Can’t get past the hair

On the blog, Girl w/Pen! Natalie Wilson writes about sexism and racism in Disney’s “Tangled:”

Renee of Womanist Musings points out, the glorifying of blonde hair – yet again – is problematic. She writes:

“As a Black woman, I know all to well how complicated the issue of hair can be.  Looking at the above image [of Tangled’s Rapunzel], I found that I could not see beyond her long blond hair and blue eyes.  I believe that this will also become the focal point of many girls of colour.  The standard of long flowing blond hair as the epitome of femininity necessarily excludes and challenges the idea that WOC are feminine, desired, and some cases loved and therefore, while Disney is creating an image of Rapunzel that we are accustomed to, her rebirth in a modern day context is problematic, because her body represents the celebration of White femininity.

The fact that Tangled is coming on the heels of the first African American princess is indeed problematic.  It makes Princess Tiana seem like an impotent token, with Rapunzel appearing to reset the standard of what princess means and even more precisely what womanhood means.”

I watched “Tangled” with my sister, both of us brunettes, and when we heard the line about how Rapunzel’s hair, if cut, loses its magic and turns brown, we looked at each other and started cracking up.

There is some other reference in the movie to “browness.” Does anyone remember what it is? Flynn takes Rapunzel into a bar full of drunken men, and he says something, or someone says something like: “It seems very brown in here” or it “smells brown.” Please tell me if you know what I’m talking about.

It is notable to, as Girl W/ Pen! refers to, that the princess death sentence is coming right after the first African-American young royal finally made her way to the animated screen. There’s lots of talk about ending the only cartoon vehicle that repeatedly allowed girls be stars, but not so much discussion about the racism involved in the timing of this decision. Also, I keep hearing that adjusted for inflation dollars, “The Princess and the Frog” did just as well as “The Little Mermaid.” If this is true, I don’t get why Disney execs claim the film was such a failure.

Again, I don’t want to be defending princesses here. I don’t like them. But I don’t like the way they’re being used to get rid of starring girls roles all together.

Natalie Wilson writes the cast of “Tangled” isn’t quite all white. On Rapunzel’s wicked mother:

Notably, Mother Gothel, Rapunzel’s evil abductress, has dark hair and eyes and non-Caucasian features.

According to Christian Blaulvelt of Entertainment Weekly, Mother Gothel is a dark, dark character. I mean, she’s a baby snatcher.” Ah yes, and she is dark in more ways than one – her dark skin, hair, and clothing contrasting with the golden whiteness of Rapunzel.

Alan Menken, the musical composer for the film, similarly notes that “Mother Gothel is a scary piece of work. Nothing she is doing is for the good of Rapunzel at all. It’s all for herself” Emphasizing her manipulative relationship with Rapunzel, Menken admits, “I was concerned when writing it. Like, will there be a rash of children trying to kill their parents after they’ve seen the movie?” Wow – how about worrying if there will be a rash of children who will see DARK-SKINNED mothers (and non-wedded ones) as evil and sinister?

In addition to carrying on Disney’s tradition of problematic representations of race, the film also keeps with the tradition of framing females beauty obsession as evil and “creepy” (Flyn’s words) rather than as understandable in a world of Disneyfied feminine norms. A mirror worshipper to rival the evil queen in Snow White, Gothel is presented as a passive-aggressive nightmare — she is the tyrannical single mother that is so overbearing Rapunzel must beg for the opportunity to leave the tower.

I always ask my daughter when we’re watching these movies: where are the moms? Belle in “Beauty in the Beast,” no mom. “Ariel” in The Little Mermaid, no mom. “Jasmine” in Aladdin, no mom.

Disney/ Pixar male execs stop movies starring girls

At first it seems like possible good news. Disney/ Pixar announces: no more fairy tales, code for princess movies. Great! No more damsels in distress who end the movie by landing a man. Now we’re going to have a slew of new movies with cool girl heroes who bravely rescue boys from peril, exuding power and beauty by performing all kinds of risk-taking tasks and challenges.

