Cinderella Is A Different Kind of Feminist Fairytale

Hollywood has undeniably seen a rush of a specific kind of feminist tale in recent years. Female-driven films like The Hunger Games, Divergent, and even Jupiter Ascending have featured strong women who take a stand and fight back against whatever corrupt powers-that-be exist in their fictional universes. Leading rebellions and physical combat are pretty much a requirement for being a female hero these days. It’s clear that women are no longer required to sit around gazing adoringly at the male action hero.

Lily James as Cinderella

Lily James as Cinderella

With the emergence of the strong female leads in Hollywood, it made a Cinderella remake a surprising and strangely timed prospect. As one of the most traditional of all the Disney’s Princess films, Cinderella tells the familiar story of a girl forced to play servant for her step-family while dreaming of one day going to the royal ball. She meets the Prince, but then returns home and waits to be found by her love (who she’s only met once or twice). With modern feminism putting much more of an emphasis on actions, the Cinderella story would seem more like a regression rather than a showcase for a strong female character.

However, Kenneth Branagh’s 2015 Cinderella portrays a different kind of female character who is just as strong as her more combative counterparts. This Ella isn’t merely waiting around for her Prince to come. She stays in the home of her step-mother not out of weakness, but because she wants to take care of the home where she was once happy with her mother and father. Having promised her dying mother to have courage and be kind, she does her best to live by these words.

Despite the challenges, she continued to obey and extend that courage and kindness to her abusive stepmother. And while she admittedly does fall for the Prince (or as she first knows him, Kit) rather quickly, this isn’t because she’s in awe of his royalty. Instead, it’s because he treats her with kindness. In the end, even Cinderella’s fairy godmother is only able to help her due to her kindness to a seemingly powerless old woman.

The most feminist part of the entire film though might be what makes Cinderella’s stepmother the villain. It’s not her greed or vanity that makes Lady Tremaine, played by a stylishly vicious Cate Blanchett, truly wicked. It’s the fact that that she is so deeply threatened by all other women, including Cinderella. As the memories of Cinderella’s dead mother, that she feels she must tear them and their memories down in order to be secure herself. She sees Ella’s youth and beauty as a threat to her and her daughters, a threat that must get neutralized at all costs. Of course, Ella’s kindness and courage prevail in the end, whereas Lady Tremaine’s view of other women as the competition eventually leads to her downfall.

And this is what is so great about Cinderella. While she may not be able to fight back against the abuse she faces, Ella survives and eventually gets out to find her happy ending. The message that you don’t need to feel threatened by other girls and women is powerful in this age of the critical self-image landscape.  So while Katniss and Tris are good heroes, those like Cinderella shouldn’t be discounted either. And though Cinderella might be old-school, it’s also perfectly modern.

Image Credits: Disney
Caitlin Orr

Caitlin Orr

A southern native, I graduated from the University of South Carolina in 2013 with a bachelor's degree in Media Arts. Over the past several years I've had the opportunity to write and shoot a number of short films. My biggest passions are writing and talking about movies with anyone who will sit still long enough to listen - something my family and friends can attest to! Some of my favorite filmmakers include Christopher Nolan, Stanley Kubrick, and Wes Anderson. Now located in Nashville, you can usually find me in my off hours hiking, baking, or watching more movies.

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  • I love your takeaway from this film, Caitlin! Different kinds of strength should be celebrated, and I’m glad to see film taking part in that with this new wave of live-action Disney films. Cheers!