Drop everything and take your kids to see ‘Divergent’

There are so many things I love about “Divergent,” I’ll go through the major points here.

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The movie, in a nutshell, is about facing your fears. You get to watch a brave, smart, and compassionate female protagonist test and challenge herself again and again. You see her make choices, grow, and become her own person, a true leader. I write a lot about violence on Reel Girl, and how it is not comparable to sexualization. Narratives are metaphors, and just like in dreams, images express feelings. We, humans, experience universal emotions like fear and aggression. These are not “boy” feelings or “girl” feelings, they are just part of being alive. What is unique, or relatively unique, is what triggers these feelings in each of us. ‘Divergent’ addresses this specifically, by showing the characters go through their “fear landscapes” where they face their terrors and make choices. I loved that my daughter saw a female hero do this again and again.

Another thing that is so great about this movie is the romance. Four, the supporting male character, is in love with Tris because of her bravery. Her bravery makes her attractive. While we see so many narratives where males are celebrated for their attributes, females get defined by their “beauty.” Males have the reputation of being divorced from their feelings, but in my experience, it’s female characters– and of course, actual female people– who get a lifetime of training in experiencing their own bodies as objects and accessories, separate from who they are. ‘Divergent’ is a narrative where the heroine is integrated and unified– body, mind, and soul– and that is rare to see. When you watch the movie, you will understand, how literally Tris defies allowing herself to be fractured into separate factions.

Shailene Woodley made a comment which I loved, differentiating the love story in ‘Divergent’ from ‘Twilight:’

Twilight, I’m sorry, is about a very unhealthy, toxic relationship. [The protagonist Bella] falls in love with this guy and the second he leaves her, her life is over and she’s going to kill herself! What message are we sending to young people? That is not going to help this world evolve.”

 

On one of my favorite blogs, Women and Hollywood, Melissa Silverstein chided Woodley for that comment, stating without ‘Twilight’ proving movies based on YA novels with female protagonists can make money, ‘Divergent’ would not exist as a film. While that may be true, I don’t think Woodley was speaking from a business perspective, but from her heart about how different the love stories are in these two movies.

A third aspect of the movie that is great is Natalie, the mother of Tris, played by Ashley Judd.

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Judd’s part is small as far as screen time, but some of my favorite scenes in the movie were watching mom and daughter work together to save the world. Again, how often do we get to see that?

Kate Winslet as the evil Jeanine is amazing. She is wickedly fun to watch.

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Here’s something very cool to tell your kids: the author of the series, Veronica Roth, is 25 years old.  When they read the book– I recommend it for kids age 9 and up– make sure they see Roth’s photo. She’s an inpsiring role model. There’s a great interview with her at the end of the book. When Roth was in college, she was studying psychology, specifically phobias, and learning about a kind of therapy where you repeatedly do what you are afraid of. One day she was driving, listening to music, and she saw a scene in her head of a person jumping off a building, not for a self-destructive reason. She put hat scene together with what she was leaning about experiencing fears and boom! ‘Divergent’ was born.

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When Roth is asked what characteristics she kept in mind when coming up with her main character, she responds:

I don’t think I ever sat down and thought about how Beatrice was– I just had this sense of her. I knew her. I did set myself a rule that was hard to follow, though: Beatrice is always the agent. That is, she’s always choosing, always acting, always moving the plot by her behavior.

This is exactly the advice I give my kids when they are writing a story. Of course, too often, we see male characters acting and making choices. We are so used to that gender role that as writers, just as Roth describes, its important to keep in the forefront, that the female character needs to keep making choices that drive the plot. In ‘Divergent,’ it’s beautiful to watch a female hero be a true protagonist, commanding her own film and her own story. I look forward to the day when a sentence like the one I just wrote seems ridiculously dated.

I wish Zoe Kravitz as Christina had a more interesting part/ character arc. Once again, we have the girl of color as the BFF to the white protagonist.

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As we all know, marketing is its own media. Even if children don’t go to the film, they are likely to see this ridiculous butt pose poster, where Tris is positioned awkwardly to show ass and breast.

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I prefer this image in the cover of Entertainment Weekly.

