Here’s to Strong Women

When I was thirteen years old, I started to get into comic books. At the time, I was particularly partial to superhero comics. And as a young girl, I heard all the jokes about how, of course I was so absorbed in a genre that followed traditionally handsome, muscular men dressed in skin-tight clothing. It didn’t seem to matter much if I said that that wasn’t what drew me to the genre; everyone was simply convinced that that must be what it was.

I had a hard time convincing people that, when I opened a Batman comic, I didn’t do it for the sad, rich boy with abs; I was there for the tragic cat burglar who wanted love, but never at the expense of her freedom or independence. I wanted to read about the clown girl who fell head-over-heels for the wrong man, and then learned to recognize the abuse, and, with the help of her best friend (another woman who had faced mistreatment from an entitled and careless man) she got herself out of that situation.

I am, of course, talking about Catwoman, Harley Quinn, and Poison Ivy, respectively. Three fictional characters who are not only strong, capable, and fiercely independent – they are, quite simply, unapologetically female.

When I was thirteen years old, these were the sorts of fictional characters that I was attracted to, in all forms of media: power fantasies. More specifically, feminine power fantasies. I loved Buffy the Vampire Slayer, because she was allowed to (un-ironically) love shopping and make-up and gossiping, while still being able to kick some demon ass and stand up for herself. I loved Wonder Woman, because she was fierce and strong, but nurturing and loving all at once. I loved Xena, because she could be both warrior and princess without question.

When I was sixteen years old, my attention began to turn a little bit more toward celebrities, because I suppose that’s what you do when you’re a teenager (or, it was what me and my friends did, at least). The celebrities that I sought out were much the same.

I loved rocker chicks, like P!nk and Joan Jett, women who weren’t afraid to challenge what was expected of women. I loved celebrities like Lady Gaga, who insisted on expressing themselves in the way that they saw fit. I loved Emma Watson, and any woman who was willing to brand themselves a feminist or stand up for women’s issues.

I loved female celebrities who will go unnamed here, simply because there is not time and space to mention all of them.

When I was eighteen years old, I became more aware of the women in my own life, in my family (as you tend to do when you’re facing the possibility of moving out and moving on).

I heard stories about my maternal grandmother, and how much of a firecracker she had always been. I heard about this five-foot-tall woman, growing up with nothing to call her own and having to build her own life from scratch. I heard about the time that her own brother made fun of her until she could stand it no longer, and she stabbed him in the hand with a fork.

I remembered growing up with my mother, who was covered almost head-to-toe in tattoos and dyed her hair a new colour every week. I remember her pictures being published in tattoo magazines, her name being made as a small-time tattoo model, even when she had two fully grown daughters. I remember her telling me that the people who thought she shouldn’t be who she was at her age didn’t matter. I remember her telling me how important it was to be true to yourself, and to be proud of who you are, no matter what that means.

I remember growing up with my sister, who has never once considered not speaking her mind. No matter what, even if what she says is considered rude or incorrect, she will say it. If others tell her that she should be humble, then she will climb to the highest rooftop just to scream out how much of a gift she is to the world. If someone tries to hurt or slight her, then she will do precisely what she needs to do to protect herself, because that is precisely the sort of strong, independent woman she is.

Now, I am twenty-two years old, and I am more aware now than ever that strong women are a gift upon this world.

As women, we are too often told to be something very particular; we are told to be soft, humble, passive, sweet, whatever – my point is, whenever a woman does not subscribe to this limited definition of what a woman can be, the effect can be truly inspiring.

Because the fact of the matter is, women don’t have to be one thing. Women shouldn’t be one thing; there are millions and millions of us, and we are all different. We all look different, act different, think different, love different, and we should reflect all that in how we live our lives.

A woman who does not perfectly reflect society’s definition of beauty, and yet still loves herself and owns what she has, is a rare and beautiful thing – specifically because society tells women that they shouldn’t do that.

A woman who unapologetically owns her quote-unquote ‘unfeminine’ traits, like ambition or assertiveness, is, again, a rare and beautiful thing.

A woman who is, quite simply, herself, regardless of what that might mean, is a rare and beautiful thing.

