The title of today’s post is a reference to the Jonathan Coulton song, recorded for Many Hands: Family Music for Haiti, which later became a charming children’s book written by Greg Pak and illustrated by Takeshi Miyazawa.
Today’s movies are also about capable and clever young women:
Lilo & Stitch (2002)
Roll the trailers!
These are both Disney movies, which means their production values are impeccable. Lilo & Stitch in particular has a beautiful, watercolor-influenced look, and Mulan makes great use of computer-generated images without letting them overwhelm the picture. And they are notable examples of Disney—a titanic commercial juggernaut not known for playing well with culture—straying from its usual Western European folklore to showcase other civilizations.
Because in addition to the protagonists of both films being female, they are nonwhite. In fact, there are basically no white people anywhere in either of these movies. It’s persons of color all the way down. (And yeah, I don’t love that term either, but it’s the current vernacular. Don’t worry, we’ll cycle over to something else soon enough. America!)
And these stories and characters are not simply diverse for the sake of being diverse (though that’s not necessarily a bad thing—different topic). These stories are about their main characters’ struggle to live in societies where they are marginalized and denied personhood. They are stories about wanting to belong, to be accepted, to have the same opportunities as everyone else. Those are universal themes, but we can apply race and gender as storytelling tools to heighten the emotional impact of those struggles. It helps nobody to pretend these aren’t problems in the real world, and why make up fake issues when the real ones are already at your doorstep?
Anyway. Just hearing the phrase “ohana means family” will still make me tear up, no fucking joke. And I continue to love how Mulan turns into goddamn Air Force One in the third act, because WHY THE FUCK NOT. Almost as if the filmmakers said, “You know, guys, one of our main characters is A TALKING DRAGON. This isn’t history class. Fuck it. Let’s just fucking GO FOR IT and blow some shit up. BLOW UP ALL THE SHIT.” And it totally works.
(By the way: no, I have not seen any of the direct-to-video sequels to either of these movies. I learned my lesson after The Return of Jafar and Aladdin and the King of Thieves. Watch the latter if you’re a Robin Williams completist, but otherwise, rent something else to babysit your kids.)
Finally, I wish Disney would do more with their massive influence to advance gender equality and representation. It’s bad enough that they don’t include Lilo in their official list of “Disney Princesses,” but did they really have to sex up Merida when they first inducted her? Are you only a “princess” if you’re old enough to be sexually desirable—and are you only attractive if you look a certain way? Eff that noise. (And don’t give me any crap about Lilo not being of royal blood—these aren’t literal princesses. Belle wasn’t a noble; neither were Mulan or Tiana. And we don’t need to reinforce classism either.)
If I were Disney, I’d want to stop making products that only appeal to 50% of the population at a time and start marketing everything to everyone. Girls can be superheroes. Boys can wear pink. You could be selling twice as many toys to the same number of kids! Just think about it, okay, Bob?