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Reel Girl rates ‘Divergent’ ***HHH***

(I recommend the movie for ages 9 and up, but depends on the kid. If you read Reel Girl, you know I think kids desperately need to see female characters with power and agency, and I mostly rate for that. You also know, if you read this review, how I feel about violence. This movie is not gory. As you can tell, I’m a huge fan of the romance here as well. I am concerned with context when I rate (sadly, an anomaly) and I like the context of this love story very much. There are sensual scenes but not extended and no nudity. The movie is rated PG-13 if that means anything to you, though IMO the MPAA is useless and I prefer Common Sense Media if I need to look up specifics about sex/ gore aside from context, which, as noted, too few, including CSM really consider.)

 

Reel Girl’s List of Top 10 Movies Starring Heroic Girls to Show Your Kids

Since my oldest daughter turned 10, we’ve been able to watch films for older kids, and I’m so impressed by what we’ve seen. For the most part, movies for this age group seem to have more female characters with power and agency than those in animation. I’m so psyched about some of these movies that I put together a Top 10 list for you. All the ones on this list star strong, brave, smart girls. Please remember, these movies are recommended for your daughters and sons to see. All children need to experience narratives with heroic girls. These movies are not “just for girls.”

Click on the links to read my reviews. If you want to know more details about sex or violence content in the movies, I suggest you go to commonsensemedia.org. My reviews touch on these issues, but mostly, I care about my kids seeing girls with power and agency.

If there are movies you think I should take a look at, please consult Reel Girl’s Working List of Recommended Movies for Ages 10 and Up and also Reel Girl’s List of Movies Centered on Awesome Female Characters (for younger kids) to see if the title is there yet. Please add any recommendations in the comment sections of those posts. Thank you and enjoy!

Akeelah and the Bee

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Hanna

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Fly Away Home

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The Last Mimzy

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Rabbit Proof Fence

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Soul Surfer

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Whale Rider

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Hunger Games/ Catching Fire

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Bend it Like Beckham

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Wrinkle in Time

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Reel Girl recommends ‘Rabbit Proof Fence’

“Rabbit Proof Fence” is an intense, gorgeous, inspiring film about three Aborigine girls who escape from a home for “half-castes,” walking hundreds of miles through the Australian bush to return home after being kidnapped. Based on a true story, the heroine is 14 year old Molly, the daughter of an Aborigine mother and white father, who refuses to believe giving up her home, family, and culture just because she is half-white, is the best thing for her, her sister Daisy who is 10, and cousin Gracie who is 8.

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I had three daughters throwing up yesterday, and I put this movie on for my 10 year old after the younger two had passed out. My daughter and I were frozen and silent for the next two hours, totally engrossed in this story. We leaned about a different culture, a shameful history, witnessed not one but three brave heroines, and also got to see Australia’s beautiful lands. I highly recommend “Rabbit Proof Fence” and I’m adding it to Reel Girl’s list of films recommended for age 10 and up.

Reel Girl rates “Rabbit Proof Fence” ***HHH***

Reel Girl recommends: ‘Akeelah and the Bee’

I just blogged about watching “Bend it Like Beckham” with my soccer obsessed daughter. A week earlier, we saw “Akeelah and the Bee” right after that same daughter was a finalist in her school spelling bee.

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I can’t tell you how excited I was for my daughter to experience this narrative while she was going through something similar in her own life. “Akeelah,” like “Beckham” is about competition and family and culture. “Akeelah” also stars a girl of color. This movie made me cry, and it’s about a spelling bee! If your kids have not seen it, please show it to them ASAP. It’s on Reel Girl’s 10 and up list.

Reel Girl rates “Akeelah and the Bee” ***HHH***

Reel Girl recommends: “Bend It Like Beckham”

Could I have loved “Bend It Like Beckham” more? I saw it for the first time last Saturday night with my ten year old soccer obsessed daughter and my soccer coaching husband. All three of us were crazy about it.

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The star of the movie is a smart, athletic woman of color. Her best friend in the movie is also a soccer superstar. The movie is about competition, family, and culture. It’s incredible, one of my all time favorites. Show it to your kids! I’m putting it on Reel Girl’s  list for age10 and up lbut I think younger kids would enjoy it too. Oh, I almost forgot. Kalinda from “the Good Wife” is in it as the protagonists older sister. Need I say more?

Reel Girl rates “Bend it Like Beckham” ***HHH***

Reel Girl’s Movie Picks: ‘Fly Away Home’

Finally, my kids got to see a movie with a girl pilot. “Fly Away Home” is not a new movie, it’s just the first one they’ve ever seen with a girl pilot on her own flying machine.

