AMBER LOVE 05-JUNE-2014 (** Trigger Warning and Spoiler Warning**) I’m here to address the movie reviewers and fans that have taken a scene from Disney’s new movie, MALEFICENT starring Angelina Jolie, and implied that the central character was date raped. I’m actually annoyed that I spent my money on this film but it was important to me to see what people were talking about. Below I gave my impressions of the movie as a whole, the one particular scene that upset everyone, and delve into comparisons with other fictional characters that are comparable to this one. I doubt even my closest friends will read past the first few paragraphs.
Overall, it’s a good kids’ movie or “all ages” movie. It’s not great nor stellar. I think MY LITTLE PONY and TOY STORY are better kids’ entertainment but this was pleasantly entertaining. Angelie Jolie is stunning to look at but I thought her acting was weak through the first half. I could not stand the sound of Sharlto Copley’s voice so every line he delivered made me want him off the screen. I guess I’ve been spoiled by great voices like Sir Patrick Stewart or Jonny Lee Miller. I thought most of the effects were great except for Maleficent in the first fight scene. She looked like a video game toon. I didn’t mind the bumbling pixies nearly as much as it seems every other reviewer did. It was disappointing how they handled the dragon and lack of evilness; it could have been called Marjorie or Mallory or any other M name and been the same movie.
The quintessential reason that Maleficent is not a movie that contains rape anywhere in it is that people are specifically saying the wing clipping scene was a date rape. (Major Spoiler HERE) It’s not to me for a variety of reasons but the most compelling of which is that she gets her wings back! I don’t know about any other survivors but I’ve not yet discovered a magic spell to unrape me.
To further explore something about how viewers project what they want to see into the film: I spotted a trope that was far, far stronger and more damaging than “every female hero needs to be raped to overcome it.” After Maleficent is wronged by a man, there’s only one cure for her – raising a child. There’s your trope. There’s the big arc that completely makes me wonder why this is a “strong” iconic movie for feminism. And I’m not saying you can’t be feminist with or without a child; the point is, in MALEFICENT, it’s never outright stated that she has any other option to happiness except for children.
[Edit: Additional paragraph added 6/6/14] Yet another interpretation is that Maleficent is Mother Nature. She’s the most powerful fairy. Nothing can stop her. She commands all the earthly elements. Then man comes along and poisons her and chops away at her most beautiful element. Even after time, walls are built and man retreats but only briefly. Man tries to invade territory and conquer it. The story could easily equate to Man v. Nature and how humans take exploration too far and it becomes destruction.
The clipping scene was off camera and for that reason, more palatable for me to watch than seeing her tortured and beaten with iron by an entire gang. Her anguish and despair after the clipping was deep and felt by everyone in the audience. I definitely could have teared up a little bit when she let out that scream. I still didn’t find her relatable as a “survivor” only as a woman scorned. I don’t want to dismiss anyone who was actually disturbed or triggered by the clipping scene. I personally didn’t find it that bad compared to what she endured later. She gets to keep all of her powers except flight. I see it more like having an arm amputated. I’m also not denying that metaphors exist. I write them! I wrote one specifically that was a rape analogy but I wouldn’t be bothered if anyone else doesn’t read it that way.
There can be power dynamics which are not sexual in nature or gender-based. Each time I took to Twitter and announced how insulting it is to read reviews where people say the clipping of Maleficent’s wings was a “rape,” I had more people agreeing with me than disagreeing. I am also surprised that anyone considers MALEFICENT to be a great feminist movie. It’s not a great anything movie.
“Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” (Artistic license of a quote by Freud)
First, no one is arguing that Maleficent was not drugged. Drugged does not equal raped. I can think of a particular scene of one of my favorite movies, DEMOLITION MAN, where hunky male John Spartan (Stallone) incapacitates Huxley (Bullock) under the motivation of it being “for her own safety.” This tends to happen enough to be a trope. Incapacitated exclusively without sexual assault does not equal rape. Having sex without consent equals rape. No one would have looked at the characters of Spartan and Huxley, who did have intimacy and began a romance, and say that he raped her.
In the first X-MEN film, the mutants were attacked by humans and drugged with a serum to remove their powers. Drugged and depowered in one fell swoop. Would you say all of them were raped? Nope.
The biggest elements to these reviews is that the drugging precedes the wings being clipped off. From that, people have decided it equals fairy rape. Let’s think of other winged characters like angels.
