Why Emma Watson’s Beauty and the Beast is the feminist flick we needed

It’s a tale as old as time – helpless damsel falls in love with powerful prince and they live happily ever after.

However, since the turn of the century, cinema-goers have grown tired of this narrative.

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Instead, we want films where the girl saves the day, and does so while having success of her own.

Beauty and the Beast has always stood out as one of the empowering Disney princess films, alongside Mulan and Frozen, in striking contrast between the likes of Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty.

Belle didn’t want to just be adored for her looks, marry to become a trophy wife, or keep her mind as small as her town.

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She wanted to read. She wanted to learn. She wanted to travel.

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I say Belle would totally be a feminist.

When Disney announced it was turning the 1991 classic animated film into a live action version, with Emma Watson as Belle, I have to admit I did a mini fist bump*.

(*Read: massive jump for joy and squeal of excitement.)

Emma has made a name for herself as a feminist icon, with her involvement with the UN in her #HeForShe project, her feminist book club Our Shared Shelf, and the countless times she has spoken out in feminism’s favour.

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With all this, we knew Emma would do Belle justice, and then some.

And she did not disappoint.

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Although Disney wanted to honour the iconic animated version by preserving what we love about it, it got on board with the 21st century mind-set that our princess heroines need to have a little more substance to them.

With this, Belle was given a back story.

We were shown immediately that she was just as skilled as her father in inventing, helping him with his machines from the beginning of the film to the end. We were told how her mother died, turning her from merely the woman who gave birth to Belle but to someone who was just as clever and strong as her daughter.

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As well as this, Beauty and the Beast featured another new scene where Belle demonstrates her innovative thinking, making an ahead of her time washing apparatus using her horse. A little girl sees her doing this and wants to learn more, leading to Belle helping her learn how to read.

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In moments such as these, Belle is shown as a progressive character – someone who wants to achieve new things and help others do the same too. The little girl wanting to learn more from Belle shows the hope Disney has for the young viewers of Beauty and the Beast. They want them too to look up to Belle and want to expand their mind.

Another bold move Belle makes is by demonstrating her capacity for choice throughout the whole movie.

In the 1991 version, while it is her choice to take her father’s place as the beast’s prisoner, and to go back and rescue said beast at the end, the male characters around her are instrumental in these decisions. Her father agrees to her sacrifice, and Chip, the adorably alive tea cup, repowers her father’s machine to travel back to the castle. In the remake, Belle forces her father out of the prison cell using the strength of her words and her body, and also comes up with her own idea on how to get back to the castle using her knowledge of lock picking and fearless travelling.

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These little changes are instrumental in reworking Belle from a clever, strong and progressive character, to a full on badass.

We know how much little girls look up to Disney princesses – I mean how many of them wanted to be Elsa for Christmas 2013. But with the new Beauty and the Beast, instead of them growing up wanting to be the girl who gets locked away just to fall in love, they now want to be the girls interested in learning and doing the same jobs as their fathers.

While we can say that most Disney films were already heading towards a less traditional narrative – with sisterly, not romantic, love being the main storyline in Frozen – Beauty and the Beast’s bold moves against shying away from the fear of changing too much from the original, (including opening the conversation on LeFou’s sexuality), can teach our society that we must do the same.

The film and its characters are telling us to be bold and tell our stories, and not to live in the shadow of what is expected of you as a woman or as someone in love.

On that note, I thank Beauty and the Beast for giving us a new fairytale to aspire to – one based on choice, realising your potential, and strength to be yourself.

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Feminist Flicks of 2017

2017 spectacularly kicked off with the women’s march in January and thousands of people took to the streets, including a handful of movie stars.

Following Hollywood’s protest against the gender pay gap in 2016, it has become more important for actresses and actors to speak out against wider problems in our plight for equality.

Not only have they been using their off-screen voices to do this, but they have on-screen too. Film is slowly starting to recognise and mirror the importance of women’s roles in the world, and is telling their stories more and more.

2017 is the year that chick flicks turn into feminist features.