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I grew up with this famous image of “E.T” imprinted in my brain.

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“E.T.” is great movie, but once again, no flying girls. I am thrilled, at the age of 45, to have finally found an alternative for my daughters. Of course, I wish it was more obvious from the poster that a 13 year old girl is the pilot, but at least, my kids and I know the story behind the image on the movie poster.

Amy, played by Anna Paquin, is 13 yr old whose mother was killed in a car accident (while talking on her cell phone!) Amy goes to live with her artist/ inventor father and his girlfriend. Alienated and alone, while wandering the grounds, Amy discovers wild geese eggs. The goose mother was killed by developers who are bulldozing the land. Amy makes the eggs a nest in a drawer, the eggs hatch, and the chicks, thinking Amy is their mother and follow her everywhere. In order teach the geese how to migrate, Amy pilots her father’s flying machine, and leads them south. She ends up not only saving the geese but the wilderness as well. “Fly Away Home” is an excellent film, and I am adding it to my list for young kids, though kids of all ages will love it.

Reel Girl rates ‘Fly Away Home’ ***HHH***

Reel Girl’s movie picks: ‘Hanna’

I am so into “Hanna.” This movie has everything I look for.

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(1) Powerful girl protagonist Hanna, played by Saorise Ronan, is a 16 year old girl who lives with her father, a former spy, out in the wilderness. He has trained her to be a killer in order to protect herself as powerful people would assassinate her on sight.

(2) Evil female villain The bad guy in this movie, another killer, is a girl, played marvelously by Cate Blanchett.

(3) Great acting I already told you the movie stars Ronan and Blanchett. Need I say more? OK, the dad is Eric Bana.

(4) Great story Usually, on Reel Girl, I don’t mind spoiling stories. I analyze them so I can’t help it. But, I’m not going to tell you this one because so few people have seen the movie. I’ll just say that I love how the narrative is interwoven with Grimm’s Fairy Tales. The symbolism and the filming is beautiful.

(5) Female friendship Hanna makes a friend and their relationship is complex and real.

This movie is violent. More violent than “Hunger Games.” Like “Hunger Games” the camera doesn’t linger over the gore. I let my 10 year old watch it and it’s on my list of recs for 10 and up, but as I’ve written a lot here, I want my daughter to see females with power and agency. If your kid gets scared in movies, this is not the film for her.

Reel Girl rates “Hanna” ***HHH***

Reel Girl’s movie picks: “Clueless” ***HH***

“Clueless” is my favorite of the Jane Austen movies. Alicia Silverstone plays a contemporary Emma, muddling in everyone’s private lives until she finally has her own epiphany and finds true love.

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I could be wrong here, but I think “Clueless” is the only movie I have ever seen where popular girls are not mean. There is no “mean girl” contingent at all. Maybe, for that reason alone,you should show it to your kids.

There is racial diversity in the typical, sidekick way that I just blogged about in “Freaky Friday:” the best friend of the protagonist is African American.

However, this movie does a great job dealing with class. While both Cher, the protag, and Dionne, her BFF, are rich, the one from the other side of the tracks is a white girl named Tai. Usually, I hate movie makeovers, but when Cher and Dionee make Tai their “project,” the transformation happens with commentary that is insightful and powerful. If you’ve read Emma, Cher is very similar to her literary role– you see that she’s superficial, but she’s also likeable. You hope she will have the courage and insight to live up to her potential and she does.

I am deducting one H for the sexy outfits, though the clothing really didn’t bother me so much in this film. I’m trying to figure out why. Is it because there was no cleavage, it was mostly a leg thing? I don’t know. If you’ve see this movie,  tell me your thoughts.

Reel Girl rates “Clueless” ***HH***

Rainbow Loom defies gender stereotypes, shows kids colors (and jewelry) for everyone

Before I even understood what it was, I had a bias against the Rainbow Loom. As the mother of three young daughters who is continually trying to protect my kids from the gender stereotyping that dominates their world, I tend to steer clear of anything with the word “rainbow.”

Even though I tried my best to block out this toy, I managed to pick up that it involved jewelry. That was the nail in its coffin. With two strikes, the loom had little chance of ever making it into my home. (Generally, how I deal with gendered toys is not to ban them– that only makes my kids want the stuff more– but ignore them, while I give a lot of attention to the toys I like. I play those with my kids.)

