November 2017
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ethical storytelling ratings: Happy Go Lucky ('08), Best Exotic Marigold Hotel ('11), & Brave ('12)


using my ethical storytelling rating system (for films/shows):

Happy Go Lucky (2008 Ireland) [Comedy/Drama] Director: Mike Leigh. Writer: Mike Leigh
+4 sex/gender (no stereotyped characters, 3D characters, passes the Bechdel test, subversive)
The protagonist is female and the main plotline centers around zir unique personality as ze interacts with others, with a subplot of zir taking charge of zir life. Ze has several female friends, all of whom are actual characters, and while ze talks mostly about men, ze also talks about real life issues. It's subversive because the main character, Poppy, calls one person out on their creepy behavior, and also asks someone out without any wailing over it being "unfeminine" by zir or the person ze's asking out.
+2 looks/ability (subversive)
at one point Poppy goes and talks to someone who seems homeless and has difficulty speaking and repeats zirself at length; Poppy does not get scared or angry or whatever, but tries to understand and connect, and treats this person respectfully, offers help without expectations attached. In several other situations Poppy deals calmly and kindly with people who are reacting abusively; instead of trying to punish them or writing them off, Poppy tries to understand where the behavior is coming from.

I didn't see anything to give minuses on, so the total here is a +6. There was some sort of stereotypical talk: "yay shoes" and "I want a man" but those things weren't presented as "feminine" so I consider the stereotype reinforcement to be mild enough to not warrant a minus.

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The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011 USA) [Comedy/Drama] Director: John Madden. Writers: Ol Parker (screenplay), Deborah Moggach (novel)
+6 sex/gender (no stereotyped characters, 3D characters, passes the Bechdel test, subversive, actively calls out bullshit)
The characters represent a range of personalities with fairly typical histories but not as stereotypes; all of the characters are real -- even the one that seems to be flat shows that ze's more than that eventually; it just barely passes the Bechdel test, but it does include the inner thoughts of one female character who writes about zir experience; it's wonderfully subversive in ways that have to do with plot so I shan't spoiler it; and it calls out bullshit by showing how long-term gender expectations have restricted the humanity of people.
+4 race/ethnicity (inclusion without stereotyping, 3D characters, passes Bechdel, subversive)
This is coming from a white person so this is just my best guess -- there were probably problematic things I didn't notice. But the film included Indian people from various castes and of varying traditions, and showed conflict within Indian culture between the "modern" and "traditional" so it was not a flat portrayal. There were discussions between Indian people about their culture, what it meant and where it was headed. There's also a massively racist character who drops all externally-expressed racism after interaction with an Indian person; I'm not sure if this is complete fantasy or not, but it seems a bit whitewashed: perhaps it was handled with more explanation in the book. I could see that happening in some cases but I don't like that the only narrative about racism in the film was one of overt racism -- however that is better than nothing at all, in my (white) opinion.
+4 lookism (inclusion without stereotyping, 3D characters, passes Bechdel, subversive)
The looks inclusion in this film was related to age: all of the primary characters except for one were old. I don't feel like any of them were stereotyped, and they were all relatable and complex and spoke to each other often. I think it was subversive in that these people were presented in clear opposition to stereotypes: as desirable and desired, as having dreams and chasing after them, as seeking to grow and change and contribute to society.
-1 affirms stereotypes
The modern/traditional clash is presented as a old-Indian-bad versus new-western-good dichotomy, without much nuance: it's clear you're supposed to cheer on the western-acting young people and shake your head at the traditional-acting Indian parent. I think for it to not affirm stereotypes you'd need to be able to relate to the parent as well.
-1 marginalized people rely on wmchfundnt to make their decisions
Without the interference of the white western guests, the young Indian person would probably have obeyed zir parent. (ze might not have been marginalized in the context of zir country, but in the context of the hotel, depending on the guests for zir survival while in a country that was colonized by the country of those guests, I feel that the power is clearly in the hands of the white westerners)
-1 villain a marginalized person while most other characters are not
The only "antagonist" of the story is a traditional Indian woman; most of the protagonists are western and white.
-1 kills off marginalized character first/only, with poor cause
the only character that dies is the only one of zir kind in the group (can't say more without giving away plot points).

The total is a +10: overall I'd say it's brilliant and beautiful and worth watching multiple times.

