, or the alternative — wallowing in feminist propaganda and succumbing to the niceness plague — I’ll take the former.

It’s laughable that when a narrative promotes a stereotype, it gets depicted as unique. Once again, I go back to the first post I wrote on Reel Girl after reading the book:

I have absolutely no problem with women not being “likeable” characters. I want that. I was so excited when I read the comment by the excellent writer Claire Messud who, when asked about her protagonist by Publisher’s Weekly (“I wouldn’t want to be friends with Nora, would you? Her outlook is almost unbearably grim”) responded:

“For heaven’s sake, what kind of question is that? Would you want to be friends with Humbert Humbert? Would you want to be friends with Mickey Sabbath? Saleem Sinai? Hamlet? Krapp? Oedipus? Oscar Wao? Antigone? Raskolnikov? Any of the characters in The Corrections? Any of the characters in Infinite Jest? Any of the characters in anything Pynchon has ever written? Or Martin Amis? Or Orhan Pamuk? Or Alice Munro, for that matter? If you’re reading to find friends, you’re in deep trouble. We read to find life, in all its possibilities. The relevant question isn’t “is this a potential friend for me?” but “is this character alive?”

 

Get that, people? Is this character alive?

Amy Dunne is a stereotype who fakes her own rape multiple times.

When the epidemic of violence against women in the USA is finally getting some national attention from Obama to colleges to the NFL, ‘Gone Girl’ reads like a Men’s Rights handbook

I wrote on Reel Girl:

“Gone Girl” makes violence against women into a punchline, and does this so well that even I laughed at the jokes…

There are a few core beliefs women’s rights advocates have worked hard to get the culture to understand:

(1) Women don’t want to be raped

(2) A woman who is raped did not bring the violence on herself

(3) The #1 killer of pregnant women is homicide

In “Gone Girl”‘ each of these beliefs becomes a mockery, perfectly executed with comic timing, plot points, and good acting to seem ridiculous. I’m going to summarize a few instances below though its from memory, so the quotes may not be precisely accurate, and you’ve got to see it yourself to experience the reaction, I don’t think the typed words on the page will do it.

When Nick Dunne seeks out another guy that his wife, Amy, falsely accused of rape, the guy says,”That’s Amy! She’s graduated from rape to murder.” I chuckled.

When it becomes public that Amy was pregnant (a faked pregnancy by the way) media and townspeople nod and knowingly say, “The #1 way pregnant women die is murder.” The scene is so cartoonish and Nick is so clearly a victim, that when hearing the line, even I rolled my eyes.

When Amy spins the story of how she never should have let another guy she accused of rape into her house, an FBI guy steps in with a concerned face and says, “Don’t blame yourself!” When I heard that line, I snorted.

Gillian Flynn is no Claire Messud. I wish she were.

‘Gone Girl’ makes violence against women a punchline

***SPOILERS***

“Gone Girl” makes violence against women into a punchline, and does this so well that even I laughed at the jokes.

Just as the book “Gone Girl” is well written and well plotted, the movie version is well acted, directed, and produced. Watching the movie, even more than reading the book, I felt like I was having a meta experience: watching a movie about storytelling while being manipulated by the story I was being told. “Gone Girl” is the story of a woman who lies about being raped by three different men.

There are a few core beliefs women’s rights advocates have worked hard to get the culture to understand:

(1) Women don’t want to be raped

(2) A woman who is raped did not bring the violence on herself

(3) The #1 killer of pregnant women is homicide

In “Gone Girl”‘ each of these beliefs becomes a mockery, perfectly executed with comic timing, plot points, and good acting to seem ridiculous. I’m going to summarize a few instances below though its from memory, so the quotes may not be precisely accurate, and you’ve got to see it yourself to experience the reaction, I don’t think the typed words on the page will do it.

When Nick Dunne seeks out another guy that his wife, Amy, falsely accused of rape, the guy says,”That’s Amy! She’s graduated from rape to murder.” I chuckled.

When it becomes public that Amy was pregnant (a faked pregnancy by the way) media and townspeople nod and knowingly say, “The #1 way pregnant women die is murder.” The scene is so cartoonish and Nick is so clearly a victim, that when hearing the line, even I rolled my eyes.

When Amy spins the story of how she never should have let another guy she accused of rape into her house, an FBI guy steps in with a concerned face and says, “Don’t blame yourself!” When I heard that line, I snorted.

At the end of the book, Nick falls back in love with Amy and you’re left with feeling that these two deserve each other. At the end of the movie, Nick is still angry. Like all heroes, his experience led him to go through a transition, and you’re left feeling sorry for he guy who only wants to be a good dad to his son.

