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Jan. 18th, 2017

Representation Matters: Annalise Keating

How to Get Away With Murder is not my preferred kind of show. I got into it because I heard such good things of Viola Davis' performance in the leading role, and my God but she makes all the twists and turns not only riveting, but worth sitting through the rest of the characters' less interesting arcs in order to watch her tear things up.

At first, I had Davis' character—Annalise Keating—slated to be the first woman features in my BGSD segment. But the more I thought about it, the more I came to realize that though Annalise could easily be categorized as a 'bitch', her character is worth discussing for far more worthy reasons.

First, a little background.

Annalise Keating is a professor in law school, running a class she calls “How to Get Away With Murder”. It's every Legally Blonde-esque depiction of what a hardcore law class under a hard-ass law professor is; grueling, unforgiving, where a good grade basically guarantees success for those who achieve it and failure denotes mediocrity.

Keating herself is brusque, sarcastic, and not interesting in shepherding her charges through the mountains of information they must learn. No, she sets her bar high and those who can't leap it are quickly washed out.

During the first few episodes, Keating seems invulnerable. She's regularly questioned about her methods and extracurricular actions by the school administration, to which she calmly replies that she's too good to be fired. She's vilified by her students; their opinions don't hurt her. No matter what she faces in the classroom or the courtroom, her talents and success put her beyond the reach of simple mortal pain.

Until, of course, she's not.

Every TV show or movie with a put-together, hard-as-nails female lead seems to rejoice in showing us her emotional comeuppance and subsequent downfall. Always there's a scene where the protagonist or villainess is crying, stripped of her warrior makeup, sitting alone in a bathrobe, yoga gear, or other shapeless, unflattering clothing. It's supposed to be either a glimpse of humanity (for the heroine) or a schadenfreude romp (for the villainess), but the visual motifs are usually the same.

HtGAWM would have been no different, were it not for Viola Davis' influence.

The first time I saw Annalise Keating sitting in the bathtub without her penciled eyebrows, fake eyelashes, and wig, I sat back as though I'd been slapped. Because it was literally the first time in my life I'd been face to face with how much some black women must alter their physical appearance in order to pass in white society.

I am not a very feminine woman; while I enjoy makeup, I take advantage of my laid-back job and rarely wear it during the week. My morning routine can easily fit inside ten minutes, and that's from getting out of bed to locking the front door behind me. I have no idea how to put on a wig, unless it's a cheap Halloween affair. My hair, though frizzy and tricky to manage, is presentable enough to pass professionally with a quick brush and a few products.

There is nothing about my appearance I have ever had to completely mask in order to be accepted.

Watching Viola Davis via Annalise Keating give her unseen audience a lesson in interracial beauty standards—all without saying a single word—is masterful. It's poignant. It's liberating. It's infuriating.

This is why I wanted to discuss Annalise Keating. Because the fact that this was my first brush with a truth of a black woman's reality is embarrassing.

This blog only occasionally deals with intersectional feminism, and that is definitely my fault. The media I consume is typically not dramatic; it's sci-fi and fantasy. Shows in these genres are a little more involved with broad social justice matters and action, and less concerned with their characters private lives. The fact that I have not watched many of the shows out there focused on African-American families or issues is on me.

Yet that does not excuse the majority of mainstream media. Viola Davis has undoubted talent and experience. Yet I don't doubt that if HtGAWM were produced by white men or women, her suggestion to have her character be seen without her wig would probably have been ignored. A daily fact of life for many black women was a complete mystery to me, despite the fact that I watch movies and TV shows with many black characters.

What's more is the way Davis changes Annalise's actions when she's in her public persona and when she's out of it.

In her wig, sheath dresses, and heels, Annalise is unassailable as the first few episodes make us believe. She assumes a persona that masks the frightened, vulnerable, self-loathing woman inside. When she's out of 'costume', so to speak, Annalise is almost an entirely different woman. She drinks heavily, screams, cries, expects to be hated and hurt because she despises herself and believes to her soul that she deserves it.

To watch this kind of woman on-screen is terrifying. Because she's so real.

We all have a side to ourselves we never want others to see. We all have days when we indulge our favorite vice and hate ourselves for it. We all take off our masks at the end of the day and dislike what we see underneath.

So to watch a woman as talented as Viola Davis do that...to see her strip her character bare and show us all the ugly, pitiful, and human facets within, is amazing. Her performance elevates what might have been a run-of-the-mill murder drama into a rich character study. It's not a comfortable experience. It's not soothing.

But it's important. And we should see more like it.

Jan. 9th, 2017

Bitches Get Shit Done: Captain Katherine Janeway

Welcome to a new feature at Here For the Girls: Bitches Get Shit Done! Or, as it will hereafter be shortened: BGSD. As it's a brand new year, I feel showcasing women who do what they must, want, or enjoy without any regrets or apologies is important. All too often, women defer. We bend. We hide our true selves away to make others comfortable or make things convenient. Sometimes, this attitude is necessary. At others, it's self-defeating.

If we want to get things done in life, we need to own our decisions from start to finish.

There's a great expression out there: do no harm, but take no shit. Well, this series may not talk about women who avoid the former, but it will definitely be about those who do the latter.

So today I'll be talking about my first 'bitch', Katherine Janeway.

Look at that smug smile. Don't you love her already?

Captain Janeway is the fourth Star Trek captain, and the first woman to head up a Star Trek TV show. On Star Trek: Voyager, she leads a crew of Federation officers flung tens of thousands of light years away from home. Their voyage back to Earth will take them an estimated 75 years; being that far from Federation space means that they have no allies, no knowledge, no chance of aid if something happens to them.

What had been a routine mission now turns to a likely death sentence.

And it's Janeway's responsibility to guide the crew through this new quadrant of the galaxy. To get them home, if she can.

From the start, Katherine Janeway is different from the other Star Trek captains we've known. Her circumstances force her to be different. She has to demand the best from each member of the crew in a situation where anarchy is a real threat. She can never show weakness, never complain, never allow her standards to drop.

But discipline can't be her only quality. She must also be inspirational, inventive; finding ways to cut down their voyage of 70,000 light years via new technologies and alliances with alien races. She has to make her crew believe, in their hearts, that they can make the journey back home alive and in one piece.

Such a balancing act would be difficult for anyone. Such a balancing act can never satisfy everyone. Captain Janeway has her share of detractors, even among the crew. Yet she also succeeds where it matters; people believe in her, and people follow her.

The toll this struggle takes is painful to watch. Janeway separates herself from the crew, forcing herself to keep from becoming too close. Doing so would undermine her authority. But over the course of the show, we see Janeway suffering because of this choice. As members of the crew pair off in friendships and romantic couples, Janeway must let such opportunities pass her by. She hardens herself to friendship, to love. Eventually, the crew respects her boundaries to the point that they assume she doesn't need the friendliness the rest of them rely on to make it through. Janeway gets a reputation as an stereotypical ice queen, and must satisfy her need for emotional connection with holograms.

