Mulan Takes The Bechdel Test

Did I love Disney princesses? Of course I did. We all did. Don’t even try to lie. Everyone is an 8-year-old at some point in their lives.

It probably would have been a healthy obsession in my case—stopping after a few cute Halloween costumes, some fairly awkward conversations with animals, and an assortment of charming husbands—had it not been for Mulan.

Mulan-disneyscreencaps.com-3154
Image from http://vignette1.wikia.nocookie.net/

Fa Mulan.

Sigh…

I knew there was no going back from the moment I first watched it. I went from wearing plastic tiaras to whacking my brothers with sticks faster than you can say, “The Huns have invaded China.” Maybe it was the lucky cricket. Maybe it was the silly grandmother. It was probably Mushu. But I like to think that it was watching Mulan discover herself with a sword in hand, rather than in ballroom slippers.

Let’s fast-forward (a shamefully small amount of time) to the present.

Now that I am much older and think about things (before hitting them with sticks), I have long since come to the conclusion that I was merely drawn to a strong, empowered female character. Done. That was easy.

Events transpired, however.

I recently stumbled upon something called the Bechdel Test, which is an unofficial measure of female portrayal in films.

Here is a 20-second history to get you up to speed:

The Bechdel Test was invented by Alison Bechdel and came from a comic titled “The Rule” in her series Dykes to Watch Out For (pictured here).

The-Rule-cleaned-up
Image from http://dykestowatchoutfor.com

A movie must meet three very simple criteria in order to pass:

  1. It must have two female characters (with names)
  2. They must have a conversation with each other
  3. That conversation must be about something other than a man

It sounds laughably easy to pass, but it turns out that 69% of IMDB’s top films fail that simple little test.

I’ll admit I was doubtful. I read through page after page about it.

I bet you have a favourite movie, they said. Look it up, they said. YOU WILL BE SUPPRISED BY WHAT DOESN’T PASS, they said.

So I looked it up. I saw a little green check mark next to Mulan. Hah, thought I, and gave my laptop a smug little smile. I was confident in my superior judgement. I was about to move on when the words “although dubious” caught my eye.

Dubious? DUBIOUS?!

How could Mulan be dubious? She was the pinnacle of female kickassery, the definition of feisty and unafraid, a raw, unadulterated shock of battle tactics and brute force with some kooky chicken feeding methods to boot. What could possibly be lacking?

Well, it seems that the female conversation was very scant in Mulan. Yes, there was some chit-chat between female ancestors, but they were unnamed. Yes, there was some mother/daughter/grandmother musical numbers, but those all circled around getting ready for the matchmaker to find a good husband. And yes, the protagonist was FEMALE but get this: Mushu had more lines in the film than Mulan did.

curvy-disney-mulan-1
Image from https://metrouk2.files.wordpress.com

Here’s how the movie scraped by:

Fa Li: I should have prayed to the ancestors for luck.
Grandmother Fa: How lucky can they be? They’re dead. Besides, I’ve got all the luck we’ll need.
Fa Li: Grandma, no!
Grandmother Fa: Yep! This cricket’s a lucky one! 

How progressive for the dark ages of 1998.

So I re-watched Mulan and came to the conclusion that in terms of women’s representation, it’s far from perfect. But then again, so is the Bechdel Test.

Although there was an utter lack of meaningful, non-male-related conversations between women in the movie, it’s not a stretch to attribute some of that to the largely (and in this case logically) male cast. Not to mention that this test doesn’t take into account the historical context, in which Mulan shows considerable independence and strength of character compared to the rest of the female cast as well as her fellow warriors. So perhaps this test is superficial, but it’s not entirely wrong.

Re-watching Mulan, I realized it wasn’t the perfect embodiment of female power I once believed it to be. Mulan says very few noteworthy things over the course of the movie, and the speaking parts are all largely male. Mulan is fighting for the greater glory of China, but the victory of the movie is more about winning the Emperor’s and her father’s approval, and Li Shang’s admiration.

I’m sad to say that I could summarize Mulan by saying, “Girl pretends to be a man, girl successfully blends in and is a very good man, girl wins huge victory for China and is offered a place as a woman in a man’s world but rejects it to return to domesticity. Then girl gets boy.”

That being said, for me, this movie will always be full of important victories: the cross-dressing imperial army, a Disney princess in armour, the most flattering of compliments (“Um… you… fight good.”), and an unlikely girl showing up all the boys.

But maybe I’ll make room for new heroes.

-Contributed by Katie Schmidt

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Game of Thrones: A Burlesque

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Excerpt from the A Clash of G-Strings‘ facebook promotional post

 

It’s that time of year again: that’s right, winter is coming, but so is an all-new edition of Game of Thrones Burlesque! Canada’s first annual Game of Thrones-themed burlesque show is back, with 100% BRAND-NEW ACTS and 2 back-to-back shows! Valar morghulis…but on November 29th, all men (and women) must STRIP!

The Spectatorial’s Lara Thompson quizzed burlesque bombshell and show runner Scarlett LaFlamme on how the idea for a GoT-style burlesque started, tidbits about what we can expect from her troupe’s epic performance, as well as how on earth they put together those fantastical costumes!

