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.
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:”