Snow White and the Huntsman is an interesting film attempting to play against the Disneyfication of the Princess genre. Supposedly, it’s closer to the Grimms version but, frankly, everyone claims that. Even Disney. It’s been years since I read the Grimms version but I don’t remember Snow White running about it chain mail. Maybe, I just skipped that bit of the fairy tale. My brain was drifting a bit during the film so I may have had a nap at some point and missed some extremely important Feminist point. But, I’m guessing not.
Despite claims to the contrary, it is most certainly not a feminist film; unless you watched the entire thing wearing headphones playing Reclaim the Night anthems. Over and over again. Or, someone reading Andrea Dworkin’s Intercourse. It was pretty though; especially fairy land with lolloping bunnies and flittering butterflies. That bit was like watching In the Night Garden without the ghastly music. Being pretty isn’t generally considered a requirement to attain feminist approval what with feminists normally being concerned with destroying the Patriarchy so I’m not entirely sure why the film’s being advertised in the way it is.
The film would have seriously stunk without Charlize Theron as the Queen. Theron is such an incredibly talented actress and really carried the entire film herself. How they managed to land such a talented actress to star in such a stupid film is beyond me. The only possible reason is that Theron is now considered “old” by Hollywood standards and the only available roles for her are “character parts”. The failure of Hollywood to capitalise on Theron’s talent is just depressing. She’s talented and beautiful [not to mention a campaigner for domestic violence services]; I’d have thought production companies would be standing outside her front door begging her to take on their projects.
However, the Queen was an unbelievably problematic character with the whole “women have no value unless they are beautiful” trope being played out. She commits heinous crimes in order to preserve her beauty because, as the Queen’s mother tells her in a flashback, the only power women have over men is to be beautiful. Yeah, thanks for that. Perhaps, a little bit of contextualisation there could have helped since the soon-to-be-Queen is promptly kidnapped [weirdly along with her brother] by an invading force because of her beauty. And, in the evil women stakes, the-soon-to-be-Queens mother is the one who curses her with the whole “be beautiful or die” trope; blaming the mother for her daughter’s subsequent behaviour”: a well-known Patriarchal trick.
The Queen kills Snow White’s father the day of their marriage in the wedding bed after tricking the king into marrying her. That’s a pretty nasty message about women’s sexuality and beauty being used for evil. The fact that the Queen kills him after saying: “Men use women. They ruin us and when they are finished with us, they offer us to the dogs like scraps.” At first glance, this can be seen as the evil man-hating feminist trope which is even more tedious than the “evil beautiful woman” trope. Except, there is something else going on. At least, it is slightly more nuanced than evil man-hating feminist as there are several mentions of the abuse the Queen had received at the hands of her first husband. Yes, committing mass murder isn’t the general trauma response to serious domestic violence and the film could have done more with this story line, particularly at the end when Snow White kills the Queen, but it was there. Generally, Hollywood films don’t bother with a back story for why women might be angry at men. Of course, nothing is actually done with the male violence sub-theme and what could have been an intriguing feminist critique of fairy tales went straight out the window.
Snow White as the Virgin Queen trope was as equally dire as it is in every other retelling of the story. In this one, the cast kept blithering on about Snow White being “pure of heart” and that her “fair blood” the only thing that could destroy the Queen. All those montages in the adverts with Kristen Stewart leading her knights into battle, like Joan of Arc, lasted about 2 minutes of the film. With the exception of one rousing speech, Snow White spends most of the film being virginal and kind and super-dooper lovey-dovey with even the cantankerous dwarves falling for her innocent charm. She runs through forests and mountains quite a bit. The scenery, at least, was worth admiring.
Possibly the most interesting not-actually feminist but could have been was the Huntsman rousing Snow White from her sleep with “true love’s kiss”. Big clap for not going with the Prince, who hadn’t seen her since she was 8 being her true love, but the drunken Huntsman isn’t exactly my idea of a good man. Except, the Huntsman’s character is a drunk after losing his beloved wife to the Queen’s machinations and the speech he gives before kissing Snow White is about his love for his wife. Apparently, Snow White reminds the Huntsman of his wife. And, this is where the story could have gone for an intriguing plot change with the Huntsman raising Snow White from the dead not because he’s fallen in love with her pretty face but rather the Huntsman’s love for his wife brings Snow White back from the dead. That would have broken the dire love story subplot.
It’s not a Feminist-friendly film. Snow White hits on a number of themes which could have been explored in a Feminist fashion [and made it a better film] but the director clearly pulled his punches all the way through. All things considered, Chris Hemsworth’s Thor was far more feminist-friendly insofar as the love interest is actually an astrophysicist and not, you know, a princess renown for being beautiful and the bringer of life. Being an astrophysicist is way more fun than being a princess. This is why my youngest daughter wants to be a superhero mermaid when she grows up: mermaids have lovely tails but its incredibly boring sitting about brushing one’s hair all day. Poor Snow White gets to spend the rest of her life sitting about being “pretty”. Can’t see the Feminist message in that.
Some other Interesting Critiques:
Snow White and the Huntsman: A Feminist Fairytale?
Snow White and the Huntsman: Shitting Crikey
10 Reasons Not to See Snow White and the Huntsman
Why Feminists Should See Snow White and the Huntsman
McCoyed, Snow White, Huntsman, Feminism
Snow White and Attempted Feminism
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart: Snow White and the Huntsman
Has Anyone Seen Snow White and the Huntsman?
Snow White and the Huntsman: Where do I begin?