In mythos, there are different types of angels – nine choirs to be exact – and not all are humanoid. However, the most commonly seen portrayal of an angel is a person with wings. Sometimes writers/directors stick with the belief that angels are non-sexed, completely androgynous. Artists, however, have shown humanoid angels in sexual congruous and lustful scenarios with humans in paintings and sculptures. Bernini’s famous sculpture in Rome, The Ecstasy of St. Teresa, shows the woman in sexual gratification having “received” God in the presence of an armed angel holding a spear. This angel was either cuckolding or being a voyeur watching Teresa who had no idea she was about to have God playing about with her vagina. If you want to get metaphoric, as the Maleficent reviewers have, a woman is unexpectedly experiencing a sexual moment while being watched over by an armed individual. Because it’s the divine spirit entering the pious woman without consent, no one bats an eye.
There are other famous pop culture angels to address who have had similar experiences to the fairy Maleficent. First is in Kevin Smith’s DOGMA. Angels who smite God suffer the consequences of having their wings painfully shot off with streams of bullets. It’s violent and bloody. You feel bad for the angels who were only trying to do what they thought was more right than God’s path. The angels in DOGMA are shown as strong virile white men (Affleck and Damon) and wearing the armor often depicted in artistic renditions of archangels who were soldiers. Not once can I recall anyone criticising the movie for the “male” angels having been “raped.” Why? Because rape is rape, not wing removal.
Next is the archangel Gabriel as interpreted in the film CONSTANTINE based loosely on the HELLBLAZER comic books. Gabriel is played by Tilda Swinton, a ciswoman as far as I know though many praise her unique standard of beauty for its androgynous or trans appeal. She doesn’t usually wear makeup and wouldn’t wear a padded bra, for example, but she wears dresses and usually has some punky hairdo. As Gabriel, Swinton wasn’t donning armor. She had this incredible post-Apocalyptic punk style that looks like she came from a steampunk convention. Her wings were also removed violently. No one said she was raped.
ABC’s ONCE UPON A TIME has characters taking potions and being incapacitated all the time. Sometimes they do it to themselves but not always. It’s twisting the Grimm’s tales so there are characters like Snow White and Sleeping Beauty who are known for being in suspended animation. There are memes that state Snow and Aurora’s circumstances promote rape culture since kissing without their consent is what saves them; Disney’s ABC network doesn’t acknowledge it that way. Not one character is ever alarmed. In fact, one of the princes is incapacitated by King Midas and it’s true love that awakens him. No one said a darn thing that Midas raped him according the depowering + kiss = rape logic.
Speaking of OUAT, the entire “true love’s kiss” twist was done there first.
Not wings, but a tail from the waist down, Disney’s animated version of Ariel in THE LITTLE MERMAID had to give up her voice in order to pursue her love on land. She had legs instead of fins. She had no voice to sing or speak. The movie is much maligned for its poor message to girls that a woman needs to sacrifice everything that makes her special for a man to love her, but no one ever said she was raped because she lost her powers of swimming and singing. Depowered is not rape.
On BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, good witch Willow wipes the memory of her girlfriend Tara continuously. It eventually breaks them up. Everyone talked about how it was a betrayal of trust and extremely wrong but there weren’t shouting matches, “Hey, she violated Tara so that must mean date rape.” Because it wasn’t.
At some point in recent times, torture has become sexualized. From there if the characters involved are different genders where “male” is portrayed as the aggressor and elevated, the word “torture” is replaced with “rape.” How many torture scenes now have a face being licked? I’ve seen it a few times on SCANDAL not to mention TERMINATOR 2.
I can go on and on. The word “rape” has come to a point where its meaning is so lost, there’s no gravity to it anymore. When someone is mugged and their money is stolen, they have been robbed, not raped. When the government takes too much in taxes, you have a political injustice but you have not been raped. When a building contractor overcharges you and your bill is triple the original estimate, you have not been raped. Money and its removal is very often called rape. Paying money to someone is not rape.
Here’s where “rape” gets lost in the criticism. Rape is not about sex; it is about power achieved through sexual domination. The execution is sexual in nature even though the motivation is not about achieving orgasm or reproduction.
Wonder Woman from DC Comics, like almost every superhero, has faced a story where her powers are removed; it’s commonly accepted nowadays that Wonder Woman is nothing but a fetish analogy because tying her wrists removed her powers (I doubt that’s still the case in the contemporary version). If that’s how you weaken your opponent, you’d bind their hands too. It’s how a villain would attack a hero and it’s not about getting their wank on. Early artwork furthered that fetish by showing Wonder Woman in gimp hoods and ball gags and had her spanked often. They weren’t so much helping the feminist cause as making a mockery of it. Today’s Wonder Woman is nigh indestructible and almost an equal to Superman. Looking back, however, since Wonder Woman is a female character, all people can talk about is the perceived sexualized violence she faced. The only rape I can recall being addressed was by the male god Zeus not any of the characters that tied up Wonder Woman. For some reason, I’m the only fan that liked the AMAZONS ATTACK! storyline and in it, domestic violence shelters for women and children have been named after Wonder Woman; Harley Quinn ends up in one to get the help she needs to get away from the Joker. This illustrates the evolution and perhaps mea culpa of DC Comics in how they defined their main female icon.
