feminism

Feminism and Disney's Frozen

I've seen Disney's latest film Frozen with my kids twice now, and I'm rather pleased with the progress they have made in presenting realistic female characters. 20140204-134537.jpg

Disney doesn't exactly have a history of being socially progressive. Most of their films, especially from the earlier days, are filled with racist caricatures. Aside from Mickey Mouse, Disney's most well-known films are their Disney princesses. Most of the early ones aren't exactly independent women.

  • Snow White: She does housekeeping for a household of dwarves before falling into a coma, until some passing prince gives her a kiss.
  • Sleeping Beauty: Aurora sleeps through a large part of the movie, until some adventurous prince comes to rescue her.
  • Cinderella: A house slave, who meets a prince who can't remember what she looks like, but has one of her shoes.
  • The Little Mermaid: Ariel literally changes who she is, giving up her precious voice in order to be closer to her prince.
  • Beauty and the Beast: Belle domesticates her prince, because we can't have someone with beastly behaviour.
  • Aladdin: Most of the plot revolves around who Jasmine is allowed to marry.
  • Pocahontas: the colonization of the New World, where a romantic involvement is created between the historic figures of Pocahontas and John Smith.

Some of the more recent films are better, in particular Tangled and Brave. But even there, there are problems. In Brave, the main disagreement and inciting incident revolves around Merida's choice in marriage. While she remains single, it is a primary source of conflict in the film.

With two young daughters, many of these films are problematic, not the least of which is their cultural influence. A few of these films I've never shown my kids, and probably won't until they're much older.

Frozen

The latest Disney film, Frozen, really ups the game. While there are other important characters, the movie is really about the relationship between two sisters, Elsa and Anna.

Spoilers ahead

While the younger sister does have two potential love interests, Queen Elsa has none. It also turns out that the act of true love which provides the fairy-tale ending is not "true love's kiss", but instead a heroic, selfless act to protect a sister. (At this point in the movie, my youngest daughter was in tears, and during the moment of silence in the film, there were more than one child-like sob from the audience).

"True Love"

So, what about those love interests? As this is Disney, they still feel compelled to writ some kind of love interest, if only for the musical numbers.

Hans is a prince from another kingdom, 13th in line to the throne. He proposes to Anna on the evening of Elsa's coronation. They ask for Elsa's blessing, claiming that it's true love, but she refuses, saying that they've just met. Later, Kristoff also questions her judgement for getting engaged to someone she's just met. Finally, it turns out that everyone else was right, and Hans reveals that he's just in it for the keys to the kingdom.

Everything seems lined up for Kristoff to provide an act of true love (a kiss, right?) when Anna instead turns and puts herself between her sister and a killing blow from Hans' sword. This is the act of true love: complete self sacrifice to protect someone you love. Sisterly love, which had been so cruelly denied earlier in the film.

There are a number of reasons why I really enjoyed this film, but in think the most important is how it's a story about two sisters. The movie revolves around their relationship, in a way that hasn't really happened in a Disney princess movie before.

Queen Elsa

One of the rather interesting things about this film is how they dealt with Elsa. From what I gather, the original plan for the adaptation of the Snow Queen was for Elsa to be the villain. During development, her character was completely rewritten, as a much more in depth character.

For myself, the two crucial points in the film are Anna's sacrifice at the ending, and Elsa's flight from the town of Arrendale. Her song "Let it Go" signaled a change, where she would embrace her magic, where she had previously attempted to suppress it.

http://youtu.be/moSFlvxnbgk

Also of note is that in Frozen, there is a single line about Elsa's suitability for marriage, when Hans confesses that his original plan was to marry Elsa, but that "no one was getting anywhere with her". From being a primary plot point in Brave, to a single line in Frozen. Seems to be a big change.

Almost, but not quite

So, there are still a few places where this film fails. While Elsa escapes without a love interest, Anna has two. There are two (with a marginal third) musical numbers dedicated to her suitability for marriage. Both girls lead a sheltered life and Anna appears to be overly enthusiastic about getting out into the world. It fits with the existing franchise, and that's something Disney probably wasn't about to mess with. In fact, I'm pleasantly surprised by how far they have come, and by how successful the movie has been in theaters.