The only confidante she has is her second-in-command, Chakotay. He is the only one she can open up to about her struggles in maintaining authority, her loneliness, and her craving for family. Chakotay has clear romantic feelings for the Captain (which she reciprocates though never articulates) but he respects her too much to complicate the fine line she needs to walk.

This would be hard enough without all the difficulties of their unique situation. Time and again, Voyager (their ship) is threatened by interstellar phenomenon, aliens, and their own attempts to improve its technology. Several times the ship becomes practically uninhabitable, and it's only Janeway's incredible determination that salvages it.

One of the worst examples of this is the Year From Hell arc, episodes 8 and 9 of season 4. During these episodes, Voyager is threatened by a ship that can alter the timeline, which pursues them in order to eliminate them from time itself. Attacked again and again, Voyager's power reserves drain, their spare parts run out, and their crew slowly dwindles as each attack claims life after life.

Eventually, Janeway declares the ship lost and sends the majority of the crew away in escape pods, staying behind to run the ship with a skeleton crew. While absorbed in a repair operation, Chakotay presents her with an antique pocket watch...a present for the birthday she'd forgotten it even was.

After admiring the gift and thanking him, Janeway orders him to recycle the watch into the replicator, using its energy to produce something necessary instead. Chakotay can't understand her rejection of the gift he'd planned before all their trouble began; he wants her to have it, to bring her some joy.

Janeway answers that to keep the watch would be selfish. That to someone it could mean a life-giving dose of medication, a blanket, or a pair of boots.

She pushes away the watch and doesn't look back. While eventually Chakotay understands, Janeway's ruthlessness clearly breaks something between them. By the end of the show, their relationship, while still close, never develops into anything more.

More spoilers follow.

The end of Voyager is always hard for me to see. Janeway gets the crew home; in the process, she even manages to destroy one of the Federation's most dangerous enemies. Yet though she brings everyone else home, she wins nothing in the process.

The fiance she'd left on Earth has moved on. The crew she'd shepherded to safety respects her, but they have been pushed away too often by her to welcome her in friendship now. During the course of their journey, Janeway has earned Voyager the reputation of a 'ship of death', by eliminating possible threats before they could prove fatal.

She even loses the love she had with Chakotay to another woman; a woman she helped rescue from a life of brainwashed enslavement to another species.

But despite it all, she's satisfied. Because she did what she set out to do.

Katherine Janeway didn't doubt herself, didn't apologize, didn't compromise. To do that would have been fatal. If that made her a bitch, she not only accepted it but embraced it.

And she got shit done.

Oct. 24th, 2016

Let's Talk About Buffy, Baby

Joss Whedon has gone through a lot since the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron, up to and including being hassled off Twitter for a variety of reasons. I don't claim to defend all of his creative decisions (his portrayal of Natasha was easily the most head-scratching one in the MCU thus far), nor do I contend he's an 'unproblematic' creator of feminist media. No writer is without sin, and Whedon has his fair share.

But however you feel about Dollhouse or Firefly, and whatever you think about his turns with the Avengers films, I think Joss Whedon should go down in history for the creation of an undeniably iconic character:

Buffy Summers, the Vampire Slayer.

I don't think you can really understand how Buffy set the stage and freed the screen for so many other heroines in the late 90s unless you were growing up when it aired. I was a kid when it began airing and 16 when it finished; I couldn't have asked for a better role model to grow up with.

On paper, Buffy has all the characteristics of the Strong Female Character. She's beautiful in a traditionally feminine way, witty, preternaturally strong, gifted at combat. She's also flawed as hell; she hurts and shows her pain, makes mistakes, leads with her heart until her good sense catches up...and despite all that, never gives up.

See, though I think Buffy served as the template for the Strong Female Character, she was done right. To this day, she serves both as an example in the trope and a lesson on how to subvert it.

Ironically, Buffy was meant to be a play off the Damsel in Distress trope. She was a rejection of the ditzy blonde in every horror movie, there to be first on the chopping block and give the audience a sneak peek of the carnage to come. Whedon saw that girl die over and over, and wondered what it would be like if she had the strength to fight back.

So, Buffy: a blonde Californian girl, interested in boys, shopping, and defeating the forces of darkness.

You know, girly stuff.

It would have been so easy for the show to either overbalance into ridiculous comedy without more than a brush with deeper themes. But it didn't. It would have been so easy for Buffy as a character to be just Strong and Female. But she wasn't.

How did she avoid falling into her stereotype?

First off, she was the star of her show. Every challenge, every test was in some way focused on her. She was never an accessory to the story, there to show up, kick ass, and look pretty. Every season tested her strength, tore her down, exposed her to terror, agony, despair, and death.

Second, her pain was never 'pretty'. Strong Female Characters are often made to suffer in a way that's titillating for the audience. See Game of Thrones, where rape is a right of passage for its women and framed in terms of how it affects the men doing the raping. See most Action Movies, where the lone woman often talks a big game about taking care of herself, only to fall down at the first opportunity and require either rescuing or emotional support from the men around her.

When Buffy suffered, she cried, acted out, lashed out at her friends and family...and they lashed right back. Buffy was made to be responsible for the damage she caused, even if it wasn't her fault.

Third, the show never framed its narrative as entirely on Buffy's side. Yes, she was the leader and the Slayer; yes, her decisions were often right; but despite the ends justifying the means, Buffy often hurt people on the path of her destiny, and she had to remedy those hurts before friendships were restored.

Fourth, Buffy wasn't a perfect heroine. Outside her fighting skills—a bad-ass quality every Strong Female Character could embrace—she had traits most would describe as 'shallow'. She wasn't a genius academically, nor would she have been even without her nocturnal duties. She didn't have many intellectual hobbies, preferring to shop, watch TV, or date rather than read or study. Before becoming the Slayer, she was a popular, air-headed cheerleader.

Yet Buffy's alienation as the Slayer gave her depth of character; she was empathetic, more often preferring to counsel troubled humans rather than beat them into submission. She befriended the nerds and geeks of the school and did everything to keep them safe from the consequences of being involved in her life.

I could go on and on about Buffy's strengths and corresponding flaws, but I think you get the point. So instead I want to talk about my favorite season of Buffy, and what it means to me.

Season 6 of B:tVS is probably one of the least-liked. I readily admit it's not the strongest; not even close. The season is grim, beginning with Buffy's resurrection from hell, and deals with themes of abandonment, betrayal, addiction, self-harm, death, and insanity. It's lacking in the levity so iconic to the first few seasons.

Yet it's my favorite. Why?

