By Caitlin Ball
A feminist twist on a classic fairy-tale. Hollywood certainly isn’t quaking – we’ve seen this formula repeated countless times since the turn of the century (think Lily Collins in Mirror Mirror, Anne Hathaway in Ella Enchanted).
The recent release of the Amazon Prime film Cinderella (starring Camila Cabello in her debut acting role) hops onto the bandwagon by attempting to turn Charles Perrault’s victimised heroine into a 21st-century esque girlboss ‘who don’t need no man’ that modern feminism can be proud of. Bravely snubbing the prince’s marriage proposals to pursue her dress-making business, she confidently states: “I choose me.”
Herein lies the issue: the film has been criticised for its simplified, anachronistic approach to feminist issues. Enormous emphasis is placed on aspirations, such as setting up and owning businesses in sectors like retail, that haven’t been majorly problematic for women in decades.
I would argue that by needlessly revisiting and re-problematising redundant feminist issues we risk having a degenerative impact on young viewers. We begin to plant doubts into little girls’ minds about their future capabilities that, thanks to the progress we’ve made, weren’t there before.
Note that the film draws to a close before we see Cinderella thriving as a successful businesswoman; only as part of a whimsical daydream scene do we see a version of this reality played out. Note again that after female independence and leadership has been preached to within an inch of its life, Cinderella still asks her prince to “lead the way”.
The film, in simple terms, lacks consistency. Many ‘feminist’ choices are devoid of nuance and appear arbitrary, as if they have been shoehorned into the script to tick boxes rather than add value to plot or characterisation.
From a random bout of body positivity preaching aimed at the slimmer-built stepsister to the King barking “No one asked you, Beatrice” at his wife, it is not long before the film starts to come across as forced and superficial: feminism for feminism’s sake.
Opportunities to more accurately address the state of feminist issues in 2021 are painfully missed. For example, why not make Cinderella a heroine with a passion linked to STEM? Currently only 25% of UK entrepreneurs in “high productivity sectors”, such as IT or transportation, are women (according to The Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship).
‘Dress-making’, on the other hand, promotes the concept of gender domains and fails to acknowledge the challenges this generation of young girls may actually come to face as they grow into society. In instances like these, the attempts at ‘feminism’ simply cancel themselves out.
I do worry that feminism is being commercialised, commodified; if it isn’t a trend for filmmakers to exploit for revenue. Young girls idolise these princesses – I know I did. They subconsciously internalise the qualities and traits they see on screen, and carry these with them as they continue to grow.
I understand that a complex analysis of 21st-century feminism is obviously not what we were expecting from an ostentatious comedy-musical that also stars James Corden as an infuriatingly unfunny CGI mouse. Some aspects of the film do, in fairness, successfully speak to changing attitudes and normalities in today’s society. There is Billy Porter as the drag Fairy Godmother, black actresses playing powerful women (see Beverly Knight as the gloriously dignified Queen Tatiana), and an acknowledgement of the fact that marriage and labels are not necessary to be part of a loving relationship. Not to mention the portrayal of the royal ball as a networking opportunity (as well as a vanity parade).
In amongst the cringe and clunky dialogue, a genuinely well-meaning message of feminist empowerment is clearly detectable.
But I stand by my opinion that if you’re going to do feminism, you need to do it properly. You can’t modernise a fairy-tale without paying full, consistent attention to the intricacy of modern issues.
Arguably this generation of young people watch with eyes more educated and more critical than any other before them. They can smell insincerity a mile off, and they aren’t afraid to call it out.
Illustration: Verity Laycock