by Emily Wang
Disney princesses are breaking female stereotypes, igniting a feminist fervor across the globe.
With a box office of more than $1 billion, Disney’s live-action Beauty and the Beast has come to not only dominate the movie realm, but also to influence controversial topics in the real world. Ever since its first release in 1991, Belle is seen as a nonconformist to normal “princess” standards: her deep infatuation with books and education and her refusal to marry based on appearance showed her as the embodiment of a female who defies gender status. Lately, the newly-released 2017 version of the renowned fairy tale includes even more feminism than ever before.
The story is simple: a bookish girl helps a beast come out of his shell, simultaneously removing a witch’s curse that was placed on him and his household objects. Simple, right? Actually, not at all. In reality, there are a myriad of hidden aspects in the new version of the movie that appeal to the feminist viewer.
For example, while Belle adored books in the 1991 film, she turned that passion into action by teaching a young girl to read in the 2017 version. In the original movie, Belle was an assistant to her inventor father; contrastingly, the new film transforms her into an inventor to make it clear that intelligence-- rather than beauty-- is her greatest asset. The 2017 film also reveals that Belle does not accept her fate as a permanent prisoner of the castle; on the first night of her captivity, she begins to construct a long chain of dresses in order to aid her eventual escape. Later, when a supernatural cupboard dresses Belle up in luxurious clothing, she immediately frees herself of it, defiantly claiming, “I’m not a princess.”
The story emphasizes the notion that inward beauty outweighs outward appearance; by removing the stereotype that women have to be beautiful, females are given the space to experience a greater sense of literal and figurative freedom. Belle’s emboldened actions and her determination to overcome gender-based barriers affirms her standing as a defiant feminist.
Some may argue that Beauty and the Beast is not a feminist film, but instead, promotes anti-feminist viewpoints. For example, some recall that the only big change Disney claims to have made to Belle’s character is her inventing a washing machine-- even her intelligence is used for domestic purposes, a symbol of pervasive patriarchy. Others claim that while the Beast’s curse is merely his physical appearance, Beauty’s curse is to overcome her prejudice against the ugly; this is problematic, because it makes viewers think that Beauty alone must do the changing, and the Beast is blameless.
Although the movie is not perfect, it represents an enormous step forward in the feminist movement by setting a precedence for future Disney movies. Reform is a continual process to which many devote their entire lives to, meaning that it is difficult for one movie to immediately cause a mindset shift in society; instead, movies, like other cultural entities, is one brick that is added to the foundations of the struggle for equality. By starting conversations regarding the role of females in the modern society, Beauty and the Beast is actively contributing to the feminist movement.
We, like Beauty and the Beast, have the power to use our voice in order to influence those around us. The only question is whether we are willing to do so.