Well, when season 6 aired, I was in my Junior year of high school, and I was struggling. A leg injury required surgery that kept me on crutches and in pain for months. Still, I had to keep up with my classwork and extracurricular work-work. My days began at 5:30 and didn't end until 11 or later.

Quitting work wasn't an option; I was saving for college. Going easier at school wasn't possible; my parents demanded Bs or higher and I was in three AP classes. It was a rough time for me; I was stressed, depressed, afraid...a nice cocktail of negative emotions that followed me into my nightmares.

At that time, watching earlier seasons of Buffy just pissed me off. The everyday concerns of life didn't touch her; if her GPA was low, her mom didn't demand it come up. The physical pain she suffered didn't last. Her friends rallied around her; she had a great support system.

In season 6, all that abandoned her. Life's nitty-gritty details intruded on her; for the first time, she had to pay bills, buy food, pay rent, take care of her sister...and she was doing all that while seriously depressed. Hell, she even had a shitty, minimum-wage job!

It's probably weird that this comforted me, but it did.

Do you know how rare it is to see a TV character going through a prolonged ordeal like that? Buffy's emotional problems stayed with her for the entire season; her financial troubles lingered into the next.

And it was exactly what I needed to see.

I needed the catharsis of knowing one of my favorite characters had as many trials as I did. I needed to see her cry, to see her despair, because then I could cry with her and not feel weak or pathetic. I needed to watch her take step after step with no hope her situation would improve, because I was slogging through life and wondering if, not when, things would get easier.

That's what good TV can do for you. That's the risk TV has to take to connect with its audience. That's what a Strong Female Character can never do.

A Strong Female Character is only meant to be pretty and strong. Anything that contradicts those qualities is stricken and stripped away. But without weakness, strength means nothing. Without overcoming obstacles, a person's strength is never tested.

A full season later, Buffy still carries the marks of her pain. Even at the end of everything and the destruction of the Hellmouth that's tortured her for seven years, she can't be wholly joyful. There's as much pain as there is joy in her face.

And that's as close as we can get to the truth of life in a simulacra of it.

Oct. 12th, 2016

Sun Bak and the Fans Who Cried “Stereotype!”

As the sci-fi thriller Sense8 has been renewed for a second season, I thought now would be a good time to air some of my thoughts regarding the characters, cast, and criticisms facing the show. In a way, I've already done this, by blogging about my admiration for the character of Kala Dandekar in my Women of Faith entries. I stand by every word I wrote then, as I will stand by those I'm writing now.

Despite having a diverse cast, there are many who think the characters on Sense8 are mere stereotypes. A religious Indian woman? An Asian woman who knows martial arts? A Kenyan man living in poverty? From the outside, such brief character sketches do seem to rely heavily on American-centric stereotypes.

However, where Sense8 shines is in the clever subversion of those stereotypes...to wit, none of these stereotypes hold up at all when one actually sees them on-screen. After all, Kala (the Indian woman) is a scientist, in addition to being religious (which, as I wrote before, is a break in type refreshing on the big or small screen). Capheus (the Kenyan man) may be poor, but poverty has not brought him low or made him desperate.

And most importantly, Sun Bak (the South Korean woman) is a rejection of nearly every stereotype formed around South Korean women.

Now, as a person with a fair share of eyewitness experience of East Asia (this is my third year in China, I've lived in Japan, and have traveled around Southeast Asia), I admit that though I have no personal experience in South Korea, Sun did not read as a stereotype when I first met her on-screen.

I am not going to say that East Asian women are wilting flowers. They aren't. But there are things that a Western (American especially) women can do without thinking that women are frowned upon for doing in Asia.

From personal experience: drinking and smoking among women isn't often done, and only the former among married women. Tattoos and odd piercings are disastrous. Being unattached by your late twenties can be a serious concern.

In addition, South Korea has a significant gender imbalance that persists despite huge progress in the past thirty years. Here are a few stats regarding their standing in comparison with men:

  • The Global Gender Gap Index rates the country at number 115 out of 145.

  • The Gender Inequality Index rates them 27th.

  • 57.9% of women are in the labor force. (source)

  • South Korea may have the highest per capita rate of plastic surgery in the world, and photos are often requested as part of job applications. (source)

  • Common stereotypes regarding women still exist in-country, such as having the ability to cook, being obedient to their husband and that giving birth is a duty to be fulfilled.

Now, when you think of all these facts, what's the image that comes to your mind as a “stereotypical” South Korean woman? Sun Bak? Or perhaps, another well-known Korean female character...like Sun Kwon, from Lost?

In fact, if you'd set out to write a character against the image of a South Korean woman, I think you'd come up with Sun Bak. Why?

Well, let's delve a bit into her backstory.

Sun is, first and foremost, an angry woman. Anger in women is not a trait encouraged, perhaps no matter what nation you're in. American women know how showing their emotions can get them labeled as 'bitchy', 'high-strung', 'hysterical', and 'crazy'. So Sun has to express her anger somewhere she won't be judged for it.

So she fights, as a star in an underground kickboxing circle. Her sport is a safe emotional vent; not a lazy trait written because she's 'Asian'.

Sun holds a high position in her father's company, running it—and often saving it—from her older brother's recklessness and irresponsibility. She's capable at her job and does it well. Nor does she show any interest in pursuing a man; for a woman of her age, she shows no interest in marrying and no fear over possibly never having children.

Yet Sun isn't passionless or cold. We see how much she feels during her interactions with the other sensates; she only hides herself away because it's what her family requires her to do. Yet, with people who understand her, she can be vulnerable, affectionate, honest, loving, and fearless.

Perhaps people read Sun as a stereotype because she's so aggressively anti-stereotypical...kind of how the Strong Female Character became a stereotype in her own right because she was aggressively anti-Damsel in Distress. But any stereotype can serve a purpose, so long as the character grows beyond its bounds.

For example, I mentioned Sun Kwon. She begins as a stereotypical South Korean woman; living with few concerns in her pampered life save her lack of husband, then married and controlled by her husband (to the viewers outside the marriage, that is). Yet she grew beyond those traits, and became a person, not a collection of half-baked images.

Sun Bak begins cold, distant, and contained. She ends caring, warm, and passionate. If that's not a subversion of stereotype, I don't know what is.

Sep. 20th, 2016

Rosa Diaz Defies Stereotypes in the Best Way

Comedies don't usually do much for me. Perhaps it's because they rely on stereotypes—women talk too much, wives nag, husbands are lazy, nerds are awkward and repressed—or maybe it's because too much of what makes them “funny” is infuriating to me. Miscommunication, stereotyping (again), and so on. So when I find a comedy that really makes me laugh, it's a rare and beautiful thing.

