As an affirmed movie buff, it’s not unusual for me to see a movie I like several times. Until Maleficent came out, The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King held the title for Most Number Of Times RVCBard Spent Way Too Much Money On Tickets And Popcorn and Candy To See This Shit. I saw that shit 5 times at the movies. That’s right. Five times my eyeballs were sore from 3 hours of staring at a big-ass screen. Five times I sat there with my bladder about to burst.
Maleficent broke Return of the King‘s record twice over.
That’s right. I saw Maleficent ten times. No, no, not ten times on my laptop. Ten times on the big screen.
Anybody who knows me knows how particular I am about the things most people don’t think about when they watch a movie. Things like media representation, subliminal messages, and other stuff that people pretend not to notice. If I’m watching something ten times, you best believe there’s some real interesting shit going on with that.
Beneath the relative simplicity of the plot, there’s a whole lot going on the story that deals with gender. Most male critics didn’t catch any of it, but my women friends definitely did. Every time I watched the movie, I saw more and more layers in the narrative.
On the top layer, there’s the well-told story about women that’s not about which dude gets to have her as a prize. As a story about women who make real choices, Maleficent passes the Bechdel Test with big, loud, colorful fireworks.
What’s so great about it is that the movie is slick as fuck about it. See, you’ve been trained to certain key moments to turn out one way, but the story flips the script (and the bird) on those expectations. And the reason why you have those expectations in the first place is because you’ve been trained to think of men as being most important to the story despite all evidence to the contrary (like, oh, the fucking title of the goddamn movie). Yet, if you look at the actual events of the movie and the relationships that get the most time and development, it’s glaringly fucking obvious how the story is going to turn out.
If this was the only thing the movie got right, that would’ve been awesome. But Maleficent went beyond awesome. Maleficent did some shit that’s so subversive, and so anti-status quo that it made me wonder how the fuck it slipped past Disney. Let’s be real, OK? Disney is not known for challenging the status quo. Even at its most progressive, it provides the illusion of empowerment and agency while never taking a real stand against systemic oppression.
Using the language of fairy tales, Maleficent turns a critical eye on the relationship between patriarchy, misogyny, and violence (and I am including sexual violence here). There is so much the movie does with those, but the thing that struck me most about it is how clearly the film makes these things ultimately about power. Violence and sexual assault as expressions of male dominance and power (expressions geared toward other men, not toward women), greed and ambition reflecting the values of patriarchy, misogyny arising out of the fear of the power of women, the ways that men are enlisted as foot soldiers in the cause of patriarchy even when it goes directly against their self interest (A whole bunch of people die because human kings can’t leave the Moors the fuck alone), how a system of oppression and dominance reduces human beings to tools and functions (Aside from Stefan, I cannot tell you the names of the queen, the captain of the guard, or anyone else who lives in the human realm; remember, I’ve seen this movie ten times and still don’t know).
This fucking movie is on some deep shit, y’all.
And last but certainly not least, we have Maleficent herself.
In the hands of most storytellers, the narrative would have condemned Maleficent for her actions in ways that male characters, no matter how despicable, almost never are. The story would have gone out of its way to invalidate Maleficent’s anger and portrayed her as crazy and/or evil for wishing to retaliate against the harm that has been done to her. (Can you tell I’m talking about how ABC’s Once Upon A Time treats Regina here?)
But this movie ain’t sipping that poisoned Kool-Aid. Nope. Hell naw! Maleficent has every right to be pissed off, and she has every right to defend herself by any means necessary against those trying to invade her home and destroy her people. Maleficent doesn’t owe humans shit! Sure, cursing a baby was clearly shown as a mistake, but that’s due to Aurora’s innocence (she ain’t had nothing to do with what Stefan and the previous king did) and the fact that Maleficent’s curse hurts someone she cares about than with any sort of, “Not all humans are like that!” bullshit.
In other words, Maleficent is Magneto with wings and horns, except the story says Magneto was right.
And, as the icing on the cake, Maleficent and Aurora are GAY AS FUCK!
Hey, we all know that subtext is not representation, but f’real, all my LGBTQ friends caught that shit. Hell, even people who don’t catch subtext saw plain as day that despite Aurora using the words Fairy Godmother (which Maleficent never–I repeat, never–used for herself), this was not a mother-daughter relationship. Unless, of course, the mama you’re talking about is a sugar mama.
I swear, the only thing needed to make this plain as day gay was a goddamn U-Haul.
See this motherfucking movie is all I’m saying.