Describing her book, author Gillian Flynn says:

“It’s a story about storytelling, and in the 24-hour media world, no matter what the content, the media has a disproportionate voice in all our lives. I wanted it to be a third character in a way — Nick, Amy, but also the media. We all weigh in on everybody’s life no matter what. And there seems to be a constant audience monitoring our lives.”

 

No question that “Gone Girl” is a movie about story-telling. Maybe Flynn isn’t perpetuating misogyny here but being doing something quite brilliant. The joke is on us, the audience. Look how easily we’re manipulated, at this particular moment by beautiful people and great acting into, once again, believing the story that scorned women lie about about rape while its men who are the real victims.

In the USA one in five women reports experiencing a rape. The Department of Justice estimates that 60 percent of rapes go unreported. As for false accusations of rape, the FBI estimates that 1-2 percent of claims are fake. Yet, a 2002 survey of male and female college students shows that they believe a woman lies in 50 percent of reported rape cases. “ This is typical. Why do so many people believe women lie about rape? Because of a story we’ve been told again and again and again.

 

 

 

Here’s my original post on “Gone Girl:”

I haven’t seen the movie “Gone Girl,” and neither have you as it’s hitting theaters on October 3, though I did read the book this summer. I was horrified by the misogyny woven through the narrative. Perhaps I was so surprised by the sexism because the only controversy I’d heard of before I read the book was that people didn’t like the ending. I did like the ending. I’ll tell you why, and also go into the plot points of “Gone Girl” but before I do, consider yourself warned: spoilers will be in this post. If you’re going to read Gone Girl– and it is, like so many sexist books I critique, well written and well plotted, I’m talking about technique here– you may not want to proceed much further, except, perhaps, to take a look at this cover of Entertainment Weekly. There you see Amy, the protagonist of “Gone Girl,” shown as a “beautiful” female corpse, a trope Anita Sarkeesian dissects in her latest video: Women as Background Decoration: Part 2 – Tropes vs Women in Video Games. This image of the dead, sexualized female body is, quite literally, everywhere in popular culture. After you check out this cover, I want you to know just one more thing.

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My final comment to those who don’t want spoilers: I have absolutely no problem with women not being “likeable” characters. I want that. I was so excited when I read the comment by the excellent writer Claire Messud who, when asked about her protagonist by Publisher’s Weekly (I wouldn’t want to be friends with Nora, would you? Her outlook is almost unbearably grim”) responded:

For heaven’s sake, what kind of question is that? Would you want to be friends with Humbert Humbert? Would you want to be friends with Mickey Sabbath? Saleem Sinai? Hamlet? Krapp? Oedipus? Oscar Wao? Antigone? Raskolnikov? Any of the characters in The Corrections? Any of the characters in Infinite Jest? Any of the characters in anything Pynchon has ever written? Or Martin Amis? Or Orhan Pamuk? Or Alice Munro, for that matter? If you’re reading to find friends, you’re in deep trouble. We read to find life, in all its possibilities. The relevant question isn’t “is this a potential friend for me?” but “is this character alive?”

 

Get that, people? Is this character alive?

OK, moving on to spoilers, if you don’t want them, it’s time to leave.

It turns out that the protagonist of Gone Girl, Amy Dunne (played in the movie by Rosemund Pike) fakes her own rape, pregnancy, stalking, beatings, and murder. That’s right, Amy goes through a veritable list of practically every act/ crime that a wicked and conniving (are men ever conniving?) woman can manipulate. While Amy fakes her victimhood, her husband, Nick, played in the movie by Ben Affleck, is falsely accused of killing his pregnant wife. Why, you ask, is Amy motivated to be so awful? She’s a woman scorned, of course, who discovered her husband’s affair with his student.

Here’s one passage describing Amy’s fakery:

I took a wine bottle, and I abused myself with it every day, so the inside of my vagina looked…right. Right for a rape victim. Then today I let him have sex with me so I had his semen…

That particular scene, by the way, refers to another man Amy is setting up, not her husband.

Here’s the problem, and once again, it’s not that Amy is a villain or unlikeable.

In the USA 20 percent of women, 1 in 5, report experiencing rape or attempted rape. The Department of Justice estimates that 60 percent of rapes go unreported. As for false accusations of rape, the FBI estimates that 1-2 percent of claims are fake. Here’s another important fact about false accusation: A 2002 survey of male and female college students shows that they believe a woman lies in 50 percent of reported rape cases. “Gone Girl” perpetuates the popular narrative that rape isn’t real and isn’t happening, that women lie, and falsely accused men are the real victims.

But Gone Girl is fiction not fact, you say. Why am I listing stats here? Am I trying, once again, to censor artists with my PC beliefs? Surely Amy’s story can fall into the 1- 2% of women who falsely accuse men of rape. This is a free country.