Such a comedy is Brooklyn Nine-Nine. I didn't begin watching the show until it was in its third season, but watching the first two seasons took only a few days because the show is smart, addictive, charming, and really goddamn funny. It's a police procedural comedy about a Brooklyn precinct (the 99), and it's popular enough that I'm sure I don't need to to provide much more detail.

Brookyn Nine-Nine is most refreshing as a comedy because it almost refuses to rely on stereotypes. The gay character isn't flamboyant, the man-child isn't pampered, the nerd has long-running relationships, and the strongman isn't stupid or insensitive. Even the slob characters get to have their own shining moments of heroism and humanity. As such, the ensemble really pulls together, with little to no dead-weight on the cast.

In so doing, Brooklyn Nine-Nine also helps me break my own stereotype.

Readers of this blog have probably realized by now that I have a type when it comes to female characters I admire. I like the intelligent, nerdy girls, with infallible moral compasses and big dreams. So you'll understand how revolutionary it is when I say that my favorite character on Brooklyn Nine-Nine isn't Amy Santiago, but Rosa Diaz.

Rosa begins her tenure on the show as your typical tough chick. She rides a motorcycle, doesn't talk about emotions, has a string of one-night stands or short-lived relationships, and closes herself off from friends. On a typical comedy, she'd stay that way; a cipher of a woman whose greatest contributions to the show would be one-liners ridiculing other characters for being 'girls' or 'wimps'.

Yet Rosa's more than that. Unlike a woman in a comedy, she's an actual person. And that means she comes with nuance, mess, and a unique personality.

First, a disclaimer. When I say that comedies rely on stereotypes to make a point, really, all media does. It's impossible to encapsulate the endless series of contradictions, variations, and traits that make up a real human being. Every character you see in media is a 'type' of one sort or another. Read enough about the women on this blog and you'll see one type...the one I described up above.

Comedies stop at these types, or simplify them even further, to create humor based off differences and miscommunication. Dramas do the same to create human interest. Tragedies...well, you get the point.

The problem with all this is that eventually, life begins to imitate art. See enough tough girls on TV and you think “this is how I must be if I want to be treated like a badass”. See enough nerds be abused and you think “no one will accept me because I like weird things”. We start to project the very insecurities these characters do. We start to shape our lives after theirs, not realizing that they are—by their very nature—incapable of being even the tiniest part of what we are.

Which is why it's so important to have characters that break type, or mix type, or take the types and chuck them out the window altogether. This is what Rosa Diaz does.

Rose shows us, the audience, that it's perfectly acceptable not to adhere to a 'type'.

Though she's a tough girl who presents herself as very masculine, her home is softly decorated with scented candles and knickknacks. When the rest of the cast looks around, stunned, even commenting on how she could possibly like this stuff, she nonchalantly replies (paraphrasing here), “yeah, so what?”

Though she may at first prefer relationships without commitment, when she finds a man whose emotions she respects, she does her best not to hurt him by her coldness, even though she does eventually break up with him because he wants something she can't give.

Though she prefers to be reserved, Rose won't turn her back on a friend who needs to confide in her or ask her advice. When she realizes she's hurt Jake by her refusal to engage in his life, she fixes the problem. But it doesn't make her warm and fuzzy; she sacrifices for him because his friendship is important to her.

None of these things are contradictions.

In addition, Rosa shows us that you don't have to have an explanation for being the way you are.

Rosa chooses to be the way she is. No one made her this way—a distant father, an abusive boyfriend—she's reserved and private because that's her personality. When Rosa opens up to a character—to Jake or Amy...even to Captain Holt in a few hilarious scenes—it's not only touching, it tangibly shows her feelings for those people.

For better or for worse, TV and movies present short-lived characters as though they're complete human beings. It's impossible for any show to do so accurately. Who would watch an episode with someone eating ice cream and reading a book? Or zoning out on the sofa? Or doing any of the mundanities that make up 70% of our everyday lives?

There is no solution for the “art imitates life imitates art” conundrum. It is what it is. We pattern our lives and personalities on stories; humanity has always done so. However, that does put some burden back on the storytellers.

Don't make lazy characters. Don't write stereotypical woman. Subvert the tropes, ignore the types.

Write more women like Rosa Diaz.

Sep. 17th, 2016

Maxine Gibson – Studio Meddling Gone Right

Today's subject will be a person I honestly didn't even recall in her original canon. In the last month or so, I found myself thinking a lot about the cartoons of the late 90s and early 00s...my childhood fare. Now, I've always owned copies of Batman: the Animated Series, Gargoyles, and Sailor Moon and watch them frequently. But for some reason, I had a craving for Batman Beyond. In fact, I was trying so hard to remember it that I finally just got the series and binge-watched the whole thing.

Batman Beyond is a follow up to B:tAS, after Bruce Wayne has retired from old age and his mantle has been taken up by a high-school student named Terry McGinnis. The Gotham City of this future has become a techno-paradise, ruled by corruption, beset by gangs of Jokerz and other criminal bands. Crime is so ubiquitous that explosions, hostage situations, and armed robberies are taken as matter-of-course by the civilians.

It's a bleak future, bleaker even than the original series, because it shows us how little change Batman was able to affect during his tenure as a vigilante. Also, no matter how hard the new Batman works, things improve slowly, if they improve at all.

It would be difficult for any show to match Batman: the Animated Series in terms of overall quality, and I don't think Batman Beyond even set itself the challenge. In tone and style it's so far afield that a direct comparison is impossible; yet, there are enough nods to the original—in Kevin Conroy's return to the role of Bruce and Barbara Gordon's recurring role as the Commissioner—that it doesn't feel improbable.

However, Batman Beyond cares about its world, storytelling, and characters. It also makes some interesting choices with the latter that differentiate it from B:tAS and even give it some advantages in that arena.

For example, the original series had no women in its core cast. Looking on IMDB, the female character with the most episodes under her belt is Summer Gleeson, the reporter/exposition device, with 22 episodes. Barbara Gordon, Selina Kyle, Pamela Isley, Harley Quinn...all these classic characters are credited with fewer than 10 episodes each.

Compare that to Batman Beyond. Of four main characters, Dana Tan (Terry's girlfriend) and Maxine Gibson each have over 25 episodes to her credit. Bonus: both are women of color: Dana is Chinese-American, Max is African-American. Now, Dana Tan's inclusion is often a doubtful good—I have problems with her treatment as a character—but Maxine Gibson is a great addition to the Batman animated universe.

It's just unfortunate that she didn't start out that way.

According to IMDB, this is the story of Max's creation and inclusion:

Right off the bat with Season 2, the WB network wanted a strong young teenage girl to be in on Terry's secret and hopefully share his adventures with. It was decided to have Max Gibson, a friend and classmate of Terry's, be in on Terry's secret. None of the writers liked the idea of including Max, but the network wanted someone girls could identify with. She always seemed superfluous to writer Stan Berkowitz who said in an interview Terry could talk to Bruce about his dual identity issues, and the show already had a younger gateway character in the form of Terry's little brother. Berkowitz also said you can see what he thought of Max in the way Bruce Wayne treated her in Batman Beyond: Where's Terry? (2000).