And the reason why am I writing this, more important than simply reminding the world that strong women are a gift, is because we need to remind the strong women in our lives that they are strong, that they are amazing, that they inspire us. We need to support our fellow women, to encourage them to continue being themselves. Because we exist in a society that sometimes seems intent on tearing them down, but if we can remind them that what they do is important, then maybe they can find the strength to continue.

As women, we need to build one another up. We need to be there for one another, to make one another better, instead of constantly trying to prove that we are better than them. On top of telling women what they should be, society has also tried to trap us in a constant cycle of competition with one another: we must be the pretty-est, the most loved, the best mother, but the truth is, we don’t need any to accept any of this. We have the option of supporting our fellow women, of helping them to become stronger. Because we all deserve to be and feel strong.

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Beauty and the Beast (2017) Review

The time has come. The 2017 remake to Beauty and the Beast is finally out. After months of waiting for something, anything, even just a trailer to come out, I have finally seen it.

And, to be fair, the film has some pretty big shoes to fill. The original 1991 adaption is pretty much a perfect movie, as far as I’m concerned. It’s really difficult to compete with something that has already won my heart so completely, but nonetheless, I went into this movie really, really wanting to like it. After all, there was a lot to it that was incredibly promising.

I loved the casting of the movie, which included some pretty incredible actors who suited their roles perfectly – Emma Watson, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Luke Evans, and Josh Gad in particular. I loved the speculation that this would be the first Disney movie to feature an openly gay character (although this is hardly the first Disney movie to feature a gay character, let’s be honest here). And considering I’ve seen Stephen Chbosky write some pretty interesting works with similar themes, I figured that he’d produce an incredible script. And if all else failed, if nothing else in this movie was at all good, I had faith from what I had seen that at least the visuals would be stunning – something that was true about prior live action Disney films, like Maleficent, Cinderella, and the Jungle Book. Really, my only concern about the movie was that it might just be a direct remake of the original with only a few filler scenes thrown in to make it fill a longer running time, but since the original was so good anyway, would that really be a bad thing? If that was the worst that I had to fear, then at least it wasn’t going to be a bad movie. Just a pointless one.

So having seen it now, how did it hold up to expectations? Was it as good as the original? Was it just a pointless remake?

 

 

Let’s start with the one thing I figured I had to like: the cast. I’m not going to lie, I didn’t know a whole lot about Dan Stevens going into this film, having never seen him in anything else, but the rest of the cast comprised of people that I knew and loved and expected great things out of.

Emma Watson, for example, couldn’t possibly be bad, the way that I saw it. After all, she had pretty much played this role before, when she portrayed Hermione in what is perhaps my favourite franchise, Harry Potter. I was dying to see her in this, and, to be perfectly honest, I felt sort of let down. In all honesty, as much as I thought that Emma Watson was perfectly casted before going into the film, I quickly changed my mind when I actually saw her. A lot of people have been complaining about the fact that her singing voice isn’t the greatest, and as much as I agree with that, it’s nothing compared to the fact that she just couldn’t emote all that well. Naturally, Emma Watson strikes me as a woman who’s very controlled, very prim and proper, while Belle in the original was passionate and highly emotional. And to be honest, Emma Watson’s acting really took away from the emotional resonance of many of the scenes. The ending of the original movie to this day brings me to tears, but despite the fact that they pretty much recycled that script for the remake, I couldn’t bring myself to care. Not about Belle’s lack of emotions, and not about the Beast either.

On a similar note, Dan Stevens might have been a decent actor. I’m not entirely sure – it was really difficult to tell through all of that CGI. In animation, the Beast can be expressive, emotional, just a much as any of the human characters, but in live action, the CGI is too distracting and unconvincing, and Dan Stevens’ expressions get lost in it.

That being said, there were still performances that I enjoyed. It is impossible for me to dislike Ewan McGregor or Ian McKellen, although their characters were focused on much less in this adaption. Josh Gad was perfectly casted, and I will give absolutely no complaints about his character – he might have honestly been my favourite part in this film. And Luke Evans, portraying one of my favourite Disney villains, put in a great performance, just as I expected he would. My only problems with Gaston were in how he was written.

