I and my friends watched the latest movie adaptation of Cinderella, which is my all-time favourite childhood fairy tale, yesterday. When I first heard that there’s going to be yet another big screen adaptation of the classic tale, I did not get too excited due to the fact that it’s perhaps the fairy tale with the most number of film adaptations, and I thought that this one was just going to be one of those versions that only had few elements for it to be called a Cinderella story (maltreated girl, valiant prince, cruel stepmother, snotty stepsisters) and instead had several alterations to the classic tale of a girl with shoes made just for her (okay, as a I child, I never heard of the morbid original version and was glad I didn’t). Though I admit I liked some of them, I’ve had enough of those adaptations that attempted to depict Cinderella in so many different ways. I just want to see my childhood Cinderella: beautiful, kind, long-suffering, well-meaning, loving, had a magical godmother (this to me is a must), went to a palace ball in a stunning gown and pretty glass shoes, and lived happily ever after with her prince. And I am so happy I got just that.
I got a mean stepmother, two irritatingly funny stepsisters, a charming Prince Charming, an enchanting Fairy Godmother that deserves big, warm hugs, and a Cinderella that I have always pictured in my mind. Yes, a lot of Cinderellas have been introduced, and feisty versions are always a breath of fresh air, but what I want now that I am thirty-two years old is a Cinderella that my seven-year-old self would love to watch. As the film progressed, I was getting a bit worried that I would not see any pumpkin turning into a carriage. The non-talking, realistic depiction of Cinderella’s mice friends (which scared me, as I am afraid of rodents) also made me worry that this Cinderella might not have a magical godmother, so my heart hysterically jumped, and I let out an audible “hooray” when Helena Bonham Carter shed her beggar clothes and old woman prosthetics to turn into the Fairy Godmother I was hoping for. Coz it’s not Cinderella without a magical, spell-casting, godmother. Cinderella has to have a fairy godmother. And she has to have lizard footmen and a coachman belonging to Class Aves (that’s the taxonomic term for birds and fowls – I’m a science geek like that). And yes, the story does not need any twists. It’s already beautiful in its uncomplicated form. I am satisfied with this Cinderella. I was happy for the kids and ecstatic for myself. I was entertained and felt all fuzzy about its happily ever after. However, yesterday, I came across this article stating that Kenneth Branagh, the director of this adaptation, got criticized for his depiction of the famous heroine. Female critics and feminists say that Branagh has brought back the image of women as weaklings who are unable to resist abuse and choose to stay silent in suffering. They say that this Cinderella cannot be a good role model for young girls, as it has again presented a woman incapable of defending herself from people who want to cause her pain, a girl who would rather choose to stay where she is than go against the people around her to eventually cause a difference in her life, a damsel who needs a prince for her to be complete. They say that, again, women are being led away from the depiction of modern females who are brave and courageous enough to be on their own and fight against society’s norms. This Cinderella, according to them, is far from Queen Elsa who let it go, ran away, and slammed the door; from Merida who was brave and fought like a warrior; and from Ariel who rebelled against her father to get what she wants. Ironically, what she wants is another man – the man of her dreams. In contrast, this Cinderella won’t let it go. She won’t slam the door on her evil stepmother who comes up with probably the most angering things to do just to make her suffer. She won’t run away from home where she used to be the princess of and now has become a place of servitude for her. She didn’t exchange her powder blue or pastel pink dress for an armor, nor did she put down her house cleaning tools for a spear or a bow. This Cinderella chose to respect her parents although they’re long gone and even if it meant enduring pain, just so she could honor them and keep her promise that she would never abandon the abode they shared happy memories in. This Cinderella found the man she loves, believes she will be happy with him, but does not think that marrying him is everything. This Cinderella is patient, longsuffering, loving, forgiving, kind. So how come this Cinderella cannot be a role model for young girls? Have courage and be kind. That is the main message of the movie. Did Cinderella exhibit kindness in the film? Yes, indeed. She was kind. Sometimes even too kind. But did she display courage? Was she ever brave in the movie? If your idea of being courageous is fighting with a spear or taking down a huge, fiery dragon, then no, Cinderella was anything but brave. But to me, bravery isn’t always determined by how many armies you have defeated or how you took down every person who has insulted you. To me, real bravery is being able to show kindness amidst cruelty. It’s showing your enemies that you are too good and classy to stoop down to their level. True courage, for me, is being able to be happy in the face of adversity, knowing that you are much, much better than what they say you are. Cinderella did not give up easily. She was suffering but was courageous enough to show that she can still smile amidst her hardship. When asked how she was, she did not deny that she was in a bad situation – she admitted it but assured that she could take it. As the film comes to its close, we then see that her refusal to fight with an eye for an eye was an even better attack, that her forgiveness was more piercing than the sharpest blade, and that her innocence and goodness were more painful than an arrow shot. Moreover, Cinderella did not let people around her dictate who she was; she didn’t believe that she was an ugly, worthless being. Cinderella knew what her real worth was. She had no identity issues. She was full of hope and believed that being kind and courageous would get her through anything. Instead of pointing out that this film does not teach anything positive about femininity, why not see the different side of bravery? Why not celebrate the ability of women to touch lives through their tenderness and love? Why not highlight the fact that it is Cinderella’s inner beauty that caught the Prince’s attention, her physical beauty being only secondary? Why not praise Cinderella for being able to make the most of what she has and still manage to be beautiful inside and out despite the ugliness around her? Should we all aim for feisty women? Why don’t we let young girls choose what they want to become? Why don’t we send out the message that while some women want and strive to be equal with men in brusqueness and in toughness, some women just want to be women: gentle, warm, kind, and courageous in their own, silent way. Our problem today is not the lack of strong female role models. Our real problem is the emergence of people who see weakness in kindness and cowardice in goodness. This is not what we want to teach our girls. This is not what we should teach this generation. But that, however, is just my opinion.