Writing at the intersection of motherhood, feminism and my Latinidad

11 June 2014

Musing on Maleficent (spoilers!)

The most anticipated movie in our house for the past forever was Angelina Jolie's "Maleficent." And while I did have some misgivings at the start of the movie, by the end I was a fan of this retelling.

A lot of pixels have been spent on how feminist this movie truly is and yes, I'm throwing my two pixels in to the fray.

We immediately meet the land of Sleeping Beauty as a bifurcated land where peace and love lives in the fairy forest called "The Moors" and hierarchy lives in human land. This is where I did a cartwheel in my head. I just knew it from the trailers (I didn't read a lot about the movie beforehand) that Maleficent would be painted as wronged by someone, propelling her into evil. And you can bet your bottom dollar that all the alarms went off in my head when it was clear that this was going to be another "woman scorned" story. Just really?

I admit that I got caught up in the evilness of Stefan to forgive the crappy story set up. Half way through the film I thought, "Aha! History is written by the victor." Because as a friend pointed out, we are never truly told why Stefan betrays Maleficent in the most cruel way, other than he is an orphan and seeks out power.

Stefan's cowardice is shown in his assault of Maleficent and robbing of her wings. As the scene was unfolding, I was cringing. I knew what was happening and was not happy with it. Why couldn't her wings by stolen on the battlefield like the warrior she had proven herself to be? Not by foolishly falling for the lies of a man and being drugged! Yet, Stefan never stepped on the battlefield. He was too cowardly to even do that. Fine.

Another thorn in my side about the movie is its reliance on gender essentialism. Maleficent was a fairy from the nature-loving land and was essentially good...with that whole 20 years of evil in between. Stefan represented the world of man, not human, but man. Attempting to conquer the nature-loving world that Maleficent protects. Even as a goddess-loving-tree-worshipping-woman, I still don't like to see women presented as "one with nature."

What I did love is the softening of Maleficent. That love, yes even a maternal love, was what allowed her to open her heart again. I enjoyed watching her try to not care for Aurora, including saving her from starvation and falling off a cliff. I loved her banter with the Crow-Man.

I also love watching Jolie in a fight scene. She could play a mom from 1985 fighting over a Cabbage Patch doll and I'd pay money to see it.

I am also a sucker for all these re-imagined works of fairy tales. Because one, I love fairy tales. And two, the re-imagination is happening along feminist lines.

So let's revisit the "history is written by the victor" line I mentioned earlier. The vast majority of fairy tales involve evil witches or sorceresses. Yet we never know why they are evil. We are supposed to believe it without doubt. This is essentially what we are asked to do with Stefan. The story is told to us by Aurora, who obviously was told the story to by Maleficent. Would you care to justify why your boyfriend violated you? Nope. He violated her and to hell with an explanation.

I've been raving about this movie over social media, mostly because I think it is an excellent piece to have us discuss what is a feminist movie. Is a woman kicking ass all that is required? How does the use of motherhood play in? Why doesn't Aurora's mom do anything but die? Is it feminist to empower one woman, but not another? So yeah, I love this movie more because it makes me think, rather than for the movie itself. But don't get me wrong, I was cheering for Mal the whole time.


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