A Feminist Fairy Tale With Heart

Cross posted at Love YA Lit

“And she was adored, as much for her defiant spirit as for her beauty.”

This is the Snow White story I have been waiting for! Though it barely passes The Bechdel Test this is my favorite feminist film of the year, so far.

If the classic Disney fairy tale is your only point of reference for this dark and daring story you might be more comfortable with Disney’s current reimagining, Mirror Mirror.  Snow White and The Huntsman is equal parts dark and light, a more accurate reflection of the Grimm’s fairytale than any reimagining since the original story.  Kristen Stewart’s Snow White is more comparable to Katniss Everdeen than her original namesake and helps to usher forth what I hope will be the new wave of female adolescent protagonists: passionate, brave and leading with their hearts.

Heart is the core of this story: the ways it makes or breaks us and for Snow White, it is her heart that makes her so valuable, both literally and figuratively. The Evil Queen, Ravenna, masterfully played by Charlize Theron, seeks to devour Snow White’s heart in her manic obsession to be the fairest in the land, to remain eternally youthful and beautiful. A provocative script and a seriously riveting performance by Theron elevate Ravenna’s character from the familiar archetype of a villain by giving her: 1. An identity – do you remember the Evil Queen having a name in any other re-telling? 2.  A heart, albeit a bruised and bitter one. Taught from a young age that beauty is power and having spent a lifetime subsequently “ruined by men” Ravenna’s humanity makes her the most relatable character in the film. She is more a victim of female gender role backlash than sincerely demonic. Sound familiar?

Ravenna’s darkness is juxtaposed by Snow White’s fairness, not just physically but emotionally. Throughout the film Ravenna is the embodiment of natural beauty tainted by the carelessness of the world and, in typical mean girl style, she resents those who find their beauty reflected in the world, such as the fair Snow White. One of the most beautiful elements of the film is Snow White’s relationship to nature, an aspect that was trivialized in the original Disney version where Snow frolicked in the forest, yearning through song about waiting for her Prince to find her. This Snow White is not waiting to be found, she is not hoping to be rescued. She is seeking justice and activating her destiny with no thought for romance.

The casting of this film should not go unnoticed among teen and adult audiences. Theron has made her career out of characters that explore the complicated, often ugly side of the female experience. She has long been a favorite of mine but it was last year’s Young Adult, a slice of life story where she tackled the painful consequences of a female life built on beauty and image, that marked her a permanent heroine of mine – brilliant and brave.

There are mixed opinions about Kristen Stewart, I hear a lot of people rag her, but she continues to take roles that usurp the traditional trajectory of a young Hollywood actress. She has yet to star in a romantic comedy nor has she been pigeonholed into the stereotypical teen girl image force fed to us by studios predominantly run by men. Often criticized for her awkwardness and emotional blandness, Stewart’s real life resistance to the Hollywood teen idol image serves her character well. As Snow White, who has spent the bulk of her developmental years in solitary confinement after witnessing Ravenna murder her father, Stewart’s interpretation of the character is imbued with an innate understanding of her power and position. She just has to learn how to access it. When she does finally find her voice it is strong enough to rouse a rebellion.

Let me be the first to say that the description of this film offered by IMDB, Google and this month’s Elle magazine, which features Stewart on the cover, are inaccurate. Each, in one way or another, summarize the story in a way that suggests the Huntsman protects and mentors Snow White. Um, yeah. That’s not how it happens at all. In fact, there is only one scene where the Huntsman offers guidance on how Snow can protect herself. He instructs Snow White to drive a blade right into her attackers heart and “Don’t remove it until you see their soul.” Responding that she could never do that The Huntsman replies, “You may not have a choice.” Ooooh, feminist foreshadowing.  Because, guess what, HuntsMAN? I do have a choice. In the scene immediately following the two are attacked by a larger than life troll who knocks the Huntsman unconscious and turns to unleash a powerful roar in Snow White’s face. Snow White responds by roaring right back and they face each other – pausing, staring, and seeing each other’s souls. Is that not what we all long for? To be heard? To be seen? To be allowed to be ourselves without fear of hurt, loss, and abandonment?

In truth, it is Snow, with the support of the seven dwarfs (a fun surprise of familiar faces shrunken down in size) who mentors him. Following another archetypical path of the widowed male drowning his sorrow in alcohol and violence, it is Snow White’s fairness – not beauty but commitment to justice that rejuvenate the Huntsman’s desire for life. By being unapologetically vulnerable and insecure, “How do I inspire? How do I lead men?” but brave enough to admit it, Snow White demonstrates the true meaning of strength, of power, of heart.

Above all, the most prevalent message in this film, and one of utmost value for female audiences, is the example of leadership modeled by a girl that is simply being herself. We should all be so brave.

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2 thoughts on “A Feminist Fairy Tale With Heart

  1. Pingback: Snow White and The Huntsman | Gratefully Recovering Addict

  2. Pingback: Feminism in Film « Incurable Hope

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