But, no.

First of all, the reason the fairy tale movies are stopping is because Disney/ Pixar executives have decided that little girls aren’t worth making movies for at all.

The LA Times reports the fairy tale movies “appealed to too narrow an audience: little girls. This prompted the studio to change the name of its Rapunzel movie to the gender-neutral ‘Tangled’ and shift the lens of its marketing to the film’s swashbuckling male costar, Flynn Rider.”

Can you imagine if Disney decided to shut down a genre because it only appealed to little boys? Or if they switched a movie title so it wouldn’t risk highlighting a male star? It’s awful that this kind of radical gender discrimination exists for our smallest people– little kids who come into this world with huge imaginations and aspirations, big dreams that get squashed by a bunch of billionaire guys who run massive entertainment franchises.

Disney bigwigs Ed Catmull and John Lasseterwww.businessweek.com Disney bigwigs Ed Catmull and John Lasseter

The LA Times reports:

Alas, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Ariel, Jasmine and the other Disney royals were all born in the 20th century. Now, different kinds of Disney characters are elbowing their way into the megaplexes and toy aisles, including Pixar’s “Toy Story” buddies Buzz Lightyear and Woody, Capt. Jack Sparrow from “Pirates of the Caribbean” and a platoon of superheroes from the recent acquisition of Marvel Entertainment.

Do you notice something about the characters listed above? Because neither the LA Times reporter or the Disney execs mention in the article that we are losing girls (Snow White, Ariel, and Jasmine) and getting boys (Buzz Lightyear, Woody, and Captain Jack Sparrow.) The LA Times goes on to report the current roster of upcoming movies includes, surprise, surprise, three more movies with males in the title roles: “Winnie the Pooh” (along with his all male possy: Eeyore, Tigger, Piglet, and Christopher Robin?) and “Joe Jump.”

Disney/ Pixar execs at 82nd Academy Awardswww.zimbio.com Disney/ Pixar execs at 82nd Academy Awards

Remarkably, the men who run Disney/ Pixar, Ed Catmull and John Lasseter, go on in this article to congratulate themselves on their originality and creativity. I kid you not! This would be totally hilarious if these guys didn’t have such a hegemony on the kinds of movies– and accompanying toys and accompanying mass-marketing campaigns– our kids are exposed to. But because this boys club completely dominates kidworld, their privileging of males over females with no care at all, their disregard for half the population, is really sad.

Catmull said he and Lasseter have been encouraging filmmakers to break with safe and predictable formulas and push creative boundaries.

“If you say to somebody, ‘You should be doing fairy tales,’ it’s like saying, ‘Don’t be risky,’” Catmull said. “We’re saying, ‘Tell us what’s driving you.’”

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Executives, Producers and stars of www.washingtonpost.com Executives, producers and stars of “Up”

Dude– could you be any more safe and predictable than putting out a line up of kids movies starring males? What’s driving you guys? Gender programming! And you don’t even see it! Or you are just pretending to be that cluless? Don’t you get that you are teaching and training girls starting at the youngest possible age that their roles will be only supporting? You are telling the girls of the world that they exist to make boys look good and to help them along on their cool quests and incredible adventures. How about some real creativity, Lasseter and Catmull? Can you try to imagine a magical world where girls’ stories are valued just as much as boys’ stories are? Where girls and boys are treated equally? Can you make a movie about that?

 

 

ReelGirl Star of the Week: Willow Smith

Girls and hair, girls and hair, girls and hair! Toys marketed to girls– more often than not– involve hair. Very long hair. Barbie, of course, is well known for her waxy blond locks. Strawberry Shortcake and her friends Plum Puddin’ and Lemon Meringue wear stiff rectangles of hair that stretch to their knees. Even toys that don’t make you think about hair, say horses, get transformed into “My Little Pony” with girls shown on TV brushing their animals’ flowing manes and curly, pink tails.