Now, anyone who's watched an interview or read an article about a troubled production—movie, TV show, whatever—has heard horror stories of studio meddling. Age of Ultron and Batman v Superman are two high-profile examples.

But in this case, the studio was dead right. How could Terry's little brother—portrayed as an immature kid—participate emotionally or otherwise in Terry's struggle? And Bruce shows time and again he doesn't understand—or care to sympathize with—Terry's work/life/Batman balance conundrum.

Someone had to step up, and the studio was smart to make that someone a girl. Max and Terry have a great platonic friendship, avoiding even the tiniest hint of love-triangle-awfulness, as well as a relationship of mutual respect and admiration. Outside of her friendship with Terry, Max herself is a well-written, interesting, competent character, with thoughts and goals of her own. Even as a 28-year-old, I found Max someone to identify with!

Max has lots of characteristics I automatically like: intelligence, intuition, determination, sarcasm, and loyalty. She discovers Terry's secret identify on her own and volunteers to aid him in his mission, becoming—through her skills in computer hacking and programming—something of an updated Alfred. Over the episodes, she runs interference between him and Dana, coming up with excuses so as to safeguard his secret.

Naturally, Bruce is more skeptical. Always one to play things close to the chest, he has no interest in letting Max muscle her way in. What's funny in regards to Berkowitz' statement above is that Bruce is eventually proven wrong in the very episode he quotes...when Terry goes missing (S2E25), it takes both Bruce and Max to rescue him. In the face of Bruce's obvious dislike, Max refuses to back down and not only tells him of her value, she shows him.

It's a great, empowering episode and it cements Max's place on the show.

In the beginning, it's her observational skills and better knowledge of Terry that put them on the right track. And even when things get out of her depth, she still contributes. Max isn't a fighter, and that's okay. But she's not helpless, and that's important. When confronted with five adversaries, Max bluffs her way past their guard and then maces two opponents, incapacitating them. This gives Bruce enough recovery time to take out the other three.

Of course shortly afterwards, Bruce tricks her and gets her arrested, but that's framed as his ham-handed way of protecting her and keeping his conscience clean. It's annoying, but Max has already made her point: she belongs on the Batman team and is going to stay there.

As the seasons progress, Max becomes more interested in helping Terry in more practical ways, even to the point of asking to get her own suit. Both Bruce and Terry object, but I get the feeling that if Batman Beyond had lasted another season, she would have gotten her wish. Whether that would have been a good thing or not is a conundrum, but it's one I'm sure Max would have solved herself.

At the end of the day, Batman Beyond is a show of missed opportunities. Its larger range of recurring characters, darker Gotham, and coming-of-age roots could have addressed a whole new range of concerns linked to the Batman mythos. Yet the writers seemed to want to steer clear of those concerns, focusing more on one-off crime stories with little overarching emotional impact. Terry and Dana circle in an on-again, off-again holding pattern. Terry's mother and brother never discover his secret, despite his failing grades and constant nighttime absences. Even Terry's reason for donning the cowl—his father's murder—never has the psychological impact of Bruce's own origin story.

Yet the show has a lot of benefits as well, of which Maxine Gibson is a prime example. If more studios thought like early-00s WB, I think we'd have a lot more female characters like her around to inspire a new generation of girls.

Sep. 16th, 2016

Hermione Granger and the Importance of Headcanons

For all that I post so much wank about fandoms, I really do love them. Fandom connects you with a network of creative, imaginative individuals from around the world that are equally passionate about what you love. Being in my late twenties, fortunate enough to blossom into full nerd-hood after FF.net was already established, I never really knew a world without fandom, without that seething whirlpool of life that almost every original creative work spawns in its wake.

And one of the reasons I love fandom so much is that it can give me perspectives on works that would otherwise never have occurred to me.

Mostly, this comes in the form of headcanons.

I'll quote from Urban Dictionary for the sake of the uninitiated: Used by followers of various media of entertainment, such as television shows, movies, books, etc. to note a particular belief which has not been used in the universe of whatever program or story they follow, but seems to make sense to that particular individual, and as such is adopted as a sort of "personal canon". Headcanon may be upgraded to canon if it is incorporated into the program or story's universe.

Headcanons can be charming or sinister, simple or complex, transformative or additive...or all of the above. Headcanons can address such simple topics as “what Luna Lovegood gets up to in her free time” or such serious problems as “why Sirius Black went to Azkaban when Veritaserum would have proved his innocence.”.

I admire those in the fandom who can come up with whole lists of such ideas, ranging over a huge variety of subjects, and always read them with interest. Many of them I've incorporated into my own fanfiction and I feel they are richer for it. Many I've seen absorbed by the fandom at large, so that a fanwork without them will seem strange or even wrong.

And some shift your perspective so radically that they eventually become canon.

This is my feeling about the Black Hermione Granger headcanon.

I read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone when I was eleven. Like many foundational experiences, I remember exactly where I was when I did. My Girl Scout troop was sleeping overnight in a kids' science museum; after a day learning about the ISS, we bunked down under models of the planets and the lights dimmed. But as a bookish girl, I always read a little before bed, and my sister had bought me the first Harry Potter on the recommendation of the store clerk.

I don't recall at what point I stopped reading that night, but I do know I finished it early the next day. I begged my mother to take me to Borders that very afternoon to buy Chamber of Secrets.

From the start, I identified with Hermione. She was like me: bookish, know-it-all, self-conscious but proud, with frizzy brown hair and bad teeth. If JK Rowling had given her pimples (a defect she steered clear of in all her main characters, more's the pity), I couldn't have resembled her more.

Hermione is desperate to prove herself to the Wizarding world, memorizing and learning to keep her place in this new world to which she suddenly belongs. Her fear of being “found out” in some way also resonated with me; a perfectionist who always worries that she won't ever be good enough. Through the books, Hermione grows and develops, but her true maturity doesn't come until the fourth installment.

In Goblet of Fire, she launches a brave campaign to liberate the house-elves, or at the very least, see to it that their role isn't that of contented slaves.

Though this campaign is lampooned often and eventually portrayed by the narrative as unnecessary at best and downright damaging at worst, I loved Hermione's moral courage and persistence in doing what she felt was right. The fact that the Wizarding world showed itself perfectly capable of supporting a system of gross inequality made Hermione's stand all the more important. All at once, Hermione realizes that she's better than these people, that she doesn't have to fear them...because they're willing to accept injustice in the name of ease.

With such a background, making Hermione black makes so much sense.

