Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Take Your Daughters to See Maleficent

With the release and resounding success of Maleficent, Disney has proved two things: one, that there is a market for big-budget fantasy films with overwhelmingly female casts; and two, that a film can be progressive and feminist without losing its glitz, excitement, and appeal to little girls.

I went to see Maleficent last night expecting to watch a well-meaning but ham-fisted take on a familiar story, and instead, I saw a powerful film about female strength, platonic love, and moral ambiguity. I won't bother to rehash the plot of the film- rather, I'd like to talk about the way women are represented in it and how it surpassed so many of my expectations and made me cry, like, five times.

Maleficent is a truly unique film in the sense that it is a by-the-numbers fantasy blockbuster and yet it also breaks every unspoken rule Hollywood has about the way women, particularly women protagonists, are represented in mainstream film. Undoubtedly this has much to do with the fact that the screenwriter is a woman and that Angelina Jolie herself served as an executive producer. Jolie's role as producer as well as her considerable star power (she is one of the most, if not the most, bankable actresses in Hollywood today) ensured that she had full control over the way her character was represented onscreen.

And that's what I found so very interesting about this film: Maleficent, as you know, was a straight-up villain in the original Disney film, perhaps their best-known villain ever. Although she was given an incredible backstory in Jolie's Maleficent, she wasn't turned into a pure-hearted, misunderstood, sweet character. She remained morally ambiguous, both good and evil, altruistic but selfish, caring and yet still terrifying. She is allowed the complexity and intensity that is normally only given to male superhero characters like Batman or the Transformers protagonists.

Maleficent experiences duplicity and betrayal (in the form of an extremely powerful rape allegory) as well as persecution and pariahdom, yet the film does not make her into a one-dimensional victim. She is powerful, vengeful, and angry, rightfully so, and carries out her revenge in a theatrical, fantastical, and selfish manner: cursing the daughter of the man who mutilated her (the mutilation, in this case, is quite clearly a metaphor for sexual assault.) Like many revenge flicks starring male protagonists, the film does not exonerate or vilify Maleficent, instead, it simply tells us her story fairly and even-handedly.

Maleficent avoids falling into many of the classic Disney cliches: noticeably absent from the film are a male hero-figure, a wedding as a happy ending, or a scary, evil female villain acting as a foil for a sweet and beautiful pure-hearted heroine. Instead, it is a film about women finding strength from themselves and from each other, about fighting one's own battles, and standing up for oneself despite the threat of persecution and hatred.

How great would it be, if, this Halloween, we saw little girls dressed not as Barbies or brides but as a powerful figure like Maleficent? Little girls (and big girls, and women) should see this movie just as their brothers saw Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy. They need a protagonist they can identify with, one who is not a tired, reheated cliche but an exciting, captivating, and relatable heroine.


  1. yesssss!!! i cried too, amazing film.


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