Thursday, August 8, 2013

How Hollywood Misunderstands Girls

We've all experienced the disappointment of seeing an abysmal movie adaptation of our favorite book. Some of this is due to reasonable constraints of film such as time, while other changes must occur in order to fit a different artistic medium.


When it comes to books with female protagonists, Hollywood creates train wrecks. The ability to portray a relatable girl is beyond their grasp. If she is bookish, it must be ignored. If she is a tomboy, she needs to be softened. And God forbid she have sincerity or virtues, because she must be either corrupted or turned into Pollyanna. All girls, in the Hollywood parlance, are brats.

The two most egregious examples that come to mind are Sara from A Little Princess and Harriet from Harriet the Spy. The girls are at extreme opposites from each other in almost every way, but Hollywood manages to butcher both characters. The movies made them relevant to the average '90s middle school girl infatuated with Backstreet Boys and Nickelodeon.

He is relevant
In the book by Frances Hodgson Burnette, Sara Crewe is wise beyond her seven years when her widower father drops her off at boarding school in London. She is pretty but doesn't know it because she has short black hair and green eyes instead of golden curls. What she does know is that she has been blessed with wealth and a loving father, and that her virtues of kindness and generosity are only so good as they have been tested.

And boy are they. A few years into her stay at school, her father dies of scarlet fever in India without a dime to his name, and penniless Sara is forced to live in a cold, rat-infested attic by the evil Miss Minchin, who takes Sara from the classroom and puts her to work in the kitchens. Through her trials, Sara proves her kindness by giving to those hungrier than herself and refusing to take vengeance on Miss Minchin or her hateful classmates.

In addition to her virtues, Sara is an engaging storyteller with a passion for reading and imagination. As a scullery maid she copes with her predicament by comparing the attic to the Bastille prison. Best of all, she manages to be good without being saccharine, and she has her own pitfalls and struggles to overcome. In other words, she is old-fashioned in the best sense of the word.

The movie that came out in 1995 has beautiful cinematography and good acting, but Sara is no longer Sara. Instead of the odd little black-headed bookworm we get a mischievous minx with goldie-locks curls. She lost her books and gained deceit and revenge. Worst of all, the entire theme is turned on its head. The real Sara is a princess because she behaves with kindness in spite of terrible circumstances. In the movie, "every little girl is a princess," even the spiteful ones. In the words of Dash from the Incredibles, "If everyone is special, then no one is."

Stay tuned for the problems with Harriet.

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