A few days ago, we went to my sister’s house, and her kids were making the bracelets. I, as usual, ignored the activity, but then I noticed my seven year old daughter wasn’t part of the group. She was sitting by herself, reading a book, and she looked sad. I asked her why she wasn’t making a bracelet, and she said she didn’t know how, that she couldn’t do it. This information and her expression just about killed me, so I said I’d teach her. She said, “No, other people have tried. I can’t do it.” So at that point, I knew there was no way we were leaving that house until she made a goddam bracelet. I may not like another rainbow/ jewelry toy, but I won’t resist an opportunity to help my kid practice resilience, power through frustration, and keep at something until she masters it.

I got some rubber bands, we started to work, and she was right. She really didn’t know how. For a while, I couldn’t even figure out why she kept messing up– it was just the basic pattern we were doing, nothing complicated. Finally, I realized she wasn’t stretching the hole big enough (mind you, this isn’t my forte either.) We sat there for a fucking hour but something clicked. Here she is after she figured it out.

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She was so proud of herself, and I was so proud of her. So what did I do to reinforce that behavior? I went out and bought her a loom. And, because I have three kids– and my ten year old is a whiz at this shit, and I didn’t want her taking over my seven year old’s stuff– I bought three looms.

So there we were, sitting down last night in our living room making bracelets and necklaces, and it was so much fun. We had a blast. Notice the “we.” I got into it, too. You might even say, obsessed. You know how I wrote I can’t help teaching my kid to deal with frustration and power through something until she gets it? These toy is perfect for that, because you can keep challenging yourself– even if you’re a grown-up, maybe especially if you’re a grown-up– making your pattern and stitching more complicated. I’m telling you, this shit is addictive.

While my daughters and I were creating these beautiful things, we talked. At some point, I asked them “Do the boys make these too?” They looked at me like I was crazy, and not for the reason I thought. “Of course, they do. They love it,” my kids told me. I hadn’t even asked if the boys wear them, so I did. All the boys wear them. You probably know this because you have sons or haven’t been blocking out this trend. The kids make this stuff together, put it on, give it away, and, I kid you not, sell it.

I now believe the Rainbow Loom is nothing less than revolutionary. It’s called The Rainbow Loom for goodness sake, and it’s for everyone. Do you realize what this toy is saying to kids? Colors are for everyone. Look at these colors, please. This is what comes with your loom.

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Rainbow Loom also teaches that jewelry, the epitome of a “girl” toy, is for everyone. And finally, that girls and boys can play together. Is there another toy, another trendy, top-selling toy at that, which shows kids all this?

Now, I am new to this trend, so please tell me if I’m wrong here, but as far as I can tell, there is no “girl” version with pink and purple and a “boy” version with blue, red, and black. I’m going to be checking out what the kids are wearing, but mine use all the colors and they tell me the boys do to. Just before I wrote this post, I did a Google search, and I couldn’t find anything to indicate gendered marketing (though I’m supposed to be doing 100 other things right now, on Christmas Eve Day, besides blog, so I could’ve looked longer.) I did see this post from thespec.com

Tricia Ross’s eight-year-old son avoids playing with any of his older sisters’ toys. But he and many of his male classmates in Charlottesville, Va., have seized on loom bands.

 

“There’s a sense of accomplishment” that comes with finishing a bracelet, Tricia Ross says, and it’s enough to inspire her son to “sit there until it’s complete.” He’s begun taking orders for bracelets from his younger sister, cranking them out in the styles and colour schemes she requests.

 

Ross and Volkman both find that while many craft products are packaged in pink boxes emblazoned with pictures of smiling girls, the gender-neutral packaging of loom band products make them more boy-friendly. It also helps, Volkman thinks, that they use rubber bands rather than fluffy yarn or delicate materials.

I remember reading in People a couple weeks ago that the founder of Rainbow Loom, Cheong Choon Ng, is the father of two daughters. He watched his kids make bracelets and that inspired him to create the loom which he first did with pins. Here’s his daughter, Julia, age 12, making a complicated design (pic from NYT.)

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How cool is that?  A toy inspired by 2 girls, teaches boys and girls to play together, and that colors and jewelry are for everyone. The only downside so far is the price. It’s $30 for the one my kids wanted. Because I opted to get three, I bought the travel model at $14 each. The founder has got to be a millionaire– I mean, it’s rubber bands and plastic. But if this guy and his toy are defying gender stereotypes, getting kids to play together, and boys to take orders from girls, IMO he deserves every penny. If you’re doing any last minute shopping today, get this for your kids (and yourself!) That is, if you can find any left in a store.

