adjective:doing evil or harm; harmfully malicious
This past weekend Rick and I led our three little girls, popcorn in hand, to see Maleficent in all her red-lipped, menacing glory.
Maleficent was the quintessential villain that haunted my childhood dreams…those huge black horns, green evil spells, spindly fingers and deep, wicked laugh… She was just so unrelentingly vicious, and her unchecked malicious intent left its mark on my young psyche.
Hence, I couldn’t resist bringing the girls to see my animated fears come to life.
Disney did an amazing job, and all five of us loved her story. I did not realize going in, that so much of the original story of Sleeping Beauty would be retold. But most of the characters in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty also appear in Maleficent, making it a retelling of one of my childhood favorites.
When we got confidently settled into our seats, my four-year old with her blond pigtails and dimpled elbows sat on a booster seat next to me. And when she looked at me with her innocent, wide eyes I wondered what the hell I was doing, letting her watch this:
I was that parent. Ah, another opportunity to humbly swallow old judgements.
I pulled her into the bathroom, and while she washed her hands, I quickly explained that Maleficent was actually a mommy named Angelina Jolie. After her job pretending to be scary, she puts down her horns and pulls on her jeans and has dinner with her kids. Just a mom.
I am happy to report that this strategy worked beautifully, as during the first scary/intense moment in the movie, Stella leaned in and whispered, “This mommy is really good at pretending!”
No one was scarred for life, and we all felt like clapping at the end.
There was just one part that made my toes curl and stomach clench. One part in which I held my breath and felt totally conflicted.
Sleeping Beauty is kissed by the prince.
Newsflash, I know.
Now, I do greatly appreciate the rewritten version. In Maleficent, the prince at least hesitates. He shows some misgivings and even protests, claiming that he and Aurora have just met, and they can’t be in love.
All good things, Disney, all good things.
But he caves under the pressure and insistence of the three fairies, and Prince Phillip kisses the slumbering Aurora.
Knowing my little girls were watching this part bothered me much more than the fiery rages of Maleficent or the scary snarling animals.
Disney’s Sleeping Beauty was released in 1959.
Disney’s Snow White was released in 1937.
Two movies, made a long time ago, portraying a man kissing a sleeping woman. Now, I realize that this kiss was an essential part of Sleeping Beauty’s story, and the retelling requires some revisiting… But in a movie theater with my three young children over 50 years later, a man kissing a sleeping woman simply re-romanticizes this action, making it modern and legitimate today.
The kiss still appeared to be an acceptable and chaste course of action, rather than a serious crime.
I know, I know, it’s just a story. A movie. A retold fairy tale. I still have that voice in my head, telling me to “calm down” or “chill out.” I have tried to talk myself out of this feeling of unease, or the need to write this post and make myself look like a crazy, overprotective, manic mom with nothing better to do that pick apart a classic romantic gesture, a harmless little kiss.
Parents, this is where it begins. In the movie theaters when our kids are innocent little boys and girls. In the seemingly innocuous kiss between prince and princess.
We are all from the generation where we watched movies like Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, and it was all so romantic and sweet.
But we know that women in this century want more respect than that. Women want to show up in movies where we are not portrayed as helpless victims and fanciful, silly girls who only care about a prince on a white horse whisking her away. And slowly, we seem to be gaining ground in our demand for better story lines, at least on the big screen.
(Not so true of Disney’s T.V. programs, as I have already wrote about here).
But there is more to ask for.
It should not be acceptable to walk out of a PG movie in 2014 and allow our children to believe that kissing an unconscious girl is just part of a fairy tale, and not a sex crime. This action needs to be viewed as inappropriate content for children. Prince Phillip would not be shown cupping her breast while she slept. We wouldn’t have trouble seeing that as improper content… but an innocent kiss falls into that same category when the princesses is unconscious.
We can all see how this dangerous storyline is playing itself out on high school and college campuses across the country, with life altering, devastating consequences. It is important for us to recognize as parents of young boys and girls, that these subtle messages become part of a greater unconscious. It matters. It informs their development and understanding of what is normal and acceptable. My own feelings of resistance in calling this kiss a sex crime speaks to the power of those subtle messages in our culture.
Those messages that blur the lines between romance and assault do not belong in a movie for kids. It is our obligation to protect our sons and daughters from the devastating damage that can happen when we do not clearly delineate what is and what is not appropriate behavior. And we need to start now.
It is never too early to begin having conversations about consent with children, and Disney just gave us all a beautiful opportunity to do that.
We left the theater with a lot to talk about… one of my favorite parts of seeing a movie as a family is the subsequent dissection and discussion. My girls walked away from the film with a greater capacity for empathy and understanding. They saw how a villan was created out of the agony of pain, heartbreak, betrayal. They saw how a heart can be hardened by anger and vengeance. They saw the devastation of revenge, and the triumph of love and redemption. I appreciate these ideas being visited more and more in family movies… the world is not black and white. There is a deeper compassion and mercy to be unearthed within a story of good and evil.
And then, we talked about the kiss. It was a simple and easy discussion, relatively general, but it planted the seed. One that will grow into further discussions and questions in a natural way, preparing them for the complicated moments they will encounter in their future.
Understanding consent is more than one conversation. It is a childhood full of moments where we take the time to point it out. We have to be vigilant and willing to dissect a song, a movie, a kiss, a story, an idea… not allowing those small moments to slip unnoticed into their minds and become something that leaves them unprepared and unprotected for the experiences that lay ahead.
So go. See Maleficent… be entertained and opened by her story.
But please, protect our children… don’t forget the conversation after.
For more information on talking to kids about consent: