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Is Princess Culture Redeemable?

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by Melissa Silverstein
March 27, 2012 10:57 AM
21 Comments
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Maleficent

I am extremely ambivalent about the whole princess thing.  If I never saw another princess anywhere it would be too soon.  But I live in the real world and write about Hollywood and Hollywood is infused with princesses.  In fact,  we've got two big princess movies coming down the pike this year.  This week's Mirror, Mirror and this summer's Snow White and the Huntsman.  I will never forget when I heard Geena Davis talk about her research on girls and the media, and how the research showed the most girls believe they can be princesses because that is basically all that they see girls doing onscreen.  Of course we all know that princess is not a job description and while there are very few princesses in real life, they seem to dominate girls lives on film.

That being said, should we be happy if we get newer princess stories that can get strong messages and strong characters out of of the princess culture?  Would it be possbile to subversively infuse our daughters with feminist messages while they celebrate the princess culture?

The reason why I bring this up at all is that two of our female stars -- Reese Witherspoon and Angelina Jolie are embarking on projects with princesses in them.  Jolie is about to start shooting Maleficent in June (written by Linda Woolverton) where she plays the "evil" nemesis of Sleeping Beauty.  It's a look at Sleeping Beauty from the perspective of Maleficent.  It's about humanizing the "witch." 

Angelina Jolie has gone on the record with EW about how this film could be good for girls:

It sounds really crazy to say that there will be something that’s good for young girls in this, because it sounds like you’re saying they should be a villain. [Maleficent] is actually a great person. But she’s not perfect. She’s far from perfect.

The other princess project in the news  (and I'm sure there are others I have no idea about) is the new children's book series Pennyroyal’s Princess Boot Camp by M.A. Larson which Reese Witherspoon and her production partner Bruna Papandrea have picked up to develop.  Here's the description:

Princess Boot Camp is described as is a modern fairy tale about a school that shapes girls into warrior princesses to battle against an ever-growing terror of wicked witches.

Here's what Reese said about why she picked up the series:

Finally, there is a princess story that reflects the values young women truly want to embody...These princesses are strong, independent and fierce, and the knights are their match.

So what do you think?  Is princess culture redeemable?  Should we trust that we could see powerful princesses onscreen or is this just to be another trend that just pisses us off?

Reese Witherspoon Picks Up 'Pennyroyal’s Princess Boot Camp' (Hollywood Reporter)

Angelina Jolie on 'Maleficent,' crying her eyes out in Sarajevo, and her Oscar leg pop -- EXCLUSIVE Q&A (EW)


 

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21 Comments

  • Cleo | April 17, 2012 9:53 AMReply

    Not every child feels that watching a classic Disney movie means that the audience member is also a princess. I think it's important to put little girls on a pedestal especially since they were singled out for the most unspeakable treatment in World War 2.

  • cgeye | March 31, 2012 7:32 AMReply

    Betcha that they ditch the 'Pennyroyal' in the title, because that herb's been used as an abortifacient....

  • Jenn | March 29, 2012 3:10 AMReply

    Why don't they just cool it with this whole princess crap. It's overdone anyways.

    What is this - 1995?

    I think they should focus on newer more modern themes for girls.

  • Anna | March 28, 2012 3:53 PMReply

    I have very strong feelings about Princess culture, for the very fact that it shows a life that is antithetical to what we strive for girls to be - or what their life will actually be: no need to worry about an education, skills or a job, ladies! Just lie here in this box until a man comes along. "loves" you and your life can begin. Even the most independent women I know (including myself sometimes) have this residual idea that a man will be "the answer." And when he doesn't show up, or one does and there are (gasp!) still problems, we haven't been given the tools to deal with it. My favorite Disney "princess" is Jessica Rabbit, because that woman has a job, a husband who loves her, a career, talent and skill. And what a rack!

    However, since girls are going to have to endure a salvo of princess imagery no matter what, I think it makes sense to use it as a vehicle for positive messages. The only thing that we can't change just by it's very nature, is that being a princess is not something you earn or achieve, it is something you are born with and is defined by other people's treatment of you (deference), not by anything you do. If we can find a way to navigate the princess narrative by making it be a responsibility rather than pure decadence, I think we have a winner. The more women we have writing and directing, the easier it will be to make that happen.

    In my family, whenever a baby is born everyone makes a quilt square based on a theme the parents pick, and we put it all together into a family quilt for the baby. A cousin recently picked Disney Princesses for hers. I wanted to do my girl J-Rab, but that got vetoed because she was deemed "too slutty." Now, I'm sure that says plenty about me, but also, why does the one main female Disney character who never becomes a princess have to be, to quote her, "drawn that way?"

  • chuck | March 28, 2012 12:40 AMReply

    It should be noted that M.A. Larson is a writer for "My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic", which is probably the best kids cartoon depicting girls. The princess character in the show is depicted as wise leader (she was supposed to be queen originally, but the network executives nixed it, citing that kids view queens as evil due to Disney)

  • kate parker | March 28, 2012 12:24 AMReply

    I had a realization not long ago that my whole life had been defined by Sleeping Beauty. And I'm not kidding my whole friggin life! Because when I saw Maleficent come on screen as a small tyke, the excitement that rose in me was unexplainable. Here I was supposed to be wanting to be the beauty passively sleeping on rose petals waiting patiently for her prince to come. But when the ass kicking, magic inducing, plot planning, fashion maven turns herself into a dragon...well let's just say I spent the rest of my life trying to figure out why she didn't get the guy in the end. What a putz! That's not to say I gave up entirely on the Prince, as a screenwriter trying to bring Bollywood style cinema to America I can't pretend I don't love a happy ending.