Rapunzel Braiding Friends hair Braider

The latest addition to the plethora of hair based toys is Disney’s Rapunzel doll, sorry, I mean “The Braiding Friends Hair Braider” that “lets your little lady easily braid the Rapunzel doll’s hair.” This toy goes with the new Rapunzel movie, now called “Tangled” because the guys who run Hollywood decided they didn’t want to award a female character the title role. The abundance of toys marketed to girls and focused on grooming relentlessly reinforces that what’s important for them isn’t what their bodies can do, but how they appear.

This is why I was excited to see that Willow Smith, the nine year old daughter of actors Jada and Will, has a new video out called “I Whip my Hair.”

Yes, it’s abut hair. But sometimes the most effective way to create change is to make use of our current obsessions in order to alter them. This video is about what hair can do, not how it looks; which of course translates to what’s important is what Willow can do, not how she looks. Willow dances around her school, swinging her hair, obviously enjoying not only her singing and dancing skills, but the way it feels to move her body. She is also enjoying being looked at, not in an objectified way but she is celebrating being a dancer and singer and yes, being a star. In the video, she is admired by both boys and girls watching her– no small accomplishment for a girl when men too often decide it’s bad marketing to put her in the title of a movie.

Watching Willow jump around her school, past the rows of lockers is reminiscent of the well known Briney Spears catholic school girl video where she’s got her shirt tied up, baring her midriff in the cliched sexual fantasy. Ten years later, I feel like we’ve made some progress. Willow isn’t wearing sexualized clothing. She is wearing some make up– including what looks like white mascara and rhinestones– but she looks like she’s having fun with it, playing with costumes, not made up in a serious, creepy Jon Benet Ramsey way.

Willow Smith

Not only that, but Willow is a girl of color enjoying her hair– sadly, a radical statement. Even girls restricted to decorating their locks on TV usually aren’t wearing cornrows. Chris Rock did an excellent documentary called “Good Hair” about black women, girls and the ingrained, internalized racism, passed on from moms to daughters. Rock’s film is funny and analytical, but Willow uses a different tactic. By putting out a video that gets over 7 million YouTube hits in one week, instead of complaining about our culture, she changes it.

Feminsiting.com’s Lori Adelman comments reports on the video:

What many may not know is the meaning behind “Whip My Hair”. In a recent interview with MTV, Willow Smith explained the inspiration behind her lyrics:

” ‘Whip My Hair’ means don’t be afraid to be yourself, and don’t let anybody tell you that that’s wrong. Because the best thing is you.”…Willow has a message for you, too, buried in the chorus between exuberant if repetitive directives to “whip your hair back and forth”: “Don’t let haters keep me off my grind/ keep my head up/ I know I’ll be fine.”

Willow Smith is ReelGirl’s Star of the Week.

Check out her video here.

Rapunzel

Disney’s Rapunzel movie changes title and cast to attract boys

The LA Times reports that that after the disappointing box office for “The Princess and the Frog,” Disney is drastically remaking it’s new Rapunzel movie to attract boys. It’s now called “Tangled” and co-stars a “swashbuckling” male in the lead.

TangledTangled 

Some people are upset. Retired Disney/ Pixar animator, Floyd Norman, says, “The idea of changing the title of a classic like ‘Rapunzel’ to ‘Tangled’ is beyond stupid. I’m still hoping that Disney will eventually regain their sanity and return the title of their movie to what it should be. I’m convinced they’ll gain nothing from this except the public seeing Disney as desperately trying to find an audience.”

But Ed Catmull, president of Pixar and Disney Animation Studios defends the decision. Referring to “The Princess and the Frog,” he says: “Based upon the response from fans and critics, we believe it would have been higher if it wasn’t prejudged by its title.”

Catmull is right about the prejudging. I’m worried that he’s wrong about who and why.

I prejudged “The Princess and the Frog” based on it’s title. I’m the mom of three young girls. I can’t spend any more money to see yet another Disney princess vehicle. (I was kind of intrigued by the first African American Princess, though I heard she spent most of the movie as a frog.) I think it’s great that Rapunzel is getting retooled, because the last thing I want to sit through, or my daughters to sit through, is watching a girl stuck in a tower, waiting around for some guy to rescue her.