This is also a country where Washington Post columnist George Will, a man known as the “most powerful journalist in America” recently wrote that being a rape survivor is “a coveted status.” When others challenged Will that rape is not, in fact, something women want, the conservative group, Women’s Independent Forum called a conference “Rape Culture and Sexual Assault,” putting out this press release:

The White House has embraced the statistic that 1 in 5 women is sexually assaulted while in college…The White House has released its “first ever report” on the issue and are using it to push their policy agenda…But many question the validity of the White House’s one-in-five statistic, even as those who challenge this figure are silenced as being uncaring about women…The IWF takes any accusation of sexual assault very seriously. But we are concerned that there is a potentially harmful hysteria developing about this issue. Where does this come from? Where is it going? And who will be harmed?

Lucky for us, Gone Girl answers every single one of the IWF’s (hysterical) questions: Where does it come from? In Gone Girl, overachieving Harvard grad, Amy Dunne, was used but never truly loved by her egotistical writer parents. They penned a best-selling YA series based on their daughter. Where is it going? Female anger and, yes, hysteria, not to mention jealousy, vindictiveness, and aging, leads to violence. Who will be harmed? Nick, of course, innocent men in America who are falsely accused, lied to, manipulated, and victimized by the scorned, bitter women in their lives.

Yes, Of course Gillian Flynn can write about whatever she pleases, but I find it sadly ironic that when I argue for more diverse stories to permeate our popular culture, a culture where people believe that 50% of rape accusations are false, a culture where stories of rape remain secret to the point that the media hides names and identities of survivors, a media dominated by the same old trope ridden narrative, that I am the one who’s accused of stifling creativity. Gone Girl is a best-selling book about to be blockbuster movie that will help to perpetuate  the myth/ story that rape and violence against women is not epidemic but mostly exists in our imagination.

By the way, the end of the book, you know why people don’t like it? Because Amy ends up OK. She and Nick get back together, they’re going to have a baby. (Pregnant for real this time, she stole his sperm.) Apparently, the no punishment-for-Amy-finale is so unpopular that the director changed the ending to make it more of crowdpleaser.

I’ll leave you with some facts about domestic violence in the USA from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence):

One in four women (25%) has experienced domestic violence in her lifetime.

 

85% of domestic violence victims are women.

 

Nearly three out of four (74%) of Americans personally know someone who is or has been a victim of domestic violence.

 

Domestic violence is one of the most chronically under reported crimes.

 

Only approximately one-quarter of all physical assaults, one-fifth of all rapes, and one-half of all stalkings perpetuated against females by intimate partners are reported to the police.

 

On average, more than three women are murdered by their intimate partners in this country every day.

 

 Reel Girl rates Gone Girl ***SSS*** for gender stereotyping

After I read Gone Girl, I searched the internet about the book’s misogyny, here are some interesting posts

 

The Misogynistic Portrayal of Villainy in Gone Girl

Is GONE GIRL a Misogynist Novel?

‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ and the Minority Feisty

Today, I saw ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ with my daughter and niece. I enjoyed the movie (especially the 80s music and the jokes) as did they (mostly Groot, the resilient, dancing tree,) Gamora, played by Zoe Saldana, is a kick-ass smart assassin who saves the universe with a team of misfits, but I had a minor (hint, hint) issue with her role. Tell me, what do you notice about the gender ratio in this poster for the “GOTG?”

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Notice anything in common with the gender ratio of “The Avengers”?

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What about this recent Justice League comic cover?

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Lest you think this 1:4/5/6 female/ male gender ratio is exclusive to superheroes, here’s my post on the Minority Feisty:

The curse of the Minority Feisty in kids’ movies

If you see an animated film today, it’s likely to include a token strong female character or two who reviewers will call “feisty.” In “How to Train Your Dragon” Astrid; in “Toy Story,” Jessie; in “Ratatouille,” Colette. She’s supposed to make us feel like the movie is contemporary and feminist, unlike those sexist films of yesteryear.

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Just one recent example: People Magazine describes Anne Hathaway’s role as Jewel in “Rio 2:”

There have been other big changes as well for the actress who reprises her role as the feisty macaw Jewel in the new animated film ‘Rio 2.’

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The problem is that because Pixar or Disney or Marvel has so magnanimously thrown in this “feisty” female (who may even have some commentary about sexism or male domination) we’re no longer supposed to care that almost all of the other characters in the film are male, including the star who the movie is often titled for and usually his best buddy as well. The crowd scenes in the film are also made up of mostly males.

“Feisty” isn’t a word that describes someone with real power, but someone who plays at being powerful. Would you ever call Superman “feisty?”  How would he feel if you did?

The Smurfette Principle has evolved into the Minority Feisty. Now instead of a “token” female in a children’s movie, we may see a few females sprinkled around, a “minority” of them. Parents, the next time you watch a children’s movie, try not to let the Minority Feisty population distract you from the limitations female characters are almost always forced into. Ask yourself: Is the female the protagonist in this film? Does the narrative revolve around her quest? Or is she there to (play a crucial role in) helping the male star achieve his goal/ dream?

