"Why Emma Watson's Belle Is The Feminist We Need Right Now."
"Dan Stevens: Beauty and the Beast's Woke, Feminist Beast"
"Is Beauty and the Beast The First 'Feminist' Disney Movie?"
These are all recent headlines that have run ahead of this Friday's release of Disney's live-action update of Beauty and the Beast. For months we've been reading about how the casting of Emma Watson, a passionate campaigner for women's rights, will give the film a feminist edge. The new Belle doesn't wear a corset. She has a career. She's got Gloria Steinem's stamp of approval.
Needless to say, expectations are high. Will Belle really move the needle in terms of feminist representations in Disney films, or is it just another (sexist) tale as old as time? Many of us have idolized heroines like Belle, Cinderella, Ariel, and Snow White, but it's hard to shake off storylines that rely on tropes that do little to present women as empowered beings. Cinderella's Prince Charming doesn't even know what she looks like. Belle falls for the person who has imprisoned her. Snow White and Sleeping Beauty are passive slumberers who must be rescued by men. And Ariel can't even talk. Meh.
That's not to say that Disney princesses can't be empowering. Last year's Moana gave Disney fans a heroine who not only broke the mold in terms of what "princesses" (in this case, the daughter of a Polynesian village chief) are "meant" to look like (hello, curves and muscle tone!), but also proved to be independent, motivated, courageous, and fully capable of saving the day herself.
Though 2018's Gigantic is pulling an interesting gender switcheroo on the classic Jack and the Beanstalk story (the giant is now a giantess named Imma), we won't be seeing another Disney princess until at least 2019. As such, Beauty and the Beast really has an opportunity to leave us with a fleshed-out, strong-willed female character that sticks with us. With luck, that opportunity hasn't been squandered.