Star Trek: DS9 Reviews: A Man Alone

While Past Prologue had one main theme, loyalty, There are two primary themes in A Man Alone: relationships, and racism. The writers manage to weave together these threads while fleshing out more of the more reclusive member of the DS9 crew, Constable Odo. A Man Alone  Bashir

Bashir and Dax

The episode opens with Doctor Bashir shamelessly flirting with Jadzia Dax, a scene which essentially repeats itself through the episode. Her response is friendly, but evasive. She explains that relationships for Trills are a little difficult, and that joined Trills attempt to "rise up" above their desires. Instead of being discouraged, Bashir, ever the optimist, decides that this means that he still has hope.

Sisko and Dax, redux

Fast on the heels of Bashir attempting to woo Dax, is a scene where Sisko and Dax share a meal, and re-establish the close friendship he had with Curzon Dax, the previous host for the Trill Dax. It's a good scene, and shows more depth to their relationship, and explores why Trills don't always reconnect with the friends of past hosts.

Odo and Quark

Odo and Quark make great foils for each other. The law man and the con man. It's all about testing boundaries. While they seem to be each other's worst enemies, there's a certain level of respect shared between the two of them. It's a constant game of cat and mouse, with Odo keeping Quark to a low level of dishonesty.

Odo and Quark

O'Brien and Keiko

As O'Brien was an established character from Star Trek: The Next Generation, he has a fairly developed back story, including his wife Keiko, a botanist, and their daughter Molly. This episode begins to explore the family tensions in place in changing careers.

This invites comparison to the other family unit on DS9, Commander Sisko and his son, Jake. With Sisko being an only parent, his decision to live on a distant space station requires less compromise than that of the O'Briens. In order for O'Brien to take his promotion, the direct downside is that Keiko's career is put on hold.

O'Brien and his wife have several arguments in public, about Keiko's role on the station, or rather, lack thereof. There's precious little need for a botanist in the iron clad corridors of Deep Space Nine, nor does it seem a proper place to raise a young child.

With a bit of handwaving, the show's writers suggest that instead of being a botanist, Keiko should become a teacher for the children of Deep Space Nine, providing structured learning in a classroom environment.

While her arguments towards an integrated classroom environment, with children from various cultures learn together is a good one, she seems completely unprepared to develop a worthwhile curriculum, which takes culturally sensitive issues in mind. This is really the weakest part of the episode, and really just comes across as a way to give Keiko something to do on the show.

This role change appears to address two holes in the plot: it gives Keiko a meaningful role on the station, and allows for an educational setting in which Jake Sisko and Nog can interact, but it really feels contrived, and not in a good way.

As socially progressive as Star Trek often attempts to be, this provides an example of how O'Brien's career has essentially relegated his wife to a traditional gender role of mother and educator. The future feels so very enlightened.

Odo and the Rule of Law

When Odo realizes that Ibudan, a former Bajoran smuggler and profiteer was on the station, he does his best to kick him off the station. His report to Sisko on the matter brings up a great piece of dialogue.

"If he hasn't done anything wrong, you can't force him to leave."

"Watch me."

"Mr. Odo, you're not going to take the law into your own hands."

"The law? Commander, the laws change depending on whose making them.  Cardassians one day, the Federation the next.  But justice is justice."

What we learn about Odo here is that he has remained the chief of security on the station since sometime during the Cardassian occupation. This is one of the charges the Bajorans on the station bring against Sisko later in the episode, suggesting that somehow, Odo was a Cardassian collaborator. Here, Odo explains that his views on justice haven't been influenced by any legal requirements. His is impartial, a "disinterested" observer of the human condition. He is the man alone.

Racism on DS9

Now that we've gotten all the fun relationship issues out of the way, let's move on to the second, less savoury theme. This is far from the first time that Star Trek has dealt with issues of race, and it's far from the last time this theme will be explored in DS9, though not always for the best. As J. Emmet Winn notes in his article "Racial Issues and Star Trek's Deep Space Nine" (Kinema: A Journal for Film and Audiovisual Media, Spring 2003), the actual depiction of race, especially the Ferengi, isn't always a progressive view. Certainly, we can see evidence of xenophobia in this episode, even in Commander Sisko, who wants his son Jake to have nothing to do with "that Ferengi boy", as he sees Nog as a troublemaker.

The founding of the school, and Keiko's attempts at creating a multiracial classroom allows us to foreground issues of desegregation, as different cultures come closer together.