Imagine if the gender ratio presented in movies for kids was reflected in their world. Girls would be a minority instead of one half of the kid population. When females go missing from children’s media, another generation gets trained to expect and accept a world where girls go missing. It seems normal to them that there has never been a female president of their country, that there is just one great female chef among males, or perhaps, none at all as shown in this Time Magazine article on the greatest chefs, titled “Gods of Food.”

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In the imaginary world, a world created for kids, anything is possible, so why is it so consistently sexist?

See Peggy Orenstein’s post: “Pixar’s female problem: Please stop asking ‘What about Jessie?,” on the Minority Feisty issue

See Reel Girl’s Gallery of Girls Gone Missing From Children’s Movies in 2014 http://reelgirl.com/2014/01/reel-girls-gallery-of-girls-gone-missing-from-childrens-movies-in-2014/

2013 http://reelgirl.com/2013/01/reel-girls-gallery-of-girls-gone-missing-from-childrens-movies-in-2013/

2012 http://reelgirl.com/2012/12/reel-girls-gallery-of-girls-gone-missing-from-childrens-movies-in-2012/

2011 http://reelgirl.com/2011/07/heres-a-visual/

Reel Girl rates ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ ***H***

 

Fall Movie Preview: Insidious misogyny in ‘Gone Girl’

I haven’t seen the movie “Gone Girl,” and neither have you as it’s hitting theaters on October 3, though I did read the book this summer. I was horrified by the misogyny woven through the narrative. Perhaps I was so surprised by the sexism because the only controversy I’d heard of before I read the book was that people didn’t like the ending. I did like the ending. I’ll tell you why, and also go into the plot points of “Gone Girl” but before I do, consider yourself warned: spoilers will be in this post. If you’re going to read Gone Girl– and it is, like so many sexist books I critique, well written and well plotted, I’m talking about technique here– you may not want to proceed much further, except, perhaps, to take a look at this cover of Entertainment Weekly. There you see Amy, the protagonist of “Gone Girl,” shown as a “beautiful” female corpse, a trope Anita Sarkeesian dissects in her latest video: Women as Background Decoration: Part 2 – Tropes vs Women in Video Games. This image of the dead, sexualized female body is, quite literally, everywhere in popular culture. After you check out this cover, I want you to know just one more thing.

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My final comment to those who don’t want spoilers: I have absolutely no problem with women not being “likeable” characters. I want that. I was so excited when I read the comment by the excellent writer Claire Messud who, when asked about her protagonist by Publisher’s Weekly (I wouldn’t want to be friends with Nora, would you? Her outlook is almost unbearably grim”) responded:

For heaven’s sake, what kind of question is that? Would you want to be friends with Humbert Humbert? Would you want to be friends with Mickey Sabbath? Saleem Sinai? Hamlet? Krapp? Oedipus? Oscar Wao? Antigone? Raskolnikov? Any of the characters in The Corrections? Any of the characters in Infinite Jest? Any of the characters in anything Pynchon has ever written? Or Martin Amis? Or Orhan Pamuk? Or Alice Munro, for that matter? If you’re reading to find friends, you’re in deep trouble. We read to find life, in all its possibilities. The relevant question isn’t “is this a potential friend for me?” but “is this character alive?”

 

Get that, people? Is this character alive?

OK, moving on to spoilers, if you don’t want them, it’s time to leave.

It turns out that the protagonist of Gone Girl, Amy Dunne (played in the movie by Rosemund Pike) fakes her own rape, pregnancy, stalking, beatings, and murder. That’s right, Amy goes through a veritable list of practically every act/ crime that a wicked and conniving (are men ever conniving?) woman can manipulate. While Amy fakes her victimhood, her husband, Nick, played in the movie by Ben Affleck, is falsely accused of killing his pregnant wife. Why, you ask, is Amy motivated to be so awful? She’s a woman scorned, of course, who discovered her husband’s affair with his student.

Here’s one passage describing Amy’s fakery:

I took a wine bottle, and I abused myself with it every day, so the inside of my vagina looked…right. Right for a rape victim. Then today I let him have sex with me so I had his semen…

That particular scene, by the way, refers to another man Amy is setting up, not her husband.

Here’s the problem, and once again, it’s not that Amy is a villain or unlikeable.

In the USA 20 percent of women, 1 in 5, report experiencing rape or attempted rape. The Department of Justice estimates that 60 percent of rapes go unreported. As for false accusations of rape, the FBI estimates that 1-2 percent of claims are fake. Here’s another important fact about false accusation: A 2002 survey of male and female college students shows that they believe a woman lies in 50 percent of reported rape cases. “Gone Girl” perpetuates the popular narrative that rape isn’t real and isn’t happening, that women lie, and falsely accused men are the real victims.