Think about it: she's admitted to a world (Wizarding) traditionally barred to her people (Muggles). As such, she works herself harder than anyone else to prove herself worthy of the honor. Then she discovers the world she admires is built and supported on the backs of slaves...and that no one is willing to do anything about it. When she tries to do so, she's ridiculed for it by both friends and enemies.

Add to all this that Hermione's defining physical feature—her bushy brown hair—is also the quality that makes boys at Hogwarts automatically define her as unattractive. Contrast that with the world today, where natural hair is seen as dirty, unkempt, and unprofessional; where black women sometimes go through damaging and lengthy processes to make their hair more conventionally (read: white) styled.

JK Rowling herself has shown support for this headcanon, using her Twitter platform to favorite black Hermione meta and fanart. Indeed, I believe that the fandom's persistence even influenced the producers of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child to cast Noma Dumezweni as Hermione Granger.

Naturally, this casting caused some uproar. But I'm not going to talk about that today. What I am going to finish on is a note remarking on the interplay between creators and fandom.

No one can deny that fandom is a powerful force. As far back as the sixties, Star Trek's motivated fandom (populated in great part by women) saved the show from cancellation. Using the same show as example, a high-profile fan (Martin Luther King Jr.) encouraged Nichelle Nichols to retain her role when she was thinking of quitting.

A TV show, movie, book, or song doesn't exist in a vacuum. When there is an audience, there is a fandom, and that fandom inevitably bears influence on its source.

As a creator of many fanworks and original works myself, I would never bend to an audience's demands that I write my characters or worlds in a certain way. Such blind accommodation might ruin whatever individuality made my work worthwhile to begin with.

However, I would also never close my ears to a fan's headcanons. Every single consumer of media has a different perspective from the author's. Every single consumer takes something different from the work than the author may have intended. A fandom provides millions of unique values, experiences, and considerations to bear on its object.

All the black Hermione subtext was there for me to see it, but I didn't. Like JK Rowling, I'm a white woman; it just didn't occur to me. Yet after the fandom pointed it out, it was like a light bulb going off.

Fandoms may not always be successful in bringing about the change they'd like to see in their source material. Quite frankly, they shouldn't be. But that doesn't mean they should stop coming up with their own headcanons and fanworks, making sure that everyone who comes to the fandom can find at least one story there welcoming to their own perspective.

That's how a story becomes immortal.

Sep. 13th, 2016

IRL Inspirations: Charlotte Perkins Gilman

As the first in my "IRL Inspirations" series, it's unfortunate that I can't quote from some other source than Wikipedia for my knowledge of Charlotte Perkins Gilman's life. For all that I have read so many of her works, I've yet to crack a biography on her. So I apologize in advance for providing such a juvenile source for my introductory paragraph! Still, here goes:

Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860 – 1935) hails from my home state of Connecticut. She was a feminist (although she used the term "humanist"), novelist, poet, short story writer, editor of her own magazine (The Forerunner, available on Project Gutenburg!) and wrote dozens of pieces over the years to clearly articulate her theories about the faults of the androcentric world and how male domination was both outmoded and detrimental to both genders. She wrote utopian feminist fiction (Herland), to describe a world without men and how it might evolve, as well as nonfiction works describing how the economic, political, and social equality of men and women would benefit the world at large.

My first brush with Gilman's writing came in high school, and as I'm sure many others can sympathize, that setting made me less than amenable to appreciate her talents. The Yellow Wallpaper was our focus, handed to us in a battered edition of a volume of her short stories. As with many high school reading assignments, no background accompanied this piece. Our task was simply to read and analyze to the best of our ability.

Now I realize what a great story The Yellow Wallpaper is. As a depiction of a woman going quietly mad during a forced "rest cure"—a common treatment in those days where female illnesses were often thought the product of hysteria or nerves—the tale interweaves the smothering horror of enforced silence with increasing hallucinations.

What would perhaps have added an extra—and necessary—dimension to the tale was an understanding of how the events of Gilman's life inspired it. After the birth of her first child, Gilman suffered from postpartum psychosis (or postpartum depression, depending on your source), and was told that she should "Live as domestic a life as possible. Have your child with you all the time... Lie down an hour after each meal. Have but two hours' intellectual life a day. And never touch pen, brush or pencil as long as you live."

Gilman recovered from her depression by—eventually—ignoring this advice and returning to work, realizing in the process how necessary creative, intellectual, stimulating work is to a healthy individual, male or female. Indeed, her works emphasize again and again how the restriction of women to the home not only stifles economic progress but actively damages women and the future of mankind.

However, my interest in Gilman's work truly began when I flipped through some of the other short stories in the book handed out in class. What I discovered there were stories—far less cerebral than The Yellow Wallpaper, certainly—that were as revolutionary to a teenager of the 21st century as they doubtless were to grown women of the 19th.

Feminism is often seen as an elevation of one sex at the expense of the other. Advocates for the movement deny this, as in truth it is just a movement for equality. Yet the former lie is still prevalent among both men and women. Even I, a liberated woman who would have—and still does—scoff at the idea of a man having any say in my fate, had a knee-jerk negative reaction against the word. I didn't consider myself a Feminist until a few years ago.

So when I read Gilman's biographical blurb and The Yellow Wallpaper, I still had that knee-jerk reaction biasing me against her. That is, until I read her other stories.

The one that struck me first and hardest was Mr. Peeble's Heart. In this quaint tale, Gilman sketches a typical marriage of her time. A man, duty-bound to support his wife, suffers under her expectations and sacrifices his small pleasures to accommodate her preferences. A woman, supported from birth, who has always had her needs answered without considering how narrow she has let her life become.

Into this marriage Gilman throws a fresh perspective, a woman doctor come to lodge in the house. This doctor immediately sees what is wrong in the marriage and sets herself out to right it. Befriending the husband and placing herself between man and wife like a shield, she teases out his interests and discovers how she might enable him to indulge them.

Now, you might wonder what this has to do with feminism, focusing on a man like this. But it does...because women should not and cannot exist as parasites without material damage to themselves and the men who must support them. The doctor has a two-fold purpose; save the husband from a life of sacrifice, and force the wife to support herself emotionally, if not yet financially.

In the end, everyone benefits because everyone is treated and forced to behave as a complete, self-sustaining individual. It's a touching story, full of hope and inspiration, with lessons to both genders about independence.

That doesn't strike you? Well, try The Cottagette, where a courting man and woman realize that if they are to keep their love for each other alive, the woman has to be free to remain an artist, instead of forcing herself to cook and clean for her husband. Or The Unexpected, where a woman, driven near to suicide by a demanding child, unfeeling mother-in-law, and a denied musical career, hatches a plan with said mother-in-law behind her husband's back to make them all happy, defying societal ideals of a married woman's right to earn her own living and leave the home.

