I don’t feel the need to have a woman in a movie to watch it. If a film has an entirely male cast, it doesn’t bother me unless the men make a point of bashing and excluding women. What is hard to swallow is that there aren’t many movies centered around the interactions of women. They exist, but they seem to have a hard time spreading into other genres–particularly adventure type stories. Movies with primarily female casts seem to also often be movies about being women, instead of just human beings who happen to be women. A movie like “Up” could be just as good with a cantankerous old woman and ambitious girl-scout. “Mean Girls” done with boys doesn’t translate too well.
And yet, whenever a movie comes out claiming to be “female centric” my eye gets very critical. I rather wish that it could just come out without having to push for a gender-representation angle on publicity, but I understand why it happens. They’re making an effort to even out the representation, and that’s very nice of them and good for our culture. Yet when they bank the hype of a movie on the fact that it’s aimed to feature my half of the gender pool, it makes it all the worse when they do a bad job. It’s not enough to get a sloppy present and hear them say “But I made this for you.” What movie am I leading to?
Now, I know that criticism has been given of Maleficent already. “Character who’s name is Maleficent isn’t evil?” “Does a movie about women have to make all the men bad/worthless?” “Another female whose motivations are derived from interactions with men!” (Which, by the way, I don’t agree with. Rape survival stories, or allegories for them, are stories worth telling.) My general impression was that it was more of a feature-length deviantART of Angelina Jolie–a pretty montage sequence with a story voiced over it more often than acted out. But that doesn’t make it a bad female-centric movie, or even a bad movie.
The thing is, if you’re going to make and tout a movie as “Made for Women,” then you’d better be thinking about the women in your story. I’m not referencing the travesty of the three fairies downgrade (in the Disney version they are basically the main characters and heros). I’m actually referring to the queen.
“The queen?” you say, “What queen?”
[There will be a video snippet here once I figure out how to do that. It’ll contain the scene where the Evil Old King promises soon-to-be-king Stephan his daughter, then to the scene of Queen Mrs. Stephan trying to be kind to Maleficent then behind for mercy when Maleficent curses her daughter, then to the scene where Stephan refuses the Queen’s request to come visit her as she’s dying.]
There in about thirty seconds you have the tragic story of a queen, arranged to marry a terrible human being, trying to be appease a person who doesn’t even acknowledge her existence, losing her daughter and perhaps only source of happiness within days of birthing her, and dying alone. Blink and you’ll miss it.
From what I can tell, most people did.
The thing is, never–NEVER–does the queen’s tragedy get acknowledged or addressed. Maleficent doesn’t notice, the king doesn’t notice, the daughter doesn’t notice, the audience doesn’t notice. If there had been some acknowledgement, then it could at least have been portrayed as a lesson on the collateral damage of hate and greed on the innocent. At best, the queen should have been allowed some active role. Maybe she could have helped defeat Stephen. Maybe she could have been the one to find and release Maleficent’s wings, motivated by horror at seeing her husband for who he is. Maybe she and Maleficent could have ruled jointly until Aurora became old enough to inherit both thrones. Or she could’ve also been evil and balanced out the man-vs-woman dynamic of the movie. If this movie was really meant to be an allegory to rape, it failed to address a distressing side of the rape story: what of the woman who loves (or at least is bound to) the rapist? Instead of being a part of the story, the queen is introduced, fills her purpose (baby-making), and dies. Never given a name, and mostly done without even screen time.
For a movie that’s supposed to be made for women, particularly mothers and daughters, this seems like a preposterous oversight.