The most explicit racism in this episode however, is seen in the Bajoran persecution of Odo, who is framed for the murder of Ibudan. The parallels to racism in contemporary society is fairly clear: ethnic slurs are scrawled across the walls of his trashed workplace. In Odo's case, the word "SHIFTER" appears. He is hounded by an angry mob, unwilling to wait for the justice system to deliberate over the evidence. Thrown objects break storefront windows. The mob leader even asks how you put a noose around the neck of a shapeshifter.

Odo enters his office to see SHIFTER written on the wall

Racial integration in the United States has been… problematic, and it's clear that the problem is ongoing. Where one person sees a kid with a hoodie and a pack of skittles, another sees a threat to their neighbourhood. How the situation is handled is what matters. A measured response allows all the evidence to come out, while a hasty decision is irreversible.

In A Man Alone, the situation is defused, although as the Captain's Log states at the end, to the best of his knowledge, Odo has not received any apologies for the actions of others during the protest. Sadly, that's often how issues of racism are dealt with in our world too.

A Man Alone first aired January 17, 1993. Teleplay by Michael Piller. Story by Gerald Sanford and Michael Piller. Directed by Paul Lynch.

 

Book Review: Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay

Guy Gavriel Kay's novel Tigana was first published back in 1990, although I first read it in 1999. It has remained one of my favourite novels. I have a signed first edition hardcover, in addition to my paperback reading edition. Tigana is a wonderful novel which examines the power of memories. The theme of remembering is woven throughout, starting with the opening prologue, where the Prince of Tigana muses on what legacy he leaves his country: "Oh, our pride. Our terrible pride. Will they remember that most about us, do you think, after we are gone?" to which his companion states that "the one they that we know with certainty is that they will remember us. Here in the peninsula, and in Ygrath, and Quileia, even west over the sea, in Barbadior and its Empire. We will leave a name" (16). The novel quickly opens to the tragedy of Brandin of Ygrath's great wrath, where in his magic he ripped away the name and cultural heritage of the province of Tigana, such that only those born in the province can comprehend the name.

There may be spoilers after the cut, but the book has been out for over twenty years. It's still a worthwhile read.

For the characters in the novel, memory is an important talisman, a connection to their past. During my most recent reading of the novel, I have been troubled by the narration of the flashbacks. They tend to start with a particular character, such as Dianora, who is thinking about some connection to their past. The flashback begins with a narration from their point of view. In Dianora's case, she remembers her plan to somehow gain entry into Brandin's castle, in order to kill him and redeem her province's name.

However, the narration tends to shift points of view, to the governor of the occupied province, and to that of the tribute ship captain who takes Dianora as hostage. The shift is subtle, and would fit within the narrative structure of the novel, except when one considers the nature of memory, and its importance to the text. This passage and others disrupt the flow of the story ever so slightly for me.

Kay explores numerous moral quandaries, often to do with the elements of choice and freedom. When Alessan binds the wizard Erlein to his cause through a magical connection, the issue of conscription is explored. Other differences of opinion are also explored, namely the different ways in which Brandin of Ygrath could be deposed, releasing the spell on Tigana's name. Alessan firmly believes that both Brandin and the Barbadian sorcerer Alberico need to be taken down at the same time in order to free all the provinces, which others, such as his mother, only care about the fate their own province has suffered. In a way, this reflects the differences between smaller city-states and a sense of growing nationalism which spread through Europe in our history. This is further complicated in the text when Brandin abdicates his throne in distant Ygrath, in order to fully commit to ruling the Peninsula of the Palm. The binding of himself to the lands which he conquered wins himself great praise from the people. In his stand against Alberico, a man who only seeks to gain power to return home and seize the Emporer's throne, Brandin can be seen as heroic, defending his newly claimed kingdom against an invader with no ties to the land. That he originally came as an overseas conqueror is of course another matter.

Possibly the most controversial aspect of the novel is the portrayal of the female characters. Many of the female characters use sex as a weapon, or tool. From Catriana's first encounter with Devin, to her later assassination of the Barbadior ambassador, or through Dianora's love for Brandin, who caused Tigana's name to be wiped from peninsula, the female characters tend to be at war with their own nature.

Possibly the best exception to this trend is that of Alais, who aspires to run her father's business, as a merchant ship captain. In the novel, she represents modesty and innocence, while still providing non-traditional goals and aspirations. As her character is more fully developed at the end of the story, Alais is a foil to the other female characters.

Rereading Tigana was enjoyable. it's not a story without problems, but Kay's novel successfully challenges several moral choices, prompting the reader to consider some issues of debate. It's worth a read.