Gilman's hope for the future was a freed woman, liberated from housework, childcare, and cooking...unless, that is, she wanted to make any of those fields her vocation. In Gilman's ideal future, all those jobs would be commercialized and handled by professionals, allowing women to pursue careers in any arena they choose.

If any of this catches your interest, I'll finish with a short list of my favorite works!

  • Women and Economics: A Study of the Economic Relation Between Men and Women as a Factor in Social Evolution.

  • The Man-Made World; or, Our Androcentric Culture.

  • Herland.

  • The Yellow Wallpaper and Selected Writings.

Final note: I make no claim that Gilman is "unproblematic". So if that ruins your appreciation for her work, I advise you to steer clear of her...and every other human on the planet.

Sep. 12th, 2016

Women Are Not Disposable: Jane Foster's Lesson to the MCU

I know that I have a sometimes unreasonable attachment to the characters I admire. Yet even I'm embarrassed by how upset it makes me to know that Jane Foster will likely no longer be a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. For a world that seems to be sprawling ever-wider, its tolerance for characters that buck its action-oriented format seem to be shrinking. The brunt of this shrinkage is most often born by the women of the MCU, as they are not often part of the Avengers or SHIELD, but rather fill other, smaller roles in each hero's individual films.

The love interest. The muse. The thing to be protected. The thing the hero can't live without.

That is, until he can.

Don't get me wrong; though I can think of a dozen ways it would be easy to include Betty Ross, Jane Foster, Peggy and Sharon Carter, and Pepper Potts in every single movie (and have them contribute meaningfully to the narrative!), I realize that the MCU writers are not as motivated in this regard as I am. Still, it bothers me when a woman is not only discarded, but actively replaced by a male character.

The best example I can think of this trend is Jane Foster. I really meant this entry to be a tribute to Jane's character, but it's turned into a rant instead. I'm going to try my best to focus on her excellence and what she brings to the MCU...and why her absence will damage the quality of the stories Marvel chooses to tell.

Any reader of my blog or fanfiction will know of my deep and abiding love for Jane. She's my entry point into the MCU, a woman like myself who's awkward, nerdy, very focused on her own goals, and willing to do stupid and reckless things to achieve those goals. At the same time, Jane bucks tropes by being a woman in STEM (still uncommon in the world at large), and for all her awkwardness, she's in control of her own sexuality. She kisses Thor in the grand romantic denoument of their film, and it's clear that Thor is a little star-struck by the whole affair.

Moreover, Jane is a powerful force in the Thor movies. In both, I would argue that she carries half of the motive force. It's her discovery of the Einstein-Rosen Bridge in Thor that leads her to discover the hero. When he's captured, she springs him from SHIELD custody. She gives him safety while learning all she can from him, and refuses to leave either him or the town when their lives are threatened.

In Thor: The Dark World, Jane carries an Infinity Stone inside her after discovering a portal to Svartalfheim. Afterwards—though she's made a bit damsel-y on Asgard—she comes up with the means by which to manipulate portals on Earth and fight off the dark elves. Thor and Malekith fight to a draw, but it's Jane's cleverness that saves both her love and the planet.

Through it all, Jane is allowed to be herself. Curious, passionate, intelligent, reckless. None of the characters restrain her from this, understanding it makes her who she is.

No one, that is, except for Erik.

From day one, I never understood the inclusion of Stellan Skarsgard's Erik Selvig in the Thor franchise. At first, he's a complete and total wet blanket, seemingly only in the story to shit all over Jane's theories, though they all turn out to be right. Yet his reward is to be recruited by SHIELD to work on the Tesseract project, a position he's only qualified for because of Jane's work.

Really, if this were some biting commentary of how men often profit off women's work (especially in the scientific world) it would be one thing. It would actually be pretty ballsy of the MCU. But they don't have balls; they have a budget. And Natalie Portman's too expensive for it.

Quick aside: if budget were the problem, I don't understand why they wouldn't recast. They recast Rhodey because he's so important to the Iron Man series. So if Natalie Portman and Gwyneth Paltrow are breaking the bank and their contracts are done…aren't the characters more important than the actresses? However, we all know the answer to that.

Women are disposable. Men are not. Seriously, Rhodey contributes no more to the Iron Man movies than Pepper—she's Tony's lover, he's his best friend—but he got to be in Age of Ultron and Civil War?


Anyway, back to Jane.

Though it would have made far more sense for Jane to be in both Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron, her shoes are filled by Erik Selvig…a man who's profited off her work and is no more qualified to work with SHIELD than she is. And now that he's done that, it seems the MCU writers believe Jane no longer has a purpose to fulfill.

So, news is out there that Jane Foster's arc in the MCU has ended. Despite she and Thor still ostensibly being together during the events of Age of Ultron, and the fact that Thor's developmental arc culminated in him defying his father in order to remain on Earth with her, she's no longer essential to the Thor franchise.

Perhaps it wouldn't bother me so much if Jane had been more like Pepper, or perhaps—to use a more relative example—Sif. Sif is a character whose arc is very much bound up in Thor's…she's part of his elite fighting team, his friend, she has a crush on him…and we know very little about her other than that. While I contend that Sif could be far more than she is, I would not be broken up if she were to disappear from the movies with a throwaway line.

Yet Jane's character has been promoted and written in such a way that she is as integral a part of the Thor movies as Mjolnir. And all the excuses I've heard about her exclusion from the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok are pitiful.

So what if the movie takes place off-Earth? Uh, Jane's an astrophysicist. You don't think she'd love to travel to another Realm? So what if there's a new female character to introduce? Valkyrie and Jane can coexist in the same movie…maybe even in the same shot! Gasp…maybe they can even talk to each other! Natalie Portman's too expensive? Suck it up and recast, or suck it up and dig a little deeper into those overflowing pockets, Marvel. Your movies are successful. You've got the dough.

You can't see how she'd fit into the story? Then you have a terrific failure of imagination, and I pity you.

Here's the deal, Marvel. Women watch your movies. We watch them for all kinds of reasons. We like the action, we like the superheroes and heroines. We like the larger-than-life stories. We like the expansive, interconnected universe. And quite a few of us love the characters you consider optional: Darcy Lewis, Betty Ross, Pepper Potts, Sharon Carter, Jane Foster. So when you care so much about the action, continuity, aesthetic, and every other damn thing about your universe, but not these women, do you know what kind of message it sends us?

Hell, even the women you do feature aren't really featured. Black Widow still has solo movie despite having so much screen-time, and her characterization fluctuates wildly from writer to writer. Scarlet Witch is written as being afraid of her own goddamn shadow, a little girl overwhelmed by powers she can't control, despite that making no sense even from an Age of Ultron perspective.