Reel Girl rates Rainbow Loom ****HHH****

Meet TooLula, a girl builder who stops bullying

Have you heard of Super TooLula created by Michele Sinisgalli-Yulo of Princess Free Zone? Before you complain, Sinisgalli-Yulo doesn’t hate princesses. She wants to provide kids with another option.  Sinisgalli-Yulo has written a book called Super TooLula and created a treatment she is shopping around to networks This show looks so cool and creative. There’s nothing quite like it on TV, and I can’t wait for my kids to watch it.

Here’s Lula with her dog, Chewie.

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  1. Lula is a female version of Handy Manny or Bob the Builder, but with the added underlying social components of bully prevention with a focus
    on undoing gender stereotypes that are often the root cause of bullying by children. Providing children with an understanding of empathy and compassion is key to preventing future occurrences of bullying. The show recognizes the importance of teaching kids about the emotions underlying bullying incidents—from the perspective of the victim and the bully. It also encourages them to get beyond being a bystander by either speaking to an adult or standing up for others.

Here’s a summary of one episode:

 

  1. While on a trip to Mexico, where the whole family is helping a relative irrigate their farm. Lula and her family invent a new way to divert water and use it to water plants. Lula and her Dad help with planning, measuring and digging. Soon they befriend a group of local kids. The kids reveal a big problem. Super TooLula is needed to face a Giant bully that had been terrorizing the local kids for years. It turns out the Bully was a long tormented little brother of an even bigger Bully. Super TooLula teaches both bullies how to help others. Soon, the bully brothers become local heroes to all that had fear them when they help build the last section of the new irrigation system.

Lula is helped along by some tools:

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Harry the Hammer

Harry is the toughest of all the tools. He is the team leader and director. He knows that sometimes you just have to be tough. He may come off like a drill sergeant, but he always looks for action with a smile!

Sammy the Saw

Sammy (short for Samantha) knows that sometimes you just have to remove or separate some things to make it better. So she whirls like a tornado to shape parts and pieces out of wood, plastic, soft metal or to cut through a tough problem!

Dusty the Drill

Dusty is tough and clever. When
a problem stymies others, he knows how

to break through! Dusty very persistent and always stands up for the underdog. He stutters when overly excited.

Carla Compass

Carla is able to locate lost objects, and if you’re lost, she can point you in the right direction. She is very maternal. She’s scared of other magnets and afraid of heights.

Lucy Level

Lucy is the one to always make sure everyone is balanced and level headed. She is the nurturer of the team. Calms down the others.

Maddy Measuring Tape

Maddy is always thinking ahead. She is all about details, measurements and plans. She is the practical one that makes sure parts will fit together or through tight spaces. Maddy’s friends think she needs to learn how to have more fun!

Gabi Goggles

Gabi is able to see right into the heart of a bully. She is able to see in the past and pinpoint the reasons why they are unhappy and end up hurting others. She is a precautious soul. And she is always the one to remind us all about being safe!

Ricky the Wrench

Ricky is very strong and not afraid of hard work. He knows hard work gets things done. He can open and unlock stuck objects that others can’t. He hates rust

more than anything.

The Talking Nail Heads

Do not actually talk. They are vocal instruments
who express themselves in emotion-filled, wordless music. Some do the bass line, some do mouth drum sounds, but they all can really jam or lay down a phat beat to sing over!

There are humans in the stories as well.

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Naomi is Lula’s eight-year-old Japanese-American cousin. Naomi is a genius with arts and crafts like origami and revels in teaching others what she knows. Lula and Naomi love each other and spend a lot of time together along with their families. Naomi can often be found humming or singing impromptu songs and playing her favorite juice harp (which she also plays in their band). She always tries to get Lula to eat odd and spicy things.

 

Ten-year-old Wesley is the school bully in Lula’s class. He is also TooLula’s ultimate nemesis. It is his mission to turn good kids mean by bribing them with things he knows they like, but he has a difficult time when Lula and her friends step in. Deep down, Wesley really likes Lula and just wants her attention, but he doesn’t know how to show his true feelings and is afraid Lula and others might laugh at him. Oh Wesley!?