Which brings me to my next concern – the writing. A lot of it, as I mentioned before, was recycled from the old film, including direct dialogue. And on the one hand, yes, it’s good dialogue – there’s a reason why the original film is a classic. But at the same time, this is a remake, and it’s a remake of a film that it can never entirely replace or improve upon unless they’re willing to make some changes, rather than lean on the old film.

But, to be fair, the writing that they recycle is better than the stuff that they added. Gaston’s character has been changed drastically from the original, and this might be the thing that bothered me the most. Because like I said, I liked Gaston in the original. I liked that he wasn’t really so much of a villain as he was a spoiled brat who had been told all his life that he was right and people like Belle and the Beast were wrong. He was a man who had never been told no once in his life, he was the straight, white, hyper-masculine, in every way ideal man who felt like he was entitled to everything and everything he did was right. He wasn’t evil – just a man who became a villain through his circumstances.

Well, throw all that garbage away for this remake – in this version he’s straight-up cool with murder right from the beginning. He’s a sadist and a psychopath who’s calmed down by thoughts of pain and violence and bloodshed. His complexity is stripped away to give us a very basic villain. They do give him a backstory as though to explain all of this, making him a war veteran, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that the animated adaption gave us a villain who was fascinating and complex at best and funny at least, and this adaption gave us something much simpler.

Speaking of Gaston’s backstory, furthermore, backstories seem to be pretty par for the course for this film. Belle is given a backstory involving her mother that really doesn’t add anything to the film and is actually just somewhat distracting from the plot. There are hints of a subplot involving the Beast and his father, and as interesting as I initially found that, it really isn’t explored.

And in my opinion, the Beast really wasn’t written well in this film either. The Beast from the original adaption might just be my favourite character in all of Disney. He was a hero, but he was incredibly flawed. He was a spoiled brat with a temper problem, but he still had a conscience – he just acted out because he was terribly unhappy and had an incredibly low self-esteem. He was a character who is immediately recognizable to anyone who has dealt with issues of mental illness. And in this version, he’s mostly just a dick. A lot of his more humanizing moments, ones where he’s incredibly low, to the point of being actually suicidal, are either much more understated or written out entirely. His moments of guilt regarding his behaviour are, again, either written out, or Dan Stevens really could not emote at all through that CGI. And there’s a running joke throughout the film where the Beast mocks Belle for her taste in literature that really comes across as belittling to me – but maybe that’s just because the Beast in the original was just so enthralled with her reading.

And overall, I just found that, with the exception of Lefou, I didn’t care about these characters as much as I cared about them in the original. Though the film had more time to explore these characters, they instead decided to spend this time on unnecessary backstories or songs that were written out of the original film for a reason.

Now, to be fair, there were a few things about this film that I liked. I’ve mentioned Lefou a few times, and that’s because Josh Gad really did present a great performance, and the writers did make him more complex than he was in the original (not that that was all too difficult, considering he was barely a sidekick in the original). As far as representation of a gay character goes, he wasn’t stereotypical or offensive or anything like that – though I don’t really know why he earns the title of First Gay Character in Disney when it could have gone just as easily to Winnie the Pooh or Piglet (considering their relationship to one another), or Hugo from the Hunchback of Notre Dame (who has a romance with a male goat), or Ryan Evans from High School Musical (considering actor’s speculations), or a million other characters who are just as likely to be the First Gay Character as Lefou is. No official statements are made in regard to it – there are just a lot of heavy hints, enough that it can’t really be denied, but not that it’s anything really new or spectacular for Disney.

And there were a few things about the visuals that I really enjoyed. The 17th century French aesthetic was beautiful and felt somehow unique – especially considering they actually allowed a Disney prince (a character who is supposed to be read as masculine enough to be attractive to the general audience of heterosexual cis-women) to wear make-up. And I’d love to see the film again not in 3D, just because I felt that the 3D blurred the sets quite a bit, making it difficult to say for sure that the sets were beautiful. Personally, I found some of Disney’s other live action films, including Cinderella and Maleficent, more visually stunning, which is disappointing because the original Beauty and the Beast is magnificently animated, but I can’t say that it was a complete let-down.

