The joy of a positive female representation in Disney’s “Encanto” (Opinion)
The story follows a magical matriarchal family, the Madrigals, who live in the mountains of Colombia and serve as spiritual guides and healers for the townspeople. The protagonist of the film, Mirabel, voiced by Stéphanie Beatriz, is the black sheep of the family, the only member of the family who does not have known superpowers. One brother can lift everything, another can make roses from nothing, Mirabel’s mother can heal any wound, a banished uncle can see into the future, his young cousin can talk to animals.
Mirabel feels like the outcast in her house, but she maintains a semblance of confidence and never gives up her intuition, intellectual curiosity and sense of justice to uncover the truth and protect her family.
Perhaps most poignantly, the female characters of “Encanto” refreshingly depart from Disney’s long history of throwing off sexualized Barbie-type characters who lack ribs (think: “Cinderella,” “Snow White “). Even when they swap mops and brooms and need to be saved by a man’s kiss (“Sleeping Beauty”, Ariel in “The Little Mermaid”, Princess Jasmine in Aladdin “), and they are superheroes who save the day (think: “Moana”, “Pocahontas”), they are always feminine women with big breasts, small features and curves, with long hair and little clothing.
In contrast, Mirabel in “Encanto” is a flat-chested, middleweight, artistic, glasses-wearing antihero. She’s geeky and anti-social, with a wide, freckled nose and thick eyebrows, a far cry from the rib-less Disney stars of movies of the past.
Additionally, the main character’s sister Luisa, voiced by Jessica Darrow, is a strong woman, with bulging muscles and a butch demeanor. She would definitely be a man in any other movie, but she’s pleasantly feminine and just has a more masculine gender expression. It’s brilliant. I can’t imagine any other Disney movie – or any movie for that matter, animated or not – where a female character is torn apart and loved. Big biceps and manual labor are left to men, or women who are outcasts. The 12 year old girl in me has a huge crush on her.
They also allow the Luisa room to be multidimensional. Mirabel, at the end of the song “Surface Pressure,” in which Luisa admits she doesn’t feel safe under the solid exterior, tells her, “You’re wearing too much,” and Luisa pulls her sister for a hug. greenhouse. The message: You can be strong and feel weak, be tough and feel insecure. This is an essential message for our children, especially as they watch this film through the prism of the pandemic, reaching majority in an increasingly tenuous world.
The Madrigal home is notably feminine, run by Abuela, the grandmother, a stoic woman with a square jaw and a wide walk, whom everyone listens to. There is no father, no grandfather, no mayor or president or other authority figures in the film itself – no man, in other words, present or spoken , to step in and take charge or exercise his masculinity to drive the cheeky plot.
The only men in the film are Maribel’s father, a gentle man who is afraid to speak up when Maribel learns the family may be in trouble and encourages him to keep it a secret; and a brother-in-law, a future brother-in-law, as well as a cameo of a priest, all of whom take on supporting roles at best and offer no balm.
As a child, I loved watching Disney movies. I had memorized all the songs and dreamed that I was inserted into the storylines, sliding my mermaid tail across the ocean with Flounder in “The Little Mermaid” or flying on a magic carpet in “Aladdin”.
However, I never felt like I could relate to female characters. Much like the women in fashion magazines or TV shows, whether adults or children, the club felt reserved for women who were thinner, prettier, more feminine than I could ever be. This movie is a big change.
To be clear, however, the film’s female portrayal leaves some room for improvement. On the one hand, the nervous Luisa, who easily carries a bunch of donkeys on her shoulders, wears a skirt and her hair is pulled back into a ponytail. Would it be too much to ask him to introduce her as a butch and wear pants or short hair?
Additionally, in one of the first issues, Mirabel sings her family tree to the kids in town to help explain who everyone is, she describes her female sister Isabela as a “beauty” and the muscular one as ” muscles, ”presupposing that the two are somehow diametrically opposed, as if the strong, butch-like sister couldn’t also look beautiful at the same time.
This further reinforces the ideals of feminine beauty which are wise and tiny and pink is closer to what we consider aesthetically pleasing than a thick middle and etched facial features. For my part, I find Butch magnificent (full disclosure, I am Butch).
Yet there is so much joy and reason to celebrate this new piece of culture that has entered our living rooms and the hearts of children.
As I watch “Encanto” for the eighth time in three days with my 4 year old, I channel my inner child, overjoyed to see women on screen who feel more like me. And I marvel that my child grows up knowing that women can be both strong and beautiful, that they can lead and save the day.