What if Disney’s princess-of-color weren’t so green? (A review of The Princess and the Frog)

As I headed out to see Disney’s latest film, The Princess and the Frog, I was looking forward to see the long overdue representation of a princess-of-color. As Disney hardly has a reputation for racial inclusiveness, yet alone the breaking down of race, class, and gender norms, I didn’t expect to have my feminist socks blown off.

After 96 minutes of enjoyable animation and some good music, I would say I was pleased with parts of the film, dismayed by others. What irked me the most was that Tiana, the first ever Disney WOC protagonist, was a FROG for the majority of the film. Her turn to GREEN was especially disappointing as I was enjoying viewing a smart, sassy, capable black woman helming a Disney script.

Thanks to the evil machinations of “the shadow man,” Tiana becomes a frog – and remains in amphibian form until her marriage to Prince Naveen releases her back to human form. Though she works hard along the films journey, showing more gumption, wisdom, and bravery than the rather foppish Prince, what ultimately allows her dreams to come true is the same institution that offered happy endings for Cinderella et al – marriage.

Yet, despite Disney’s apparent inability to imagine an ending that does not involve a poofy dress and “fairy tale wedding,” it does break some important ground in this film. It shows the racialized class divide of New Orleans without stereotyping poverty, it conveys that women can be successful business owners (and witch doctors), it includes a song championing diversity and inclusiveness — it even pokes fun at the silly wish-upon-a-star princess type that is its bread-and-butter via Charlotte.

While I enjoyed the loving derision heaped on Charlotte’s character, I wondered about the way the film sexualizes her. Puckering her lips, loading on the sexy make up, and wiggling her breasts into boob-highlighting dresses, the film hints that females who inhabit their sexuality are shallow man-hunters. So, on the one hand, mocking a female who only cares about princess dresses and who dreams of nothing but wedding a prince, was a step in the right direction, presenting her as an annoying, empty-headed, cleavage exposing ninny smacked of the misogynistic tradition running through Disney history – a history that castizes any woman who is too powerful, too rich, too sexual, too anything but potential wife…

Further, the stereotypical hill-billy representation of the frog hunters and the lightning bugs rubbed me the wrong way. The two-fingered idiocy and gap-toothed naivite of these Bayou characters traded in the typical “oh, aren’t these backwoods people dumb” humor that also colored earlier films such as The Rescuers and Pete’s Dragon. So, to answer the question posed by Aviva at Fourth Wave Feminism, …, yes, this film does make me “twitch a little with stereotype-overload”!  But, to be fair, “Cartoons by their nature trade in caricatures” (as pointed out in this NYTimes piece). However, too often, the caricatures work to enforce negative stereotypes and beliefs about marginalized societal groups – women, people of color, the working class, etc, while the “good guys” are just that – guys (and usually white wealthy ones, ALWAYS hetero ones).

And being that its Disney, Tiana will no doubt join the long parade of female characters who build upon the princess franchise – inculcating little girls with the message that pretty dresses and handsome princes are what one should REALLY be wishing for – along with a room filled with Disney merchandise, of course. As Brooks Barnes of NYTimes writes, “The Disney Princess merchandising line is a $4 billion annual business and the company has plans for Tiana to be everywhere. Get ready for Tiana dresses, elaborate dolls and Halloween costumes.” (For more on Disney’s Princess Franchise, go here.)

Yet, to end on a positive note, the films focus on a strong-career minded woman who, for once, was not “the fairest of them all” was pleasing. As Rose Afriyie feministing writes, The idea that men can and should play a role in food preparation and that women can own their own business while building viable, healthy relationships was so groundbreaking for a movie with the word “princess” in the title. As Afriyie further notes, Tiana’s representation mitigates the “welfare queen” stereotype.

My ten-year-old daughter felt the film had good messages, citing the “Dig a Little Deeper Song” and Mama Odie’s character especially (as well as the way the film mocked the princess meme via Charlotte). Like her, I left the theatre with a smile on my face. However, I would have been happier had Tiana’s screen time had been less green – if she had been featured AS a human-of-color rather than a plucky frog-woman…

What if strong, successful females were not cast as domineering bitches? A review of The Proposal

I watched The Proposal last night. Though I am a Sandra Bullock fan, I was less than impressed. Particularly irksome from a feminist point of view was the tired perpetuation of the notion that powerful women are domineering bitches.

To be successful, the movie indicates, Bullock’s character (Margaret Tate) has become a cold-hearted control freak whose employees fear and loathe her in equal quantity. Of course she is single, family less, and friendless because women who care about their career obviously can’t care about anything else.

Early in the film, her employees send around “it’s here” instant messages, warning that Margaret is about to enter the building. Tellingly, she is an “it” rather than a subject – like Miranda in The Devil Wears Prada, she is demonized into an inhumane she-monster. Later, as she leaves her office, another warning is sent that “the witch is on her broom.”