Batman, in fact, gets violated way more than any character I can think of. He constantly has to face psycho doctors and villains that try to infect his mind since he has no superpowers to remove. They render his physical self useless (Scarecrow, Doctor Hugo Strange, Mad Hatter) while taking advantage of his mental processes. Is that rape? No. It’s not. It’s a horrible violation/assault but it’s not rape.
Superman is faced with Kryptonite all the time. No one uses sexual interpretations there either. In fact, since Maleficent only lost her power of flight and not all her magic, she was in better shape than Superman near Kryptonite. No one calls Superman impotent or having been raped because he’s incapacitated. When a female character like Poison Ivy uses her power of pheromone control over men, is that rape?
The one and only time I ever used a sexual metaphor for a DC character was when I reviewed the 1970’s reprints of JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA. Star-Spangled Kid has a golden rod which is drawn just like a penis. I don’t know what the artist was thinking. This superhero runs around with a golden dildo. When it doesn’t work for him, I did say he comes across as being impotent because his phallus won’t work. But again, I could be incredibly off-base and that metaphor was never meant to be interpreted by the creators. I will fully acknowledge that as one possible interpretation.
The wands of the wizards and witches of HARRY POTTER are not considered phallises. Harry’s first wand breaks. He’s never considered sexually impotent or otherwise because of it. He’s at an age where could be sexually active but it’s a children’s series, dark as it is, and they don’t go beyond kissing. Still, Harry isn’t rendered useless because he’s more than “his wand” so the snapping of it is never sexualized. To top it off, Hermoine, the starring female character most people would have assumed would be the one to marry Harry, was the one to break his wand. Would those MALEFICENT reviewers look back at this HP scene and say that Hermoine emasculated Harry by castrating him of his wand?
Let’s throw HAMLET into this now and throw genders out the window. Prince Hamlet drugs his step-father to try and remove him from the throne. The throne is analogous with “power” and if rape is about power not sex, then according to the Madlibs of the MALEFICENT critics, Hamlet raped the King.
Tell you what – I never heard these criticisms every time a new version of DRACULA came out. He hypnotizes and takes advantage of all people, not only women. In fact, his brides take sexual advantage of Jonathan Harker. Not once have people I follow on social media said Harker was raped at Castle Dracula. Or, what about those moments when the Count himself is depowered losing his ability to turn to smoke and fly through the air? Is that rape? Certainly there are versions where Dracula is the protagonist and Mina is merely a trophy. Writers can make monsters like Dracula easy to empathize with because, he only loves her after all (*eyeroll*). Dracula and all vampires these days are romantic and fans love them; they don’t run screaming about what rapists they are.
I asked Twitter: Would Stefan in MALEFICENT have drugged a male fairy to clip his wings in order to take over rule of the land? Would you have considered the wing clipping rape then if it was male-on-male or male-on-trans or male-on-androgynous?
Form your own conclusions after thinking about that. Maleficent was not sexually violated. She was physically assaulted. Wings are not genitals. One reviewer went to say, “ok, it’s not rape-rape but it is genital mutilation.” The ability to fly is not Maleficent’s only defining trait. If a writer creates a character with only sexual identity but no other purpose, it’s a one-dimensional trope, which is the opposite of what most people are saying about this new version of the character. Most reviews are saying Jolie was born to play this role. They are saying it’s suitable for children to view it (it’s Disney so I wouldn’t expect otherwise). Aaron from the Dad in a Cape blog gives the best review of MALEFICENT that I’ve read so far and he does it without spoiling the details, only giving the history of politics about the fairy dominion.
So far, Jill Pantozzi’s review (spoilers) at The Mary Sue is the only one to talk about Aurora’s traditional kiss without consent. The moment when this usually rapey scene in fairy tales is twisted to address the issue of consent, Jill said, “I almost fainted.” I agree. It was a fantastic reimagining of the moment.
Genital mutilation and rape are very real concern to many women, especially those living in Africa. Those women don’t have wings. They have identities. They are more than their genitals. They are more than their virginities. They are fully functioning women in a society that neither respects them nor apologizes to them. Projecting your metaphors onto them is insensitive and cruel as it is to do so to all of the date rape victims around the world.