sleeping beauty, 1959

film
film stills

Each time I watch Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, I am obliged to find this draft and rewrite it.

The first time I rewatched it as an adult (or, a kind-of adult) (I use the term ‘adulting’ a lot) I realized that I must’ve been a pretty patient kid, as nothing happens for the first hour of the film.

The second rewatching, this past May, I was struck by the film’s dichotomous nature. The titular character, Aurora the sleeping beauty, is only on screen for about fifteen minutes of a total 78 minute running time, and she doesn’t do much while on screen. Nevertheless, the film passes the Bechdel test within the first quarter-hour, thanks to the back-and-forth bickering of the Good Fairies: Merryweather, Flora, Fauna.

Aurora is typically ranked as the least feminist of the Disney princesses (although she has stiff competition from Cinderella and Snow White) but, of the Disney princesses (up until Pocahontas), Aurora alone has female friends (the aforementioned Good Fairies). It’s not until the Disney Renaissance (1989-1999) that the  princesses became more than glorified dolls; yet 1959’s Sleeping Beauty far surpasses every Disney princess movie in regards to the ratio of female-to-male dialogue until 2012’s Brave.  But! the movie in no way breaks with the backwards gender ideals of mid-20th-century America. For all its visual beauty (courtesy the art direction of Eyvind Earle) the film is flawed, especially in regards to its lack of gender equality. The original fairy tales aren’t any better.

So. If you like to debate and critique gender roles in 20th century Disney films, I’d definitely recommend Sleeping Beauty; if you’d rather your heroines actually do something; you can never go wrong with Mulan (1998) or Pocahontas (1995)¹, or their 21st century counterparts, Tiana (Princess and the Frog, 2009) and Merida (Brave, 2012).

¹ Yes, I will defend Pocahontas, even if it is historically inaccurate. The movie depicts a strong female character, perhaps the first of Disney’s female leads. This is not to say I’m willing to disregard the apologist nature of the film’s creators towards the English colonists.

AT LEAST SHE HAS AGENCY

by the way, Maleficent is the best Disney villain hands down

 

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boy, snow, bird

books
Best Accessory: Boy, Snow, Bird

Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

 

The Best Accessory?

Obviously, a book.

Whether it’s a novel, nonfiction narrative or an anthology, these are my favorite selections.

Boy, Snow, Bird is a novel by Helen Oyeyemi. It was published in 2014 by Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin.

The Wicked Ones:

In 1953, Boy Novak, a young woman with an ambiguous background and multifaceted identity, escapes her abusive father,  The Ratcatcher, and flees from New York City.  She finds herself in Flax Hill, Massachusetts, an idyllic town of artists, tinkers and the frequent odd happening.

Just as she’s settling into the dreamy and surreal town, Boy meets Arturo Whitman, a leonine jewelry maker. They quickly fall in love and get married, despite whispers among the townsfolk.

Is it about their quick courtship? It is about Boy? Her lack of artistic ability? Or is it about the Whitmans? Who are they, really?

The Fair Ones:

No one is ever who they say they are. Not even Snow, Arturo’s firstborn, the daughter of his late wife, Julia. Julia was without a flaw,

as all who remember her

tell Boy on most every page.

Julia’s daughter, Snow, is just as pretty, just as sweet, as golden Julia. And Boy dislikes her for it, for that inherited perfection. Their forced relationship dissolves just as quickly as it began when Boy becomes pregnant with Bird, Snow’s half-sister. Snow is so glowingly happy, with her ethereal youth that haggard Boy can’t stand the sight of her.

Mirror, mirror on the wall,

Who’s the falsest of them all?

Boy sends Snow to a life of squalor

in Boston, with her aunt.

and Snow learn who she truly is,

and Boy learns what she’s not.

Boy doesn’t set out to be the evil stepmother,

and Snow is not the kindly, gentle girl she is believed to be.

Interestingly, to me, it’s

Bird who has grown up with the most solid sense of identity.

She is attuned to both her mother’s and sister’s moodiness and resolves to understand three generations of secrets, possible magic, and race in a sleepy-but-never-dull New England town.

Boy, Snow, Bird is the ideal book for provocative

discussion about the disillusioning

notions of the fifties,

especially the failure to “return to normalcy” after the social progress of the 1940’s;

the interwoven critiques of the prosperous mid-century include

× racial identity,

× gender constructs,

× the beauty myth,

× and conformity:

road to true happiness or broken families?

I literally recommend this book to anyone I see browsing the library shelves;  I hope after reading the novel, you’ll do the same.

Lots of love,

x. Carey