Why is it that cruel male bosses are not similarly depicted? When they are horrid, they are most often mocked as humorous buffoons rather than depicted as vile (think 9 to 5). They are not called “it” or warlocks, or, as Bullock’s character is, “satan’s mistress.” Moreover, there is no suggestion that their male gender contributes to their horribleness. In contrast, female bosses bitchiness is often linked to their “failed” femininity – they are not doing what their “supposed to” – not cooking, cleaning, wiving, mothering, nurturing…

In The Proposal, Margaret is “saved” by the boy-faced Andrew Paxton (Ryan Reynolds) who schools her about love, family, and proper femininity. Once she forces him into a deal to marry her to avoid deportation back to Canada, he quickly loses his simpering employee stance and turns the tables (and starts to “wear the pants” in the relationship). He makes her kneel before him on the ground, mocks her inability to navigate a boat ladder in heels, and blackmails her into giving him a promotion. As pointed out here, this story would never fly if the roles were reversed…

The film explicitly pokes fun at feminists when Andrew explains to his mom and grandmother that he is not helping Margaret navigate her heavy suitcase because “she’s a feminist.” Here, in a double-jibe, the movie insinuates women really are incapable of hefting their own suitcases while also perpetuating the notion that ALL feminism is about is who will open the door or carry the bags…

At the start of the film Margaret is dismayed at the sight of her aging face in the mirror. As the film continues, she is presented nude in many scenes – and though her body meets the thin, firm ideals of U.S. culture, she is markedly ashamed of her body and constantly instructs Andrew “don’t look at me.”

Margaret is ridiculous in her crippling high heels and teeny lingerie in the rugged Alaska setting that is home to the Paxton family empire. This good-ole slice of USA is ruled by a domineering dad who mocks Andrew for having a female boss (furthering the anti-feminist undercurrents of the film that suggests we need to go back to “the good old days” when men were bosses and women stayed in their place). The mom (Mary Steenburgen) and grandma (Betty White) have no leadership in this male empire, rather, they dodder around smiling, delivering food, and being oh-so-excited about the pending wedding. They, like Andrew’s x-girlfriend (who works in a “properly feminine” profession – teaching), are used to depict positive femininity in contrast to Margaret’s ball-breaker aura.

As if the stereotypical depiction of smart successful women AS bitches who NEED a good man (and a good fuck) to save them were not enough, the film also trades in racial stereotypes.  Oscar Nunez (of The Office) plays Ramone, a heavily accented, highly stereotyped Latino who works as a stripper, a grocery clerk, and an inept catering employee – yeah, because Latnino’s always have multiple low-paying jobs which they suck at. Ugh.

This movie is yet more proof that a female director and a strong female lead do not a feminist-friendly movie make…

What if Santa brings out the fat-haters?

I was about to re-post a popular xmas piece of mine from last  year, What if we loved fat girls as much as we love the “bowl full of jelly” Santa? when I came across this tweet from Bitch Media:

“Our culture’s knack for fat-shaming is now being directed at Santa? Oh no! No one is safe! http://bit.ly/5CsWDo

According to the NYDaily news link “A party-pooping public health expert in a top medical journal says Santa Claus needs to cut back on cookies” and “swap his sleigh for a treadmill…”

This message also ran through Fred Klaus, which I watched the other night. The very authentic looking Santa (played by Paul Giamatti) was continually berated about his weight by Mrs. Klaus (played by Elizabeth Banks). This movie had some funny bits, but I could have done without the fat-shaming.

Seems shaming Santa for his body is popular on Twitter, too. Here’s a quick sampling with added commentary by yours truly.

“BlondHousewife Santa Claus is a terrible role model. He’s fat, he drinks and he speeds. Breaks into people’s homes and abuses animals.” Being fat makes one a terrible role model? How about being a body-policing hater? Is that role model behavior?

“sophiemitch Dear Santa, Don’t bother coming to my house this year I’ve been Naughty! and it was fucking worth it… you fat, judgmental son of a bitch!!” Yup, if you want to insult someone, be sure to throw the f-word in there.

“jbouzou Fat Santa Claus / Think he surely ate / his reindeers. #senryu :o)” Uh-huh, cuz we all know fat people will eat ANYTHING.

“TrendTweetTopic Is Santa naughty if he’s fat? http://twa.lk/VvfLt about 3 hours ago from API” Cuz nothing says your bad like fat.