But overall, there is just one glaring problem with this movie, and that is the fact that it is a remake. Not all remakes are bad obviously – even Disney has produced some pretty good live action remakes recently. I liked Cinderella, I liked Maleficent, I liked the Jungle Book, but all of those movies are remakes of much older movies. Writing styles and audience expectations have changed since the time when these movies came out originally, and therefore there were little character tweaks and plot developments that could be made. Maleficent could be turned into a grey-area character rather than a straight-out villain. The stepmother and the prince in Cinderella could be developed better. And societal views about the ‘primitive’ Indian jungle have changed since 1967. But our society’s expectations around writing haven’t actually changed all that much since 1991 – or, at least, Beauty and the Beast wasn’t as outdated as the other films that have been remade. And to a certain extent, that does make this film sort of pointless. Why do we need another Beauty and the Beast, clogged up with pointless scenes and unnecessary alterations, when the first one is still perfectly fine?

And as much as I’ve complained about this film (and trust me, there’s still more I can say), I wouldn’t call it a complete waste of time. I’m glad I saw it. I needed to see it, considering how much I love the original. And I won’t deny that my love of the original might just cloud my opinion of the remake – as you can tell from my review, as I was repeatedly comparing the two movies. The only reason why this movie fails, in my opinion, is that it was already done better. Otherwise, this might be a perfectly serviceable adaption of the fairy tale. So if you want to see it, you won’t be wasting your time. You just won’t be watching an improvement on the story.

Why Emma Watson’s ‘Provocative’ Photo is Still a Feminist Act

When I first heard about the controversy regarding Emma Watson and her ‘provocative’ photo, bearing her stomach and parts of her breasts, I decided to stay out of it. My initial reaction was a very general ‘that’s a silly thing to get offended about’, and I had faith in humanity that this would just blow over and it wouldn’t be a deal in a couple of days.

Except the controversy is still here. People are still talking about it. And I have to say, I don’t understand why.

The argument that I’ve heard people offer is that Emma Watson is very outspoken about being a feminist, and that posing with parts of her torso exposed contradicts this statement. You can’t be a feminist and have boobs. Everybody knows that. Feminists are all conventionally unattractive women who dress head-to-toe in men’s business suits, and the moment she puts on a skirt or some lipstick, she immediately loses her status as a feminist.

Except that that very clearly isn’t true. And the manner in which people have responded to Emma Watson’s photograph just proves to me how much we need feminism.

Because, first of all, there is nothing inherently sexual about Emma Watson’s photograph. You can see parts of her breasts and her stomach, but besides that, she is standing tall with her arms crossed delicately before herself. The only reason why the photograph has been deemed sexual at all is because parts of a woman’s body are exposed – and that is a problem.

Because, honestly, what about a woman’s stomach and breasts is sexual, besides the fact that society has deemed them so? Why can’t Emma Watson be taken seriously as a feminist while simultaneously having breasts attached to her body?

And even if the photographs were completely sexual, even if she was lounging on a bed with a come-hither look in her eye and a pout on her lip, could she not still believe in equality? Want to be taken seriously as an individual? How is it that one photograph can so completely define who a woman is one hundred percent of the time?

This is our society’s problem – more than the fact that Emma Watson happens to have tits. We fail to see women as complex individuals. We have been taught to see them in the terms of stereotypes – a woman is either an unliberated whore or an ugly and completely asexual feminist. Any crossover between the two stereotypes completely baffles our mind and we don’t know how to understand it.

Because here’s the thing – women have sexuality. Even feminist women feel desire, have wants and needs of their own (unless they’re asexual), and that is perfectly fine. That’s more than fine – that’s human. And women should be allowed to express their sexuality in any way that they feel comfortable with, whether that mean that they take topless photographs and release them publicly or dress head-to-toe in a man’s business suit. As long as she is doing it because she wants to do it and it makes her feel comfortable and liberated, then that’s alright. That’s a completely feminist act and she should feel no shame for it.

Being a feminist does not mean that you have to limit yourself to being one thing. Being a feminist means that you can be free, that you can do what you want and what makes you happy, that you don’t have to bend exclusively to a man’s whim. That’s what being a feminist means.

Or, if nothing else, being a feminist at least means that you shouldn’t be publicly shamed for having tits.