But Gone Girl is fiction not fact, you say. Why am I listing stats here? Am I trying, once again, to censor artists with my PC beliefs? Surely Amy’s story can fall into the 1- 2% of women who falsely accuse men of rape. This is a free country.

This is also a country where Washington Post columnist George Will, a man known as the “most powerful journalist in America” recently wrote that being a rape survivor is “a coveted status.” When others challenged Will that rape is not, in fact, something women want, the conservative group, Women’s Independent Forum called a conference “Rape Culture and Sexual Assault,” putting out this press release:

The White House has embraced the statistic that 1 in 5 women is sexually assaulted while in college…The White House has released its “first ever report” on the issue and are using it to push their policy agenda…But many question the validity of the White House’s one-in-five statistic, even as those who challenge this figure are silenced as being uncaring about women…The IWF takes any accusation of sexual assault very seriously. But we are concerned that there is a potentially harmful hysteria developing about this issue. Where does this come from? Where is it going? And who will be harmed?

Lucky for us, Gone Girl answers every single one of the IWF’s (hysterical) questions: Where does it come from? In Gone Girl, overachieving Harvard grad, Amy Dunne, was used but never truly loved by her egotistical writer parents. They penned a best-selling YA series based on their daughter. Where is it going? Female anger and, yes, hysteria, not to mention jealousy, vindictiveness, and aging, leads to violence. Who will be harmed? Nick, of course, innocent men in America who are falsely accused, lied to, manipulated, and victimized by the scorned, bitter women in their lives.

Yes, Of course Gillian Flynn can write about whatever she pleases, but I find it sadly ironic that when I argue for more diverse stories to permeate our popular culture, a culture where people believe that 50% of rape accusations are false, a culture where stories of rape remain secret to the point that the media hides names and identities of survivors, a media dominated by the same old trope ridden narrative, that I am the one who’s accused of stifling creativity. Gone Girl is a best-selling book about to be blockbuster movie that will help to perpetuate  the myth/ story that rape and violence against women is not epidemic but mostly exists in our imagination.

By the way, the end of the book, you know why people don’t like it? Because Amy ends up OK. She and Nick get back together, they’re going to have a baby. (Pregnant for real this time, she stole his sperm.) Apparently, the no punishment-for-Amy-finale is so unpopular that the director changed the ending to make it more of crowdpleaser.

I’ll leave you with some facts about domestic violence in the USA from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence):

One in four women (25%) has experienced domestic violence in her lifetime.

 

85% of domestic violence victims are women.

 

Nearly three out of four (74%) of Americans personally know someone who is or has been a victim of domestic violence.

 

Domestic violence is one of the most chronically under reported crimes.

 

Only approximately one-quarter of all physical assaults, one-fifth of all rapes, and one-half of all stalkings perpetuated against females by intimate partners are reported to the police.

 

On average, more than three women are murdered by their intimate partners in this country every day.

 

 Reel Girl rates Gone Girl ***SSS*** for gender stereotyping

After I read Gone Girl, I searched the internet about the book’s misogyny, here are some interesting posts

 

The Misogynistic Portrayal of Villainy in Gone Girl

Is GONE GIRL a Misogynist Novel?

‘How to Train Your Dragon 2′ and the Minority Feisty phenomenon

Yesterday, my two younger kids and I saw “How to Train Your Dragon 2.”

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The movie was fun, exciting, showed off some spectacular animation, and we all enjoyed it. “HTTYD 2″ also followed the same old, same old pattern where there is a male protagonist while the “feisty” females are stuck on the sidelines providing some crucial role to help the male star achieve his quest.

I could list for you the small gains for females in the movie, such as it opens with a race where Astrid, one of the Minority Feisty, wins. I could add that Astrid is not racing her boyfriend and the star of the movie, Hiccup. That in the next scene, Hiccup is seen soaring through the clouds on his male dragon, Toothless, faster, better, much more daring than Astrid and her she-dragon. That Hiccup actually flies himself, dragon-less. I’m not going to list all these baby (“feisty)” steps females are allowed to take in this narrative– telling you those two scenes is enough, because that, right there is the pattern of this movie: females are allowed to be strong, just not as strong or as important as the males. “HTTYD 2″ reminded me of a well known interview– at least well know in my feminist/ internet world– with Kevin Smith and “Tower Prep” creator Dini about Cartoon Network, where Dini quotes CN:

We need boys, but we need girls right there, right one step behind the boys” — this is the network talking — “one step behind the boys, not as smart as the boys, not as interesting as the boys, but right there.”

