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Fairy tales and movies can teach us to love ourselves, or they can teach us misogyny.
Filmmakers and creatives often rely on stereotypes to keep us entertained and non-thinking.
As a boy, I loved stories of all kinds and lacked the cultural insight of a dear friend who told me that when reading Hansel and Gretel, she always sided with the witch (it was her house first).
This radical and feminist memory of Hansel and Gretel re-emerged when I found myself at two very different films that represented women and children of color in divergent and revolutionary aspects.
My seven-year-old grandson wanted to see Annie.
While I had hesitation about a film with a young natural-haired black girl at the center (my fear that her hair would be referred to as a problem and become the running punchline in the movie), I soldiered on with my grandson expecting two hours of tomfoolery and hoping to witness a balance between humor, story telling and a proper valuation of young black female depth and power.
My fears were somehow lessened when thirty minutes into the film my young charge began singing along with the score before telling me, “She looks like me.” Then he said, “I love it.”
What I witnessed that day was that you can be brown, well-loved and significant. It doesn’t mean you won’t have challenges and morons who can’t or won’t understand you. It means that there is a place for you even if, and most importantly if, you have to self-create it.
We are all influenced and shaped by images we witness.
Into the Woods, on the other hand, was very disturbing.
I could not understand why a film with Meryl Streep, whom I adore, caused me such angst and discomfort.
I was disturbed watching a grown-ass man lusting after a young child.
When I let that go, I immediately reached for my critical lens to think about how the other women were being portrayed in the film.
Much of the tale centered on women who will sacrifice any and everything, including their lives, for their children. Or, they get punished when they indulge in, or dare to have, any desire for anything that only benefits them.
I saw this so many times in the film that I began wondering whether this was the original theater version or if it had been punched up Hollywood-style by a pack of women haters still stewing about the one that got away.
After the giant’s home is burglarized by a small boy, the entire cast rallies around him to take down the angry wife who is set on revenge.
When the couple desperate for a child strikes a bargain with the witch, both the witch and the young wife die (get punished).
The young wife in a moment of ecstasy and curiosity allows a dashing prince to “seduce” and kiss her.
Five minutes later she dies.
When the witch finally is restored to her former glory, her punishment is becoming a large pool of tar.
I was glad that none of my granddaughters saw this.
It would have been difficult explaining why the men stole, lied, manipulated and charmed and still were rewarded with their desires.
At some point, I will co-write tales for girls and women with girls and women in ways that uplift and celebrate.
I will try to steer my young charges, male and female, away from films that demonize those with dreams and power who wish to see (experience) how far their ambitions can take them.
Any suggestions for revolutionary and women-positive fairy tales?
Any suggestions for males who appreciate collaborative efforts with people who may look, think and see the world differently and yet want similar things?
My kids need it, and I am desperate for something I have yet to see.
We have to stop teaching young people that ambition packed in the female form is a bad thing.
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