But did they change that part? Or just the title?

I can’t tell. It’s ironic because the LA Times article is supposedly about Rapunzel being effaced by a boy but mostly all they report on is that boy, the title, the male executives, the male audience, and the male animators. What about Rapunzel? Here is what the article tells us about her: “The demure princess is transformed into a feisty teen.”

Steve Jobs,  Ed Catmull, John LasseterSteve Jobs, Ed Catmull, John Lasseter 

A good sign, I suppose. Though I’m not sure about “feisty.” Would one call a boy “feisty”? It seems to imply strong yet cutesy. Maybe the male equivalent is “jaunty.” I’m mincing words here, but this is all the information they’ve given me to go on. And my extensive, past experience with Disney’s treatment of girls, along the reporting here on Disney’s hyper-concern about attracting a male audience, worries me.

Note to Disney executives: your potential female audience is sick of the princess movies too. We’re not sick of girls, just princesses. We represent half the population, and we’d like to see some more variety in your plots, and we’d like to see multiple strong female characters in your movies.

Also, we’d like to know why you bend over backwards to make a movie appeal to boys (market research, plot and title changes, characters added) but don’t preform the same production gymnastics to attract girls. Or even try to figure out what girls want. Do all the male executives, animators, and directors at Disney just assume they know what girls want to see? Or will put up with?

ArielAriel 

The issue here is not putting “princess” in the title. The more controversial, unmentioned issue is that Disney executives are concerned about putting a girl in the title role at all. It’s prime Hollywood real estate because it means she’s the star of the show. Historically, Disney allows a girl to claim that space only if she’s a princess. It’s kind of like how you can win a scholarship if you compete for the Miss America title, but first you’ve got to parade around in your bikini.

Movies from Pixar/ Disney with strong females including “Monsters and Aliens” or “The Incredibles” usually have the power woman hidden in an ensemble cast. Can you imagine a movie blatantly touting its cool girl star, perhaps called “Fantastic Ms. Fox?” Do you see the gender divide here– it would be considered some crazy feminist art film.

If you’re going to comment that’s it’s in our DNA that girls will see movies about boys but boys won’t see movies about girls, please see my post here from a couple days ago. The basic point being girls don’t have much of a choice, and they’re just expected to suck it up.

Executives, Director, producers,  and stars of Washington Post 

Executives, Director, producers, and stars of “Up”

There’s some hope for the future though. Buried at the bottom of the LA Times piece is some incredible news, especially in the wake of Kathryn Bigelow’s Oscar win, making her the first female director to win an Oscar in 82 years.

“Concluding it had too many animated girl flicks in its lineup, Disney has shelved its long-gestating project “The Snow Queen,” based on the Hans Christian Andersen story. “Snow Queen” would have marked the company’s fourth animated film with a female protagonist, following “The Princess and the Frog,” “Tangled” and Pixar’s forthcoming “The Bear and the Bow,” directed by Pixar’s first female director, Brenda Chapman, and starring Reese Witherspoon.”

Director  Brenda ChapmanDirector Brenda Chapman 

Did you catch that? Brenda Chapman is Pixar’s first female director. Yes, she’s making an androgynously titled movie, but it’s “starring” Reese Witherspoon, and there’s no indication that Witherspoon will be a princess.

I like the title “Tangled.” I have to admit, it’s witty. The LA Times elaborates: “Disney tested a number of titles, finally settling on ‘Tangled’ because people responded to meanings beyond the obvious hair reference: a twisted version of the familiar story and the tangled relationship between the two lead characters.”

And somehow, in spite of everything I know, the reconceived, witty title gives me hope that the movie is also reconceived in a way that could be just as imaginative and special. I mean, really, how much worse could the original plot be?

Disney should be re-imagining these misogynist fairytales. I’m just hoping that Rapunzel doesn’t disappear from her movie the way she has from it’s title and the LA Times article about it all.