I don't demand solo movies for everyone in the MCU. What I do demand is a little care on behalf of your creations. Isn't it wonderful that you made these women, that they're popular among viewers, that they give inspiration to little girls without superpowers? Why are you throwing them away? What possible purpose does that serve?

If you can find a role for the human vanilla pudding that is Stellan Skarsgard, you can make room for Jane Foster. Period.

Sep. 11th, 2016

Tiana: A Disney Princess Worth Having

Today's topic never fails to make me a bit sad. While I understand the criticisms leveled at Disney's The Princess and the Frog—namely, that its first African-American princess spends little time in her human form, and voodoo is presented without respect to actual practitioners—it still troubles me that these criticisms undermine a character whom I believe to be Disney's most fantastic heroine to date.

However you feel about the movie, I personally believe it was birthed into the world with too many expectations weighing it down. So many people had been clamoring so long for a black princess that when she arrived, both she and her story received a disproportionate amount of backlash. Again, I don't want to underplay it; I know most of it is valid. Still, criticism must often be accompanied by praise, or all the creators hear are the negatives. Since The Princess and the Frog was released, Disney has had an all-white princess lineup with Rapunzel, Anna, and Elsa.

Yet not only is Tiana far superior to all these characters, she is the best Disney heroine of the entire lineup. And whether or not you've seen The Princess and the Frog, or were scared off by the voices warning against it, she is a character worth supporting and a princess to be proud of.

So in what way does Tiana succeed as a heroine when others either fall short or fail? Well, it's because she's a well-rendered, well-written, inspiring teenage girl.

My well-rendered character is defined thus: she must be active in shaping her own fate, with a defined personality that encompass both strengths and flaws, and only relinquishes her goals or dreams when she herself realizes those goals or dreams are misplaced or faulty.

Doesn't this sound like a human woman with strength of character? And doesn't this sound exactly like Tiana?

Well, I hear you argue, there are lots of Disney heroines that meet those requirements. Why aren't they being praised alongside Tiana?

Except, there really aren't. Let's examine the first quality.

Be active in shaping her own fate. While there are many Disney heroines who make the best of the fates they are given, how many can you name that create and then follow their own goals without some sort of external catalyst?

Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty. Sure, they're not exactly wilting flowers, but they do drift fairly helplessly on life's current. Not one of them has an articulated dream besides "live as good a life as possible under the circumstances". Not exactly inspiring for the modern girl.

Disney Renaissance characters are a bit more promising. You've got Ariel, a mermaid longing to study the land above. Great! But what is it that finally makes her take the plunge (ha!) and get her legs? She falls in love at first sight and risks her life to win her prince. Belle wants to escape her provincial life, but does she take a single step in that direction? No…not until she needs to save her father from the clutches of the Beast. Jasmine gives some hope here, as she both wants to escape her palace life and does so, but in the end she's fine with living in the palace as long as she marries the boy she likes.

All these women are either sidetracked or stopped altogether in the pursuit of their dreams by men.

Then comes the Disney Revival. On the roster are Tiana, Rapunzel, Anna, and Elsa. What drives them?

Rapunzel wants to leave her tower and explore the floating lights. It takes her eighteen years for her to even ask if this is possible, and when her mother shoots her down, she only escapes under the protection of Flynn Rider. Anna and Else are often hailed as feminist icons, but what does either of them actually do for themselves? Anna wants to see her sister; Elsa wants to control their powers. Neither of them achieve these goals until outside circumstances—Elsa's coming of age and coronation—force them to. Eventually yes, they do end up saving each other without relying on men (too much), but their goals were so small and so easily betrayed that how on earth could they have done any less in the course of their narrative?

So let's turn from all of this to a character with purpose: Tiana.

Tiana is the only Disney princess with a defined dream that she works at. In fact, her story's moral was that you can't simply dream your dreams; no one but you can and should make them realities. And by God does Tiana work. Back to back jobs, extra shifts, saving and scrimping, resisting her friends' entreaties to take it easy, society's snide comments that she'll never win, and a best friend with all the money and luxury in the world. Tiana is proud and determined, motivated and brave. She refuses to either float and wish or take the easy way out.

Second quality of a well-rendered character: a defined personality that encompass both strengths and flaws.

Now, Disney princesses are usually pretty well-drawn in this regard, so I won't belabor the comparisons as with the point above. So let's just focus on Tiana's personality.

She's all the characteristics I listed, accompanied by their corresponding flaws. Too much independence means she refuses help from friends who would be happy to give it. Too much determination means she ignores friendships and the potential of love because her dream has become an idol. Her single-mindedness leads her to overvalue one thing and undervalue everything else.

Yet, though these are serious flaws, she triumphs over them in the end.

Which leads into my third requirement for a well-drawn character: that she only relinquishes her goals or dreams when she herself realizes those goals or dreams are misplaced or faulty.


Tiana's final test at the hands of the villain offers her everything she wants. For the price of leaving Prince Naveen to a life of captivity, Tiana will be given the restaurant she's suffered so much to earn. In an illusion, she sees herself welcoming guests to the beautiful dining room, entertaining her friends and mother, feted and proud and successful.

Throughout the story, we've understood that Tiana sacrifices or neglects friendships in the all-consuming pursuit of her goal. Had Tiana been offered this deal at the start of her story, before she became friends with or fell in love with Naveen, everything the story suggests is that she would have taken it.

Yet Tiana is in love, and she finally realizes the truth of what her restaurant is: it's a dream of family and friendship, people gathered together in love and fellowship. If she sacrifices Naveen here, her dream becomes empty and worthless.

So Tiana flings it away, believing that in doing so she will lose it forever, and declares that she might not have her dream, but she'll have love, just like her Daddy did, and that's worth everything.

Perhaps you'll argue that Tiana is like all the other princesses; sacrificing their dreams for a man. Yet Tiana doesn't just make the sacrifice for Naveen. At the end of the story, we don't see them standing alone. They're surrounded by the friends they've made on their journey, friends Tiana helped save when she made her decision.

Most importantly, Tiana does not let go of her restaurant. When she is in human form again, the entire last song is dedicated to showing how she and Naveen repair, renovate, and open for business. She doesn't set sail for Naveen's palace, no…she builds her own.

Could you imagine if Beauty and the Beast had ended with a montage of Belle traveling the world with her new husband? Or if Ariel were shown teaching other curious mermaids about the world above? Jasmine going into Agrabah to alleviate the suffering of the poor?

Wouldn't it have been a betrayal of the great work the writers did if Tiana did just subsume herself into Naveen's life of luxury?

Tiana is the kind of Disney princess little girls need. She's someone to look up to, to learn from, and to take inspiration from in all stages of their lives. Grow up determined. Work hard for what you want. Don't throw away love, but remember, it's not the be-all and end-all.

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