 

This gendered scenario is just what you will see in “HTTYD 2.” Let me add that I really loved the Minority Feisty in this movie. I’m not going to “spoil” it for you, but one female in particular is really great.

I recently got this comment from a 13 yr old on my review of “How to Train Your Dragon.”

Hello! I’m a 13 year old girl who is a huge fan of Harry Potter, and I loved the movie How To Train your Dragon even though the I haven’t read the books-yet. I agree that there should be more female main characters, but the reason that doesn’t happen with popular series like Harry Potter and Percy Jackson is because boys don’t generally read stories about girls. I completely understand and agree that it’s wrong. What I don’t understand is why you seem to dislike amazing stories such as Harry Potter and HTTYD ( at least, that’s the impression I have) simply because the main character is a boy. Isn’t that just as unfair to the boys as people are to the girls? And dream works, I think wouldn’t have changed the gender of hiccup since that would be completely disrespectful of the books. They should have a movie with a female main character, but I think it’s fine if they didn’t do it with how to train your dragon. As far as books go, recent popular series such as divergent and the hunger games do have strong female characters, although they aren’t fantasy.Also, both stories did have strong female characters. Harry wouldn’t have made it past the first book without Hermione and Astrid is anything but a damsel in distress. Thank you for reading this; I simply wished to point out a few things, but I do agree that overall there should be more female main characters in fantasy.

 

I wrote back:

Hi Bluebell,

Thank for you comment, it’s great to hear from teens on Reel Girl.

“What I don’t understand is why you seem to dislike amazing stories such as Harry Potter and HTTYD ( at least, that’s the impression I have) simply because the main character is a boy.”

I love Harry Potter! Love it. If you read my posts on it, you will see how many times I write about how I love the series and admire the author. I also love Lord of the Rings. I haven’t read HTTYD. In spite of my love for these books, I am sick and tired of reading about male protags again and again and again. It really bothers me when people refer to a Minority Feisty in these stories (Hermione, Astrid etc) and act as if that makes the narrative feminist. In too many books for kids, girls are allowed to be powerful only if they are (1) in the minority compared to male charcaters (2) Helping the male protag on his quest. It’ snot tha i don’t like these stories, but the repetitive pattern of gender roles is restrictive and limiting to girls and boys.

Margot

 

Bluebell wrote me one more time:

Thanks for clarifying! It’s good to know that you do like Harry Potter and HTTYD. Also I realized that when I first read this I was thinking about how there are lots of fiction books with strong female main characters, but there aren’t really that many fantasy books like that. And I spend most of my time reading fantasy so I would know. Also I want to be an author when I grow up (well, as soon as possible, really- why wait? ) and I find it easier to write about girls than boys. I guess not too many authors are like that then. Thanks for replying!
Bluebell

 

Once again, my problem is not the individual children’s movies which are often great, but the gendered pattern where males star while females are marginalized or sexualized, stuck in supporting roles on the sidelines, in fantasy world, a world where anything should be possible. Instead, it’s like: Have no fear audiences, “HHTYD 2″ is so firmly grounded in the patriarchy model that the villain’s name is Alpha, as in Alpha male, the king of all  dragons.

The Minority Feisty phenomenon in children’s movies– that females are allowed to exist, to be “feisty” but they must not be the protagonist or  be in the minority– is a dangerous one. Parents see Astrid, or Wyldstyle from “The Lego Movie,” Andie and Precious from “The Nut Job,” Penny  from “Mr. Peabody and Sherman,” the list goes on and on and on, and think, “Okay, we’ve got that covered, there’s a strong female or two or three.” But in 2014, 18 children’s movies star males while just 6– a Minority Feisty of them– star females. Females are one half of the kid population, so why do girls go missing? Why are girls presented in fantasy world as if they were a minority?

I recently saw a post in “The Week” about a Minority Feisty in “The Edge of Tomorrow:”

It’s the Female Yoda Phenomenon: A seasoned warrior who has the knowledge and skill to transform the ineffectual everyman into a heroic savior. She is smart, competent, and tough. At her most mundane, she will teach the hero about responsibility and maturity (Knocked Up). At her most powerful, she will use her countless skills to make the male hero into a fighter like herself (Matrix, Edge of Tomorrow).

 

I like the term “Female Yoda Phenomenon” but what’s changed in children’s movies since Katha Pollitt coined “The Smurfette Principle” is that there is often more than one feisty female. In kids’ movies, its not about “one female yoda,” but about repetitively showing females as if they were a minority.

There has been some talk about the gay character in “HTTYD 2.” Am I happy the guy got one line about how there’s “one more reason” he didn’t get married? I guess, but I’d rather the movie just show a gay couple, a gay couple who are married. This is fantasy land, where fire-breathing dragons are best friends with humans, and we can’t imagine a gay, married couple? Or an animated population where we see as many females as males? I’ll remind you of Reel Girl’s tagline: imagining gender equality in the fantasy world. Sadly, it’s much rarer than a unicorn.

Reel Girl rates “How To Train Your Dragon 2″ ***H***

 

Angelina Jolie tells BBC ‘Maleficent’s’ wing-cutting scene is ‘metaphor for rape’

Yesterday, in a BBC interview, Angelina Jolie said that the controversial wing-cutting scene in “Maleficent” is a metaphor for rape.

Yahoo reports Jolie’s quote:

“We were very conscious, the writer and I, that it was a metaphor for rape,” Jolie said of the harrowing sequence, in which Maleficent’s wings are stolen as she’s in a drug-induced sleep. “This would be the thing that would make her lose sight.”

Obviously, it’s no coincidence that Jolie is leading the biggest ever global anti-rape summit. Jezebel reports on the summit and Jolie:

UN Special Envoy Jolie has visited victims of wartime sexual violence in Bosnia and in the DNC. Her 2011 directorial debut, In the Land of Blood and Honey, is set during the Bosnian civil war of the late twentieth century. During that conflict, experts estimate that 50,000 women were raped. According to AFP, Jolie was so moved by the plight of survivors there that she worked for two years to make this summit — the largest of its kind to date — a reality.

 

It was while doing media for the summit that Jolie addressed the rape metaphor in “Maleficent.”

Angelina Jolie spoke to BBC Radio’s Woman’s Hour in a live broadcast Tuesday, June 10, where she compared one harrowing scene in Maleficent to rape. Addressing more than 300 government dignitaries at the London-hosted Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, UN Special Envoy Jolie was asked about the scene in the fairy tale fantasy film, in which the titular character’s wings are torn off her body by a childhood friend.

Fantasy meets reality meet fantasy. Thank you, Angelina Jolie, once again, for speaking up and taking action to make a difference for women and girls around the world. Hopefully, more female writers, actors, producers, directors, musicians, singers, artists etc will publicly tell their own stories, and the narratives we all experience will open up, diversify, and change. Then, the world we exist in will change as well.

I’m re-posting my last blog on “Maleficent:”

Does ‘Maleficent’ depict matriarchy vs patriarchy or world where gender isn’t destiny?

This is my fifth post on the fabulous ‘Maleficent’ movie which I saw with my three daughters and my husband last Friday. I’m obviously a little obsessed.

If you’ve been following my blogs, I keep arguing, contrary to what almost everyone else seems to believe, that when Stefan cuts off Maleficent’s wings, it’s not necessarily a rape metaphor. I’d like to set one thing straight given the comments I’ve received. Yes, everyone is allowed their own interpretation. My blogs, about how this scene is not rape, I am quite aware come from my own bias that I want to lay out for you here:

(1) I am 45 years old and exhausted with seeing women raped on screen. I just wrote about my fatigue regarding bell hooks’s forum: Are You Still a Slave ? Liberating the Black Female Body with a blog title borrowed from a hooks quote: “If I never see another naked, enslaved, black woman on screen, I’ll be happy.”

(2) I have 3 daughters ages 5, 7, and 10, and I am desperate for them to experience fantasy worlds where gender equality exists. This wish of mine probably goes back to my first point, that I am 45 and sick of seeing the “feminist” trope where the female struggles against the patriarchy. It’s not just that I’ve seen it one million times before, but that in order for my children to see a girl struggling to be taken seriously or be strong or powerful even though she’s a girl, first my kids have to understand sexism. In order to “get” the story, first they have to understand that the world believes girls are less than boys. I would prefer, certainly for little kids, that they be exposed to fantasy worlds where girls and boys are depicted as equal, where girls are not made fun of, put down, or limited because of their gender. I understand how important the narrative of the girl proving she’s “just as good as a boy”  is historically, I’m not asking for it to be obliterated, I’m just asking for more stories where there is gender equality. If we can’t imagine gender equality, we cant create it. At this point, The Hunger Games may be the only fantasy world I’ve read where gender is not an issue.

(3) There are several reasons I believed “Maleficent” depicts a fantasy world where gender isn’t destiny rather than matriarchy vs patriarchy. Everyone is allowed their own interpretation, author’s intention is dead, but it can still be a factor in understanding the movie. I believed that it was both the screenwriter’s and Angelina Jolie’s intention that the conflict in the movie was not male vs female but human vs Fairy. Here are the reasons why:

A. The narrator introduces the movie as one about two worlds, one human and one magical.

B. When Stefan is first introduced, Maleficent is curious about him because he is a human, not because he is a boy.

C. With most of the scenes between them being childhood ones, I experienced the relationship between Stefan and Maleficent as special because it was a friendship between two warring species.

D. This quote from the writer, Linda Woolverton:

I had to figure out what possibly could have happened to her to make her want to hurt an innocent baby. Something that would equal that act. In the animated movie, she had no wings. She just threw her robes open like wings. I thought, ‘Is that it? Did someone take her wings?

Maleficent’s wings defined her as a Fairy. These wings were cut. This violence had nothing to do with her genitals/ rape. Why must we assume that when violence is done to a woman, it must involve her genitals? When Delilah put Samson to sleep in her lap and his hair was cut, was that a rape metaphor? As someone on Reel Girl’s Facebook page commented, the Maleficent scene could be compared to cutting off the hand of a concert pianist or, I might add, cutting off the wings off a Fairy!

E. This quote from Angelina Jolie made me think she wanted “Maleficent” to depict a world where gender isn’t destiny instead of matriarchy vs patriarchy.

“Our movie has all this strength and all this feminism, but, what I think is so nice is that, sometimes, in order to do that you have to make the man an idiot. Instead, we have this very elegant, wonderfully handsome, prince who, in the end, is great. He doesn’t need to be less than to make us more than. We don’t have to simplify or cheapen the men, or to detract from one to make the other better. I think that’s a mistake that’s often made in movies.

 

But, here’s my new news. It’s been one week since I saw “Maleficent,” and now I realize, to my dismay, though I still love this movie, I agree with so many others: “Maleficent” is not a world where gender isn’t destiny but depicts the conflict of matriarchy versus patriarchy. So why my change of heart? Is it that I now agree the wing cutting is clearly a rape metaphor? That the relationship between Stefan and Maleficent is primarily romantic?

No. What’s made me change my perception is I’ve been dwelling on my one earlier disappointment with the movie. The human crowd scenes are populated by all male characters. Please, tell me I missed something, but from my recollection, the king’s army is comprised of all male soldiers. When the king sends his followers to kill Maleficent, wishing for an heir, the circle around him is all male. And when Stefan returns with Maleficent’s wings, the king says something to the effect of, “Take my daughter.” If the king had been surrounded by half women when he sends his minions off to kill, if the army had been half women fighters, if we’d seen Maleficent use her power to strike down women soldiers as well as male ones, this fantasy world would’ve been one where gender doesn’t matter. But we did not see this. Therefore, the movie is clearly about patriarchy vs matriarchy, thus, the rape scene makes perfect sense.

Still, Angelina Jolie may have intended for her movie to depict a world where gender isn’t destiny rather than matriarchy vs patriarchy. But, if this is the case, she should’ve made sure the crowd scenes showed men and women equally. The scene could be primarily males just because of Jolie’s– and the producer’s, writer’s, director’s obviously–  unconscious bias. But this is why author’s intention doesn’t matter, because viewers see things in the story that are there whether the creator “chose” to put them there or not.

The Geena Davis Institute does extensive research on gender bias in children’s films, coming up with two– just two– main ways to make kids’ films show gender equality:

 

Step 1: Go through the projects you’re already working on and change a bunch of the characters’ first names to women’s names. With one stroke you’ve created some colorful unstereotypical female characters that might turn out to be even more interesting now that they’ve had a gender switch. What if the plumber or pilot or construction foreman is a woman? What if the taxi driver or the scheming politician is a woman? What if both police officers that arrive on the scene are women — and it’s not a big deal?

Step 2: When describing a crowd scene, write in the script, “A crowd gathers, which is half female.” That may seem weird, but I promise you, somehow or other on the set that day the crowd will turn out to be 17 percent female otherwise. Maybe first ADs think women don’t gather, I don’t know.

 

It’s sort of like how someone said, I forget who it was, that we won’t have gender equality when female geniuses make it through the glass ceiling, when exceptional women break barriers, but when the mediocre, average ones make it into the power structure, just like all the average white men are up there. It’s all about the crowd scenes.

Alternative title for this post: What happens when an over-educated woman has three daughters and gets stuck watching way too many Disney movies? She blogs.

Update:  I’m getting comments on Reel Girl’s Facebook page asking if I still recommend Maleficent for kids. Yes, absolutely take your children to see this movie, rape metaphor or no. They will not get the metaphor. It’s only disappointing to me because, as I wrote, I would like children to experience fantasy worlds where gender equality exists, and I’ve come to believe that “Maleficent” isn’t one of those worlds. Still, the movie has a great female protagonist (rare in kids’s films) and shows other strong, complex female characters as well. All three of my kids and my husband enjoyed the movie. Read the last post listed below for my full review.

Reel Girl’s posts on “Maleficent:”

What if ‘Maleficent’s’ Stefan had been Stefanie?

‘Maleficent’ beats MacFarlane at the box office (and she didn’t even show her boobs)

‘Maleficent’ is not ‘a woman scorned’ so stop calling her that

Magnificent ‘Maleficent’ is for all the girls who always wanted to fly