  • Tony Wu | March 27, 2012 9:54 PMReply

    It depends on the story -- does she derive her power through the acceptance of a man (Prince), or is she powerful in her own right, and maybe gains the Prince as a mere bonus?

  • Brenda Chapman | March 27, 2012 7:28 PMReply

    I wrote and directed BRAVE that is coming out this summer. It was absolutely my intention to subvert the princess role. There is no prince in my movie. And my princess is a true teenager in that her real "problem" (or so she thinks) is her own mother. A working mom and her daughter love story/action-adventure/fairytale. I wanted to turn the pink princesses on their heads - no pink and prince - and I'm not talkin' the songbirds. Hope it lives up to expectation. :)

  • Maria | March 30, 2012 10:36 AM

    Awesome, Brenda! Congrats on BRAVE! I have been so stoked to see it!! Thanks for giving us a new hero for young girls!

  • Katherine Bowman | March 29, 2012 5:09 PM

    Yeah. Let's talk about Brave! I can't wait till June 22!

  • Bes | March 28, 2012 11:41 AM

    I love the Brave trailers and I can't wait for the movie. I especially love animated movie heroines because you don't see them trussed up in fashion on Vogue or spread for Maxim and Playboy so their strength is not diluted.

  • Sabrina | March 27, 2012 9:48 PM

    Your movie sounds great. The fact that so many girls and women find pleasure in princess movies suggests to me that there are positive fantasies associated with them. Princess stories--whether in fairy tales or in romantic comedies--often explore female resilience, transformation, and change, for example.

  • chris | March 27, 2012 3:29 PMReply

    Princess culture is a bunch of crap.

    It makes me sad to see that these otherwise intelligent people are put into a position where they'd make a movie about Princesses.

    I wish these people would make the kinds of movies they would want to see, instead of pandering to a lowest common denominator trend. Geena Davis made some dumb movies too, but at least when she did she played the pirate and not the damsel in distress.

  • grrljock | March 27, 2012 1:37 PMReply

    "Maleficent" could be good, if it's in the vein of "Wicked". About princess culture in general, I personally loathe it. To me it's all about downgrading and limiting girls' and women's expectations. If it's the highest role (key word here) that a girl can achieve, well, that's pretty sad, ain't it.

  • Bes, | March 27, 2012 1:18 PMReply

    Well Princesses are about the only women in film who wear clothes so at least they are good for Halloween costumes. And they also don't derive their empowerment from lingerie (Catwoman and Sucker Punch etc) or from violent rape and degradation (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo etc) so I think they are better female characters than the usual.

  • Bes | March 28, 2012 11:48 AM

    I have zero sympathy for Hollywood executives assigned to gather females (voluntarily) to a theater. If I had HIS job I would never in a million years think I could accomplish it by gathering a male story writer, male screen writer, male casting couch player, male director, male camera man, male editor and male marketing team to make a movie about anything. And yet that is the route Hollywood takes over and over and over again in spite of repeated failure to connect with the female audience.

  • budmin | March 28, 2012 10:12 AM

    BES.. Men are easier to please because we have less room to self identify. So most Male centered movies revolve around climbing the male social pyramid. You ladies are a tough crowd. Women are spiritually and emotionally FREE RANGE. Think of the Poor Hollywood executive assigned to gather y'all up in a theater, I wouldn't want his job.

  • Bes | March 27, 2012 5:45 PM

    I would say that movies are made so men and boys can feel good about themselves and absolutely no thought is given to how girls and women are made to feel by movies. It is always assumed that the male view is the only or normal view of life and the world and so women and girls are sold their part in male fantasies by media companies who are oblivious to the concept that females have their own fantasies. I don't think princess movies are any worse than the majority of movies. Of course Princesses derive their power through their father rather than through their own actions.

  • Budmin | March 27, 2012 2:11 PM

    Wow..That was harsh..

    Princess culture is an escapism so it's a naturally flawed vehicle from the jump, but lets not forget that movies are made so that people could feel good about them selves.

  • Candice Frederick | March 27, 2012 1:04 PMReply

    i think if done right, it can be really really good. and some of the newer ones have something for both children and adults, which is a win win

  • LMAC | April 1, 2012 2:07 AM

    I agree the princess thing is problematic--and for quite a while, I had a reflex action (well, pretty much a gag reflex) about the whole thing. As a kid, I read far more stories than I watched, and in books you can identify with either gender much more easily. (But damn you, Walter Farley, for the dedication in "The Black Stallion": "For boys who love horses everywhere". Still a great book, though, in 3rd grade.)

    But if you think about little kids, and the words available to them that can they can grab out of the air and use to identify themselves instantly in a positive way, in play or not, you've got a serious debit on the girl side. "Hero, Superman, firefighter, astronaut"--for girls, these won't be words they can use to identify themselves to others as someone on the side of 'good' without a question. The only term they've got that can't be confused with the male gender, and always is associated with 'good' is: 'Princess'. So, I think we need some better words. "I'm gonna be a secretary...of State!" Needs some work.

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