“Jazbyl24 I wonder if santa got my letter that fat mother fucker didn’t answer me back” Why is fat so often included as a descriptor when thin/skinny is not? Kinda like how we label non-white people but not white ones… As in “a black man was arrested” vs “a man was arrested” — when the person reported on is white, rarely is the whiteness mentioned…

Hope you can ignore all this fat-hatred Santa. Seems like your body size should be the last thing people focus on. But, when you’re fat, doesn’t seem to matter what you do or what kind of person you are, the thing people will focus on and shame you for is fat. Just imagine if you were (an out) female — then you’d likely see a load more fat-hatin and fat-shamin!

What if you don’t scream? Is it still rape? (And other idiotic comments by school officials)

Rape in California (and everywhere else) is rife. From the Richmond gang rape to the 14-year-old about to be tried for raping a 12-year-old in a middle school stairwell, rape is so ubiquitous it’s to the point where it’s not even news anymore. Horrid.

We live, as so many have documented so well, in a rape culture. (For a great piece on this, see Rape Culture 101 by Melissa McEwan at Shakesville).

Regarding the case at the middle school, the Contra Costa Times ran a story quoting a number of school officials.

One said, “If she was being raped, why didn’t she scream?…Why did these students have to come up and tell us that somebody’s down there?”

This person obviously has not read Rape Culture 101, which teaches that “Rape culture is the pervasive narrative that there is a ‘typical’ way to behave after being raped, instead of the acknowledgment that responses to rape are as varied as its victims…” Or, not everyone is going to scream!

Another school employee in need of a 101 lesson said “I know for a fact that that girl could’ve knocked that guy out with one hand tied behind her back.”

Oh, how my feminist head hurts. The stupidity and arrogance of these commentators! Yet again, they are blaming the female – she should have screamed, she should have hit him.

Will this never change????

In regards to the 14 year old boy, Jessica at Feministing brings attention to the language of rape culture where rape isn’t really rape it’s just “hormones gone wild.”

As reported at by a Bay Area news station and posted by Jessica, the School Site Supervisor said

“They’re calling it a rape when it wasn’t really a rape,” Portola Middle School Site Supervisor Mustapha Cannon told reporters Tuesday morning. “When this is all over with I want to see if I can get a public apology for my principal, who is my friend, and my vice-principal, who is my friend who aren’t at work right now. Some kids are not as popular as other kids. You have a girl that’s not as popular as some of the girls. You have a guy who is not as popular with some of the guys and the girls. It was hormones gone wild.”

Seems like people are all too ready to jump on the Whoopee Goldberg bandwagon when rape is not really rape but “rape rape.” Truly stomach turning.

And the fact the Shitty-ass Supervisor frames the “it wasn’t really rape” claim around issues of popularity??? Holy fuck, where do they find these people that run our schools???

In all of these comments from school employees and in many of the news reports, the tone indicates that this is a false accusation – you know, like that 12-year-old really wanted it and know she is crying rape because she is having second thoughts. This false accusation narrative that spreads through the media is a virus that refuses to die. As McEwan notes, false rape reports are LESS COMMON that false reports of auto theft – or about 1.6% of reports. Yes, people, MORE people report false auto theft reports than false rape ones and yet how often do you hear about those in the news?!?!? Instead, the MSM leads us to believe 99% of rape reports are false – ya know, cuz women can’t be trusted. And they ask for it. And sometimes they drink. And they wear tight clothes. And they have multiple partners. And, well, they have vaginas. That right there is asking for it.*

*yes, men get raped too, but the media does not frame them in the same way as it frames females

(For good book-long takes on these issues see Susan Brownmiller’s Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape or the more recent Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and A World Without Rape)

What if…? Short Takes 12/14/09

1. Watched last week’s Xmas episode of The Office and LOVED Phyllis as Santa. Michael, being his regular (cis)sexist self, mocked her as “Tranny Claus,” insisting HE be Santa yet again. Phyllis rocked as Santa! Yeah for female Santa (and gender-queer Santa)! As for Mrs. Claus, I am damn sure she does a lot more than make cookies.

2. Obama gave himself a B+ on Oprah? Hmmm, methinks there is a bit of grade inflation going on. I gave him an A when he entered, especially as he jumped on repealing the Global Gag Rule. But his top student status declined from there. For effort, maybe a C-. For war cry, an F. For being in bed with bio-pharm, big corps, and those who love empire, an F. Don’t think this all averages out to a B+. Better luck next semester, Obama!

3.While if I had my way, we would figure out a way to eradicate the necessity for the military rather than fighting for equality within the military, I understand the need to transform the existing system until we can obliterate it (much like with patriarchy). One area in dire need of transformation in the military is the hyper-masculine ethos that translates into a rabidly sexist war machine. Not only does this result in the sexual assault of 71% of women in the military, it means they are treated like crap when they return home from service. They don’t get the “you’re a hero” attitude nor the resounding welcome into the warrior-hero boys’ club. Nope, instead they are rendered invisible yet again, treated as if all they did in Iraq was brew the coffee, keeping the homefire at the base burning. (For an article discussing the treatment of female vets, go here.)

