Founded in 1974, the Women’s Center was established to:
Dismantle, from a feminist perspective, all forms of oppression, including but not limited to those based on ability, age, class, ethnicity, gender, race, and sexual orientation.
Advocate for an equitable environment free from violence and harassment based on gender, race, and sexual orientation.
Create an anti-racist, non-sexist, queer-affirmative space where all people can feel valued and safe.
Facilitate and strengthen connections among people across lines of difference through programming and educational campaigns.
Integrate an appreciation of Women's Gender and Multicultural Studies across the disciplines.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Oz, The Great and Powerful

     SPOILER ALERT! I will not be holding back in this blog—only read if you have seen the movie, do not plan to see it, or won’t get mad at me for spoiling some things. 

     Oz, The Great and Powerful was certainly an entertaining movie. Despite the somewhat frequent tiresome clichés, a part of me was able to sit back and simply enjoy the film. Unfortunately, another part of me (the very large part that believes in treating people as complete human beings) couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable the entire time, occasionally writhing with frustration.

     Granted, a great number of movies these days cause discomfort in most feminist souls and you could say this film is simply one among many. However, what really disappointed me about this “prequel” is how very anti-feminist it is in comparison to the original Wizard of Oz movie. The Wizard of Oz is driven by autonomous female characters with strong motivation and a decent amount of character development. The men in that movie (the three companions and the wizard) support the story and the women, but do not influence their decisions or exercise control over them throughout most of the film. The driving force of the movie, “home,” is not androcentric (though they do seek the wizard to fulfill this goal). This is more than can be said for the majority of modern films, and The Wizard of Oz came out in 1939. Since then, the book/musical Wicked has only enhanced the characterization of the Wicked Witch of the West, giving her a multifaceted life story.

     These set a feminist precedent in my mind that, sadly, Oz, The Great and Powerful did not meet. There are three leading female roles in the film: the witches. With a certain amount of background knowledge, you know that Glinda is a good witch, and that the sisters, Evanora and Theodora, are destined to become a green wicked witch and a witch who gets hit by a house in the future. Their roles are cloudy at first, and all three shift in and out of being perceived as “good” or “evil” by the audience.

     Let us address them one by one. Evanora is introduced to us as a good witch who is protecting the throne of Oz, though before long she is revealed to be evil. Because of her green wardrobe, scheming nature, and power over a hoarde of flying monkeys, we assume her to be the Wicked Witch of the West.  When this theory falls flat, so does Evanora’s character. What are her motivations? Why is she so evil? She killed the king, and we are never given any sort of explanation or insight into her past. She just “is” evil.

     Theodora fulfills the destiny we assume to be Evanora’s, though the audience doesn’t expect it (or do they, because it would make the most dramatic plot twist?) I have some major problems with this witch, both before and after her transformation. She is the first witch to meet Oz, and instantly becomes infatuated with him. This moves so quickly and without reason that it is almost laughable to the audience. It came across like a very shallow decision made by the writers, another predictable and poorly executed cliché. Her sister, in an attempt to make Theodora angry and evil, tricks her into believing that Oz doesn’t care for her. Naturally, instead of asking him about it, she reacts irrationally and decides to have her heart removed. She becomes the green witch we know so well, and from this point onward says virtually nothing besides “he did this to me!” She got on just fine before Oz arrived, and now all of a sudden he is literally shaping her perception of the entire world.  Like before, this comes across like a hastily made and poorly executed writers’ decision. As this review puts it, “it reduces the psychological complexity of the lead female character in a prequel to one of the most feminist family of films of all time to a variation on ‘women be craaaazy!’”

     And finally, we come to Glinda. Considering her power seems to be limited to bubbles and fog, she may not seem to be the most influential woman in the movie. However, she does raise the tinkers, farmers, and munchkins into an army of sorts that ultimately wins the day.  Given these resources, you can’t help but wonder why she needed Oz at all. The wicked witch slaughtered families in China Town (and presumably this is not the only offense), and Glinda did absolutely nothing to stop her. Yes, she was waiting for the wizard to arrive as the prophecy predicts, but does that mean you sit back and let people die in the meantime? Honestly, the wizard brings a key element of the plan to the table, but all of the execution is thanks to Glinda and the citizens. But of course, he takes all the credit. Also, Glinda spends most of the final battle tied up by the wicked witches, used as torment for the wizard. Again, we have a once autonomous, clever female character reduced to bait for a man. She is defined by her relationship to him. Just to top it all off, I was most affected by the last scene in the movie, when the wizard is distributing gifts to those who helped him along the way. Glinda is last, and essentially his gift to her is himself. Because all a woman needs to get by in life is a man by her side. It saddens me to say this message is one of the most prevalent themes in the film.

     On top of all this, I can’t help but wonder WHAT these characters were doing before the wizard arrived. The script indicates that they simply waited around for their male savior to drop out of the sky, pursuing little to no progress in Oz. With an empty throne and an uncertain prophecy, I find it hard to believe that none of them stepped up to rule (good or evil). Can only men serve as king in Oz? Seriously though, it is unbelievably shallow to create female characters who have no functional purpose until the male lead arrives.

     I’d say the most feminist character in the movie is easily the little china girl. She is spunky and has a fighting spirit, despite being made of the most fragile material the writers could come up with. When she is addressed as being too small, too fragile, too young, or in other ways shut down in her efforts to help the cause, she comes out kicking. She plays a vital role in the final battle and is essentially solely responsible for Glinda’s escape.  All this, and she isn't even given a name. She is never addressed properly, and that’s pretty sad.

     Like I said before, Oz, The Great and Powerful is a relatively entertaining movie, but these underlying (and sometimes overt) messages about women were deeply unnerving. Given the wealth of strong female characters L. Frank Baum created in his books, the 1939 film developed, and the Wicked books expanded upon, the anti-feminist tones of this movie are inexcusable.

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