Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Cinderella Story

While surfing through the website IMDB today, I came across this article about an upcoming adaption of Cinderella directed by Kenneth Branagh:
However, it's not the article itself that's led me to write this post. It's the first comment posted in reaction to this article and the responses that followed it (sorry it's a bit small; me vs. Blogger's formatting options once again):

I get the point about this not being anything new and just another retelling - but why then is there a problem with it being "brought up to date with... a feminist point of view?" How would this be "murdering another cornerstone"? Why, as a later comment says, should they keep it in "orig times... and not bring it up to 2014 or 2015"?

I'm not sure where this dislike of a modern adaption of Cinderella is coming from because A) nothing in this article alluded to it being at all modern or set in present day and B) wait, what? We're okay with like the whole damsel in distress needing a prince to save her from her mundane life narrative? Am I too far gone now? Have I reached the point of no return of not even being able to look up movie news without feeling impacted by latent sexism?

The answer to that question is probably yes. But that's not entirely a bad thing. Before I go any further, I want to point out that I'm not condemning the people who made these comments; this isn't about them personally as I certainly don't know them. But I don't want it to look like I'm attacking these individuals; perhaps they didn't mean their comments the way I am interpreting them. However, there's a reason I'm interpreting them as I am, not because of who they are but because of what they said. Which is unfortunate for them.
I found myself reacting very, very strongly and personally to this Cinderella situation. One of these reasons is because I have a strange emotional attachment to this story, partly due to the fact that working in an apartment building has made me hyper-aware of how much it sucks to clean up after people who don't give a damn and also because I've had reoccurring dreams that are retellings of the Cinderella fairytale since I was about twelve or thirteen. Don't ask me why - I never really cared for the original Disney movie but something about the story must have stuck. The second part of this story is I recently had a dream in which I smacked an acquaintance in the face for because he said something sexist and when I confronted him about, he said that he thought stereotyping women was a good idea. It was a ridiculously vivid dream.

This obviously has nothing to do with the comments on this article, but it did help fuel my reaction to it. I can understand that people are tired of new retellings of the same old story and always needing a different spin on things but... that's kind of what storytelling is. As Umberto Eco states (who I'm quoting from Janice Radway's Reading the Romance: myths are "'almost always the story of something which had already happened and of which the public was aware...' Therefore," Radway adds, "the act of retelling the same myth functioned as the ritual reaffirmation of fundamental cultural beliefs and collective aspirations" (Radway 198). Although it's more blatantly obvious in film right now because remakes that are very much like the original are being made, everything is influenced by something else and we like to hear the same stories being told. I don't hear objections to adaptions of Jane Austen novels. No one ever demands that there be no more Shakespeare retellings or revivals. So why all the backlash against the Cinderella film?

Well, the comments about "murdering a classic" and so on... Why did have to write that? Of all things, that? And original times? Are we talking the era the original animated Disney film was made? The Ever After retelling set in the 1700s or so? The setting of the animated film (the specific historical time frame of which I quite clear on because it didn't matter when I was five)? I care less about the era its in but the message it conveys... and "murdering a classic"... well, to put this bluntly, maybe it deserves to be murdered.

Let's get this straight: I grew up on Disney. I am a rather well-adjusted adult. I like Disney films. But to utterly honest, I never, ever liked the films Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, or Cinderella. They had the least amount of stuff going on with the protagonists, the princes just kind of showed up and really didn't have a lot of depth, and the stories reinforced pretty obvious ideals. Snow White is the quintessential 50s housewife. Cinderella is the woman who's prided on her looks and gets a chance with the prince because she's good-looking (and a whole bunch of stuff about materialism, I'm sure), and Sleeping Beauty... if you can't see what's wrong and creepy with this story, then I can't help you. Also, if you've never looked up some of the more grisly versions of Sleeping Beauty, I encourage you to do so, only because it's terrifying and the adaptation of these tales is fascinating and worrisome.
Though watching these films didn't destroy me as a person, they also didn't really give me a whole lot of inspiration and encouragement in the realm of female role models. They're not terrible characters and I don't hate them, they're just... not very good. They all really fall flat, especially when compared to far more complicated protagonists being expressed elsewhere. Yeah, sure, I was five and didn't know a thing about feminism, but trust me, I think I would have felt a lot more encouragement as a young girl if I'd seen Snow White be less keen on cleaning house and more interested in regaining her rightful throne. Or if Cinderella had been acknowledged more for her work and patience rather than being just a pretty face. Honestly, I would have much preferred it if she'd just crashed the royal ball instead of getting spruced up by her fairy godmother and won over the prince with her riveting discussion on class structure and work ethic. Or because she's genuinely a good, interesting, clever person (I'd like to tell you I'm not trying to write a retelling like this, but then I'd be a liar. Ask my mother; she and I were discussing this over my spring break.) (But really, Cinderella was the original party crasher. Think about it...)

Long story short is I don't really see the issue in adapting Cinderella to a more feminist storyline. Unless you have an issue with feminism. And then you might want to reconsidering some things. Fairytales retell and reaffirm certain aspects of our society and often these are sexist and misogynistic elements. Why not adapt them so they, you know, don't do this, and allow girls to feel good about themselves, as well as allowing boys to be something more than just "charming"... some personality and a back story would be nice, thanks. So by all means, Kenneth Branagh, please - feel free to make it feminist. I'll be utterly elated if you do.

This concludes feminist post number two zillion and twelve. Well, we did have anything on feminism for a while - it was about time.

Also, there's a retelling I've just come across called Cinder where Cinderella is a cyborg. Um... YES. I'm going to have to check this out...
Edit: Okay, so five minutes after publishing this, I realized that I failed to acknowledge that films like A Cinderella Story and the Cinderella adaption with Brandi exist. I haven't seen them in ages, so I can't really speak to what their like. But the deal is that adaptions keep happening because there's a hundred ways you could tell this story. Now, whether the story is ever effectively told in different ways or whether we are telling the exact same tale over and over is a different story, and what exactly it means to tell the story differently are questions I leave open. I promise I'm done for real now.

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