Here are a few of the inspiring and empowering films hitting the big screen this year:

Jackie

Release date: 20 Jan 2017

Director: Pablo Larrain

Certificate: 15

Natalie Portman takes on the iconic role of Jackie Kennedy Onassis in this retelling of how the former first lady dealt with her husband’s assassination.

As a woman who devoted her life to her husband’s dream, the film tells the story of how she had to keep her family going without her love by her side.

Natalie has been very vocal against Hollywood’s portrayal of women, saying, “A lot of films that try for a ‘feminist’ portrayal will just make a woman be really tough. Well, that’s not feminist because it’s not allowing the woman to be a human being. No one’s just tough,” she told The Guardian‘s G2.

This ‘human’ feminist portrayal is exactly how this movie has tackled Jackie’s mourning of JFK, as she had to fight through her grief to console her family and cement the late president’s historic legacy.

Christine

Release date: 27 Jan 2017

Director: Antonio Campos

Certificate: 15

Although we still have a lot to do to smash the glass ceiling in 2017, for women in the workplace the 1970’s’ was undoubtedly a lot worse.

Christine is yet another film based on a true story, whereby a female TV reporter, Christine Chubbuck, tries to climb the professional ladder and prove her worth in a male dominated and unappreciative office.

The reporter not only had to struggle with her male counterparts, but with her mental health too as she struggled from depression.

In attempt to not give away any spoilers, all that can be said is this film highlights the severity of squashing women in the workplace, and how it can lead to tragedy.

The real life events this film retells shocked America, and will hopefully shock cinema-goers into thinking twice before perpetuating the glass ceiling.

Hidden Figures

Release date: 17 Feb 2017

Director: Theodore Melfi

Certificate: PG

This critically acclaimed film tells the true, albeit seldom-told, story of how three incredible African-American women, Katherine G. Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe), were the brains behind a NASA operation.

Set in 1961, this film not only tackles gender inequality, but racial inequality too.

The trio, a mathematician, an aspiring engineer, and a supervisor, were discounted and discredited for their achievements at NASA due to the genitals they had and the colour of their skin. However, they were eventually pivotal in launching astronaut John Glenn into space as he became the first American to orbit Earth.

Helping their country achieve something admirable around the world when most of the citizens were doing all they could to subordinate them shows the inspiring nature of these women, and I’m sure many more.

We can learn so much from this film, but most importantly I think we should take away 1 message: dream big. Let your dreams take you to space…, (or let your intelligence allow others to go to space). No matter who you are and what the world tells you should or shouldn’t be, never give up.

Let’s hope this is only the beginning of our journey to tell the stories of the women who made history.

Beauty and the Beast 

Release date: 17 March 2017

Director: Bill Condon

Certificate: PG

The excitement in the air to see the live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast is palpable.

Emma Watson as Belle seems like the perfect casting, and with her on-going work for the UN as part of her #HeForShe campaign and her feminist book club, we can be sure this will be a feminist fairy tale film.

The Harry Potter starlet has recently hit the showbiz headlines publically claiming she turned down the role of Cinderella because she felt the character did not share the same values as her.

With this in mind, it’s no wonder she made Disney give Beauty and the Beast a feminist makeover, transforming Belle from just a weird village bookworm, to a weird village bookworm who is now also an inventor.

Belle has always been an important Disney princess due to her passion for reading and wanting ‘something more than this provincial life’, but with her now having a career, she’ll become the princess we all want to dress up as again – even in our twenties.

Wonder Woman

Release date: 2 Jun 2017

Director: Patty Jenkins

Certificate: 12A

After years of DC and Marvel dominating our screens with male superheroes, it’s about time we got our own.

Wonder Woman is the cape-wearing saviour we’ve all been waiting for – granted, not to save our cities but to save our faith in women being the ones to come to the rescue.

The summer flick tells the tale of Amazonian princess Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) leaving her world behind to travel with American military pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pines) to end World War 1.

The trailer DC have unveiled leaves most of the plot and the content of Diana’s character to imagination, but being the first female-led superhero film in over a decade makes this a feminist feature in itself.