Girl w/ Pen has a fantastic and disturbing article about Disney’s Tangled. I highly recommend reading it, because I’m only going to touch on one of the many troubling points it makes.
Tangled is being called a “gender neutral makeover.” Perhaps this will make sense when I tell you it’s the story of Flynn Rider, an outlaw who meets some chick who’s been imprisoned in a tower all her life, and eventually marries her. By the way, that chick’s name is Rapunzel.
You see what they’ve done there? When the story was about Rapunzel, it was ABOUT WOMEN OH NOES, which made it not gender neutral. Neutralizing it meant making it about a white guy. White straight not-disabled middle class guys don’t have gender, or race, or sexual orientation or class. They just… are.
Must be nice. Apparently, being both female and from a below-middle-class background, I’m two issues rather than a person, myself. How about you?
Hollywood tells writers that if you make your lead a woman, a black man, a gay person, a disabled person, a poor person or anything but a white born male who’s heterosexual and not disabled and middle class and stuff, suddenly your movie is about being a woman, being black, being gay, etc. It automatically stops being about dragons or saving the world from terrorists or a romance or whatever may have seemed to be the plot, and becomes an “issue movie” about what it’s like to not be a conformist white dude.
We can’t win for losing, can we? We can’t even have stories – we have to have obnoxious political statement movies, which reinforces the idea that those of us who aren’t conformist white dudes are just irritating bundles of complaints that, honestly, no one wants to spend a lot of money to see in a theater.
Oh, and for pity’s sake, don’t point to the genre ghetto as evidence we have a place in movies. Yes, I realize we’re supposed to be content that “chick flicks” can feature women (so long as they’re dealing with depression, romance or the high cost of cute shoes), and then there’s “urban comedy” or Oscar-aiming dramas like Precious to cover the entire experience of being other-than-white (because not being white is either really, really funny or really, really sad!… to white people!). I guess there’s, oh, fanfiction for gays, and disabled people will always have Helen Keller, right? Yeah, just don’t even go there. See how it makes the case for me?
Let’s face it: loads of people routinely go to the theater and then decide which movie to see. Hollywood waaaaay overestimates the amount of thought people apply to what movie they’re going to see (and this is the very last thing they want to admit, because a whole lot of jobs center on figuring out precisely what the audience wants – “two hours in a darkened room with popcorn and a shared emotional experience” does not justify even one minor salary).
Hollywood argues that they must give us bigoted casting because bigots are in the audience, and not pandering to the bigots hurts their bottom line. But are they looking at the same evidence the rest of us are? Remember when Jeff Rabinov said Warner wouldn’t make anymore movies about women (I know he denied he said it; I don’t believe him) because a Jodie Foster movie hadn’t done so well? The Movie Blog – hardly a feminist critique site – pointed out that a Kevin Bacon film in the same genre had flopped much, much worse around the same time. The truth is, no one would ever think to explain a movie’s failure by saying, “That’s it! No more movies about white straight dudes!” And when a movie featuring a non-white-dude does well? That’s also in spite of the lead’s demographics. When a movie featuring Leo DiCaprio does well, that’s obviously down to him, so give that man a raise.
Not exactly equal, huh?
Sure, loads of movies featuring women or people of color don’t do so well. But far, far more movies featuring white male leads flop. Oh, you say, but that’s just because there are so many more movies about white men to flop. Well, yes. And when a movie about a woman flops, that too is for some other reason than the lead’s demographics. No, I can’t prove this, but I grew up in the region where the KKK was founded, and never did even the most vocal racist or misogynist assholes around me boycott the Aliens movies or a Will Smith movie or any other form of entertainment (sports, anyone?) featuring groups they disliked, because you know what? Entertaining white guys is exactly what we all exist for, according to white male bigots.
It’s time Disney and the rest of them just own the truth: they want to maintain the status quo. They look for excuses to do so.