Disney's New Cinderella is Anything But Feminist

A few weeks ago, after months of advertisements and a seemingly-endless press tour, Disney released Cinderella, the live-action remake of the 1950 animated classic. One of the aspects of the new film trumpeted by studio executives and actors alike was the claim that it would put a modern twist on the fairytale, and empower Cinderella, making her the type of heroine that little girls in this day and age could aspire to be.

In this pursuit, though, Disney has failed. The new Cinderella, directed by Kenneth Branaugh and featuring Lily James in the title role and Richard Madden as her charming prince, succeeds only in that it sticks to the source material of the original movie almost to a tee. True, this Ella is not quite as passive and boring as the 1950 version was, and has some degree of spunk. However, this is masked by the almost constant repetition of the phrase "be kind and have courage," the only advice Ella's mother gave her as she was dying. This advice, given to a young girl who, apparently, has no friends and barely leaves home, shapes her for life, and leads to Ella allowing her stepfamily to steamroll over her, only once in the movie ever protesting their treatment. 

In a modern world in which feminism is quickly gaining ground, and women in all countries are advocating for equal rights, or for simply basic rights at all, this new Cinderella character qualifies as a step back. While Lily James in interviews claims that this Ella is modern because she has the patience of "Gandhi," this doesn't excuse the character in any shape or form. She is a reminder of days gone by, a time when soft-spoken, patient, stunningly beautiful, naive, and kind women were the type most valued, and the type that were most likely to snag a man. In this film, the audience, mostly made up of parents and their young girls, are expected to swallow the idea that Ella, a sweet teenager, blindly accepts the treatment of her stepfamily, never making any attempt to leave or stand up for herself, tactics that leads her to meeting her Prince Charming, and living happily ever after with a man she met exactly twice. In this day and age, this storyline is frankly ridiculous, and barely has a leg to stand on. 

Disney, for it's part, has made every effort to counteract the anti-feminism feeling its new film gives off, most noticeably with the song sung in the credits, entitled, obviously enough, "Strong." This tune, written for the movie, features the lyrics "be the one who rescues you," and "hold fast to kindness," among other after-school special type sentences. While I am all for the message the song gives, the fact that it comes at the end of a movie that doesn't do any of the above is frustrating. For example, the idea that you should "rescue yourself" doesn't work since, spoiler alert, Ella is locked in a tower by her stepmother until her prince hears her singing and rescues her. Not exactly the feminist tale that every little girl desperately needs to hear. 

Disney really has no excuse for it's sappy, 1950's style movie, since a strong, truly empowered Cinderella has been shown to exist in the past. This was a part embodied by Drew Barrymore in the 1999 film Ever After, a movie in which the heroine rescues the prince several times, and is sold into slavery by her stepfamily before escaping on her own wits. This is the type of princess, a girl with a take-charge kind of attitude and an independent spirit, that should be embodied in every modern princess film. Indeed, Ever After's Danielle would likely take one look at Cinderella's Ella and dismiss her as insipid and annoying. 

Danielle (aka Ella) punches her step-sister in Ever After

Ultimately, the main problem I have with the way this film portrays women is summed up in the final line of the movie, a voice over by Helena Bonham Carter's fairy godmother, in which she says that "with kindness, courage, and little drop of magic" a happy ending can be achieved. She leaves out the 22-inch corseted waist Ella sports throughout the film, complete with blonde hair and blues eyes and a flawless complexion, elements that more than anything caught the prince's attention. Disney, after years of making films targeted towards little girls, should know that the messages put forward by the film as those that will be imprinted on these childrens' minds, and what the girls will aspire to look like and be like in their lives. It is irresponsible filmmaking to put forward this dream girl, squeaky clean and totally innocent, as the perfect model, and shows that Disney hasn't changed at all.

In the end, Cinderella may be a fairytale, but even fairytales should reflect the modern world. Hopefully Disney will remember this while making the new adaptation of Beauty and the Beast. 

 

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