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Brave (2012 USA) [Animation/Adventure] Directors: Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, Steve Purcell. Writers: Brenda Chapman, Mark Andrews, Steve Purcell, Irene Mecchi.
+2 sex/gender (3D characters, passes the Bechdel test)
It's pretty cool to have a female character who thinks for zirself, and to have the primary plotline be about the interaction between female characters. However, those characters were pretty stereotyped, and the main character doesn't think about zir predicament beyond "don't wanna."
-2 for fucking lying with pro-USian propaganda about the ancient Celts. THEY WERE NOT THAT SEXIST. Women went wherever men did; onto the battlefield as well, and they had rights that USian women didn't until barely a century ago. I cannot fucking stand when USians re-write history to make it seem worse than the US. The US is misogynist and socially backwards, and until 50 years ago was WAY BEHIND places like ancient Egypt and ancient "Gaul". Notice the "ancient" modifier. Women's rights and equality of sexes is NOT a modern idea you LYING ASSHOLES. Not that the ancients got it right but they had it closer to right in a lot of ways.
-1 violations of marginalized people pass unremarked and seemingly without effect
It didn't actually happen in the story, but let's not pretend that not wanting to marry someone is merely a rejection of social norms; it was a rejection of coercive rape. Had the main character acquiesced to zir parents ze would have been expected to perform sex without regard to zir desire. This is not a childish flounce: when forced marriage comes with enforceable expectations of penetrative sex, it's a rape contract.
-3 stereotypes are affirmed in the fucking plotline
Merida is a stereotype, presented as shallow in zir thinking, a whiny girl child who can't just do what "needs" to get done; too selfish to be a good girl. Zir female parent is the bossy mommy stereotype; for most of the film these things don't change. There's some unpicking at the end, but you can't say that either of these characters are unique. And then there's the 'kind' patriarch who never stands up for justice, and boy children who are utter terrors.
-1 affirms oppressions
"women have to do this caretaking work because men can't"

total: -5 I was not impressed. But this probably is pretty decent for a Disney movie, as Disney is incredibly problematic. Check out "Mickey Mouse Monopoly" for more info (the link is to a summary/discussion: MMM is a documentary on Disney).

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Comments
de_course ══╣╠══
Celts
I think you're partly right and partly wrong about the Celts. "Celt", in modern usage, is an umbrella term for a wide variety of cultures with a wide variety of social structures and norms. Some were positively enlightened by early 20th century standards. Some were not.

The world of Brave is, of course, not actually Scotland. It's actually a a cartoon world, set in legendary times. But if we match it to Highland Scotland during the era of the Roman occupation (since Romans are mentioned in the movie), there are plenty of historical inaccuracies to go around. We could add the anachronistic clothing to the list, for example. And that's leaving alone all of the supernatural stuff like sprites, witches, ghosts and human-animal transmutation.

(Interestingly, they did get one part right which I expected them to get wrong. The amount of human-caused deforestation in the Highlands is roughly correct for Roman times. Well done Pixar!)

The Picts who inhabited the Highlands during Roman times were, as far as we can tell, one of the less enlightened Celtic groups as far as class or gender equality goes. The gulf between peasants and aristocrats was vast, both in wealth and in power. (Of course, there was no middle class.) Only aristocrats could be warriors, and aristocratic women were prevented from fighting. That bit is completely true. And while Romans did report the exploits of the Celtic women on the battlefield in various places, there are no such reports about the Picts.

So I guess I'm willing to give Pixar a pass on that one. I was overall impressed by the movie because it's the first time ever that a Disney princess has not ended up married at the end of the film. That alone is awesome.

Incidentally, the famous Anglo-Saxon warrior-queens such as Boudica, Aethelburh and Aethelflaed were also not Picts. I should also add that part of the reason why history remembers them is that they were rare instances in their own day.
kmiotutsie ══╣╠══
Ah, thank you so much! I love reading your reviews, bel. Had been looking for a feminist movie review site for such a long time and came up with only a few blogs that kinda-sorta did it for me. I like how detailed your requirements are, and i like the review of Brave. I didn't go see it, but was certainly curious; now I don't feel the need to.

Mad love <3
shioneh ══╣fairytale: long hair: tangled╠══
Thank you for sharing these insights, I love your movie reviews too. I feel sort of emotionally immune/numbed at the moment so not easily upset by films but at the same time I don't want that numbness to mean I notice less discrimination. I'd been wondering whether it was worth seeing Brave *nod* It's good to know a bit what to look out for. I really appreciate the system you've come up with.
anrui_ichido ══╣╠══
on communication, social justice, intimacy, consent, friendship & other relationships, spirituality, gender, queerness, & dreams. Expect to find curse words, nudity, (occasionally explicit) talk of sex, and angry ranting, but NEVER slurs or sexually violent language. I use TW when I am aware of the need and on request.
Expect to find curse words, nudity, (occasionally explicit) talk of sex, and angry ranting, but NEVER slurs or sexually violent language. I use TW when I am aware of the need and on request.