What if jeans are a weapon? On Levi’s sexist, war-happy advertising…

Last week the Levi’s Dockers “wear the pants” ad campaign received quite a bit of feminist critique for its obvious sexism. (For example, see here and here.)

Not happy with promoting misogyny alone, Levi’s has another ad using Walt Whitman’s “Pioneers, O Pioneers” that promotes battle-happy manifest-destiny.

Wow, who knew pants could be such a rallying cry.

Using the text of Whitman’s poem, which celebrates Westward expansion and the American “children” who stomp their way across the globe, the Levi’s commercial celebrates wild, angry youth. They bang things against fences, rage against constraint, dance around raging fires, rip off their shirts and march west in triumph.

How ironic the commercial celebrates youthful rebellion and anarchy in order to ultimately promote conformity – conformity to buying into a corporate brand, a normative style, and into the idea that FIGHTING is the answer. Yes, buy your over-priced jeans and you too can “bear the brunt of danger” and celebrate American imperialism. Woo-hoo!
If you feel like writing a letter to Levi Strauss to tell them where they can stick their pants, go here.

For a letter campaign opposing the Docker’s ad, go here.

What if Fight Club, ten years on, is more relevant than ever? Part 1: The Capitalist Body

In honor of Fight Club’s recent release on Blu Ray and ten year anniversary, I will be posting a three-part ode to this class anti-capitalist film.

In honor of Fight Club’s ten year anniversarynt and recent release on Blu Ray, I will be posting a three-part ode to this classic anti-capitalist film.

Here is part 1:

In opposition to the celebratory policing of the body so in vogue in the contemporary USA, Fight Club scorns a society that has allowed the body to become a mere object.  Deriding the very technology that many other films (such as Forrest Gump) celebrate at both the level of content and form, Fight Club refuses to buy into the supposed technological promise of disembodied capitalism where we can project our bodies into the past or future.

Through a contemplation of the pervasiveness of violence, ennui, and lack of affect definitive of the late 90’s, the film meditates on the body as brutalized not only by the self and by other bodies, but by the whole ethos of capitalism.

In contradistinction to Forrest Gump, the film did not celebrate the current state of affairs in America by offering up a bodiless white male hero.  Rather, it introduced us to a dejected and morally bankrupt capitalist everyman who suffers profoundly due to the disembodied and depersonalized capitalist landscape in which he must live.

Most reviews and articles about the film did not consider it in this light though. Instead, they focused on its supposed celebration of violence and virulent masculinity.

Again and again, writers interpreted the film as a sort of call to arms that inveigled viewers to reject ideas about the ‘new man’ and return to ‘traditional masculinity’, complete with bloodthirstiness, aggression, and domination.

For example, Henry Giroux claims the film “locates violence as the privileged vehicle for male community and solidarity.” I myself see it as critique of violent masculinity, rather than a celebration of it.

The film’s critique of consumer capitalism was not lost on most, but the majority of commentators felt this focus was overshadowed by a larger concern with the supposed ‘crisis of masculinity’ occurring in the late 90’s.  Giroux argues the film in fact reduces the crisis of capitalism into a crisis of masculinity arguing that “the crisis lies less in the economic, political, and social conditions of capitalism itself than in the rise of a culture of consumption in which men are allegedly domesticated, rendered passive, soft and emasculated”.

In a sense, Giroux is suggesting that the film serves as a rallying cry to re-masculinize the body, to bring back the brawn and bravado of the Rambo age.  To him, this is a key weakness of the film as it focuses on an individualized politics that waters down real world issues into mere fist fights.  However, Giroux’s reading of the film focuses mainly on the surface images – he spotlights the violence, the quasi-fascism and celebration of militaristic hard bodies that the camera repeatedly captures. Yet his reading fails to address the fact that that the main character Jack ultimately rejects his alter-ego’s violent credo and that Tyler is, in fact, an undesirable double that is destroyed by the film’s end.

What readings such as Giroux’s also fail to consider is the film’s sustained focus on the body – at both the level of form and content.  At the formal level, the camera zooms in on bloodied faces, battered bodies, and black eyes.  The film is also awash in the fluids of the body – blood, sweat, spit, and urine practically ooze from the screen.

The sound editing further accentuates the material factors of embodiment, emphasizing the thud of punches, the thump of bodies hitting the ground, the thwack of fist against bone.

At the level of content, the film contemplates the status of the body within the advanced capitalist American landscape.  This bodily fixation is not quite as apparent in the film as it is in Chuck Palahniuk’s novel, but the movie nevertheless gestures towards broad questions involving what consumer capitalism does to the body. And what it does is not pretty.

Up next: Part 2: (Dis)Embodying Capitalism