Disney’s Racist Stereotyping and Gender Roles Remain Un-Tangled
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Admittedly, there are moments where Rapunzel is portrayed as brave and heroic, as when she tells Mother Gothel, “For every minute for the rest of my life I will fight,” or when she heals Flynn, saves them both from drowning and enables their escape from the Snuggly Duckling. She is an improvement on Snow White, who could only sing to animals and happily clean up after seven dwarves. Yet, as critic Scott Mendelson points out, her bravery is of a “condescending ‘girl-power’ punch or two” sort -- it is the exception to her character rather than the rule. While Flynn is all masculine adventure, power and cunning, she is all long blonde locks with a hint of you-go-girl attitude to appease a 21st-century audience.
Since the media giant Disney makes these representations, they carry inordinate cultural weight. As Magowan writes, “because this boys club completely dominates kidworld, [Disney's] privileging of males over females with no care at all, their disregard for half the population, is really sad.”
Obviously the (male) execs at Disney wanted to stay true to the fairytale roots, and thus kept Rapunzel white and blond, kept the evil witch character and kept the rescuing prince (though admittedly amping up his role). But even keeping to this narrow white- and male-privileged script, could they not have thrown in some female animals or patrons at the Snuggly Duckling?
And what possessed the filmmakers to have Flynn immediately call Rapunzel “Blondie”? Yes, it’s so funny when we identify women by their looks and body rather than bothering to learn or remember their names! (Not to mention the cultural associations with being called “Blondie,” such as the assumption one is dumb, “over-sexed” and good for no more than a pretty appearance).
Moreover, as Renee of Womanist Musings points out, the glorifying of blond hair, yet again, is problematic. She writes:
As a Black woman, I know all too well how complicated the issue of hair can be. Looking at the … image [of Tangled’s Rapunzel], I found that I could not see beyond her long blond hair and blue eyes. I believe that this will also become the focal point of many girls of color. The standard of long flowing blond hair as the epitome of femininity necessarily excludes and challenges the idea that [women of color] are feminine, desired … and therefore, while Disney is creating an image of Rapunzel that we are accustomed to, her rebirth in a modern day context is problematic because her body represents the celebration of White femininity.
The fact that Tangled is coming on the heels of the first African American [Disney] princess is indeed problematic. It makes Princess Tiana seem like an impotent token, with Rapunzel appearing to reset the standard of what princess means and even more precisely what womanhood means.
On the other hand, Mother Gothel, Rapunzel’s evil abductress, has dark hair and eyes and non-Caucasian features. According to Christian Blaulvelt of Entertainment Weekly, “Mother Gothel is a dark, dark character. I mean, she’s a baby snatcher.” Ah yes, and she is dark in more ways than one, her dark skin, hair and clothing contrasting with the golden whiteness of Rapunzel .
Alan Menken, the musical composer for the film, similarly notes that “Mother Gothel is a scary piece of work. Nothing she is doing is for the good of Rapunzel at all. It’s all for herself.”
Emphasizing her manipulative relationship with Rapunzel, Menken admits, “I was concerned when writing it. Like, will there be a rash of children trying to kill their parents after they’ve seen the movie?” Wow -- how about worrying if there will be a rash of children who will see dark-skinned mothers (and non-wedded ones) as evil and sinister?