First let me say, I totally get how rape could be interpreted from the scene in the new Disney classic (in my opinion), Maleficent. She fell asleep with a man she loved after a night of passionate love-making, was drugged and had her wings cut off of he in her drug-induced sleep. She woke up bleeding, in pain and unable to walk—wailing so loudly that I felt it in the pit of my stomach and burning behind my eyes. Sounds like the exact thing a rape victim would experience. I understand how it might have triggered memories and dark feelings.
What I don’t understand is how someone gleaned from the movie that Maleficent (and Disney, really) perpetuates rape culture. Yes, the setting was a pretty patriarchal society—ruled by kings who snatch wings for power, take wives for power and hide their children away for years at the expense of 3 (female) fairies’ lives for power. Patriarchal, indeed. But perpetuating rape culture? Not exactly.
A writer from Crunk Feminist Collective, argued that Maleficent shouldn’t be considered a feminist film though it possessed feminist qualities. But why not? Maleficent doesn’t lay down and take it when she discovers her precious wings ripped from her body. She gets angry, evil and VERY even. She uses the powers she has left to not just save herself but to keep her entire magical world out of the harmful hands of humans. People act like she just turned into a peasant after losing her wings, but come on, she turned a raven into her personal hand servant and into other animals at her whim. She even built a huge “fence” made from thorned tree trunks to protect her land and its inhabitants. She became enraged (rightfully, so) and lost some of her softness, but Maleficent still had a heart. Yes, losing her wings changed her forever—like losing your virginity, or worse, having it taken from you—but he didn’t weaken Maleficent like he thought he would. He diminished her flight abilities but Maleficent, I’d argue, grew much stronger—and not because of him, but in spite of him. Not once did she give us the idea that she felt inferior to humans because she was immortal or to men because she was a woman.
While I still maintain my position against the pseudo-fact that Maleficent helps perpetuate rape culture by normalizing the mutilation of women’s bodies, I still think the perspective pretty interesting. Why don’t I think this film contributed to rape culture perpetuation? Because good didn’t come out of Maleficent’s body being mutilated and her attacker wasn’t celebrated (by film viewers) for doing so–as goes the effects of rape culture. Her attack wasn’t brushed under the carpet, at least by me or anyone I’ve read or heard discussing the film. If anything, I think this film shed light on the negative effects of rape in an almost shaming way. Perpetuate rape culture? Nah, not Maleficent. To perpetuate is to move something forward–usually in support of (willingly or unwillingly). I don’t see that Maleficent willingly or unwillingly moves forward rape culture in support.
Yes, we can attach symbolism here to the film and say Maleficent losing her wings symbolized the feelings of security and power women (and men) lose when experiencing rape, however, symbolism is subjective, as a Facebook friend of mine pointed out. Just because something symbolized rape to me, doesn’t mean the person intended to symbolize it much less SUPPORT it. If anything, I think the film was more so about regaining empowerment and fresh perspective after trauma–a theme many can internalize and interpret how they feel.
We cannot act like rape is the only trauma associated with Maleficent being stripped of her wings. To attach rape to this film so heavily really snatches away the empowerment that someone else could feel who is not a rape victim but has experienced other trauma. Dismissing trauma that is not rape is actually another way to place rape on a pedestal as though that’s the only thing that can cause violation and security deficiency.
If we’re going to use Maleficent in a discussion of rape culture at all, it should be in a light that does justice to what was actually in the film not based on the victim’s perspective or any other rape victim’s perspectives. If anything, I saw this movie shaming rape and other forms of violation at every turn. Not perpetuating it.
Throughout the movie, I felt the feelings of anger, disappointment and desires for revenge along with Maleficent. I didn’t celebrate the fact that Stefan became king at her expense. I felt sadness and rage that he would betray his childhood friend (and lover) for some dang power. For a damn crown, which inevitably comes with another woman.
And he didn’t even have the decency to ever apologize to Maleficent or even attempt to explain himself. “Shame on him,” crossed my mind and left my lips more times than a little bit while I sat in that cold theater. And when Maleficent placed a curse on his daughter, I dismissed my love for children like she did and thought, “Well, I know he regrets the day he ever took her wings, now!” I heard similar exclamations throughout the theater. More than our hot, butter popcorn, we fed on our desire for Maleficent to seek revenge. And she did. But when she decided to soften up a bit for the sake of Aurora? We rode with her on that, too because Aurora’s just a kid.
I heard everyone in the theater riding with Maleficent. Clapping when she won. Sighing when she lost. Pissed at her “friend”. And, like Maleficent, enchanted by the precious little baby who did not serve as a “white Savior” (as mentioned in the article on Crunk Feminist Collective) but rather a reminder of innocence and love that Maleficent lost. The writer reached with that white savior complex point just as she did with the idea of Disney forwarding rape culture– basically deducing that since Maleficent wore black, she was the “dark” person in the movie juxtaposed next to Aurora, the light, white princess. But that’s costume and design–not socially concerned at all. For there to be a white savior complex, there must be a non-white individual involved. Angelina Jolie is white. So was Elle Fanning. That theory doesn’t apply here.
Just as I asked about Beyoncé and Olivia Pope, I’m asking about the Maleficent movie: Why can’t it be considered feminist? If we’re going to use Maleficent in a discussion of rape culture at all, it should be in a light that does justice to what was actually in the film not solely based on a rape victim’s perspective. Let’s move beyond the actual scene which was a plot-definer for the entire movie but not the entire movie. What happens after Maleficent loses her wings and the feelings those actions evoked in the audience clearly dismiss any notions of rape culture perpetuation.