What is burlesque? What makes it distinct as a way of performing?

Burlesque can incorporate a variety of different performance elements, but what makes it distinct and defines it as burlesque to me, in 2015, is the striptease element. My simple definition of burlesque is that it is a theatrical striptease, because no matter what other elements are added (e.g. props, dance techniques, singing, circus arts, etc.), a burlesque act will involve a striptease (down to pasties and underwear) and the tease, the story of the act, will be the main focus rather than the reveal.

How did you conceive of this performance? 

I became hooked on Game of Thrones in 2012, after binge-watching season one. One day while I was procrastinating on Facebook, I saw that someone had posted a violin cover of the Game of Thrones theme, which I couldn’t stop listening to. Because this is the way my brain responds to music I like, I started thinking about doing a Daenerys Targaryen burlesque act. I then decided I would need a giant dragon prop, and that in order to justify it, maybe I should do an entire Game of Thrones-themed show! I had produced smaller themed shows with a troupe before, but this was something I really wanted to do on my own. I reached out to other known Game of Thrones fans in the burlesque community and found that everyone was really enthusiastic, so I produced my first solo show, which has now become a yearly tradition and the favourite thing of mine that I’ve ever done.

This particular performance this year was inspired by events that happened in season five of the show based on the book A Dance with Dragons. I don’t want to give anything away, but all of the acts this year are brand-new and reflect that season and book.

Is anyone in your company a fan of the books as well? 

I would say more than half of us are, and we discuss nerdy theories together. I started reading the books after finishing the second season of the show, because I couldn’t stand not knowing what happened next, and I finished them before I produced the first Game of Thrones burlesque. I actually just reread the last two books to remind myself of the nuances.

What can you tell me about what to expect from the performance?

This show is both a tribute to and parody of the TV series Game of Thrones. You’ll see creative, story-heavy acts, with people having gone all-out on their costumes and some even recording songs. We even have an aerial silks burlesque act! The show will be mostly hilarious (some acts will be a bit darker), and although we can’t match the level of nudity on the HBO show, it will be sexy. We also have a beautifully absurd finale that I’m really excited about.

Who is your favourite Game of Thrones character?

Daenerys Targaryen. I love her journey from scared, meek little girl to one of the strongest women in the Seven Kingdoms. I love her convictions and that she really wants to make the world a better place, even though she screws up sometimes. I also really love that, although she’s a completely badass character, she goes against the “strong female warrior” archetype by not having to have her femininity or sexuality stripped away in order to be powerful.

Is there a noticeable difference in the audience demographics and attitudes/reception when the performances are themed vs. not?

Yes, absolutely. You get a lot of people who have never seen a burlesque show before and maybe otherwise would have never ended up seeing one. Our audience is probably more Game of Thrones fans than burlesque or theatre fans. The reception is wonderful, because they get all the inside jokes, and they can tell that we all love Game of Thrones as much as they do. They love seeing their favourite characters portrayed in such a fun, satirical way. It’s a mutual lovefest. Themed shows are my favourite ones to produce and perform due to the audiences.

What goes into making your costumes for the themed show? Which elements of a character do you choose to recreate?

I generally try to do a burlesque version of the character’s costume, rather than an exact replica—first of all, for practical reasons it needs to be something I can strip out of, and also because stage costumes and television costumes are often very different because they read differently on screen due to things like lighting and other factors. For my first Dany costume, for example, I based it on seasons one and two’s Dothraki outfit, but it was too raggedy for a burlesque costume, so I chose different fabric and covered the whole thing with Swarovski crystals, so it would show up in the dark lighting of the initial venue I used for the show.

This time around, I am actually wearing a pretty exact replica of the cape dress she wore for most of season five (made by Brook Alviano Creations: http://www.brookalviano.com/about.html) because it’s beautiful and burlesque-appropriate and I can use the cape to my advantage. As for what’s underneath, I still have the burlesque mentality of needing to bling some things up, even when doing a themed show. Tanya Cheex, who plays Cersei in this show, taught me that for burlesque, everything needs to be exaggerated “x10,” so even though Daenerys probably wouldn’t wear sequined and fringed undergarments, I’m going to. It’s a reminder that this is a parody.

One Night only on Nov. 29th!

Location: Revival Bar, 783 College St.

Early show: 7:00 p.m. (doors at 6:30)

Late show: 9:30 p.m. (doors at 9:00)

TICKETS ON SALE NOW (gotburlesque4.brownpapertickets.com)

$15 Standing room ($20 at the door)

$20 General admission seated ($25 at the door)

$40 VIP theatre seating (first 2 rows)

$50 VIP booth (Awesome booth up front. **NOW ONLY AVAILABLE FOR EARLY SHOW; 6 SEATS LEFT.** Please note you will be sharing with other fans.)

PLUS: Get your GOT-style caricature done by MAESTER CARICATURIST!

Audience cosplay encouraged!

 

This interview has been edited for length.

 

 

 

-Contributed by Lara Thompson

The Women of Star Wars: Part One

Space opera is a fascinating sub-genre of speculative fiction—part science fiction, part Western, and all action. Star Wars is undoubtedly the most famous example of the space opera—rightly so, as it’s fantastic. I’m unabashedly critical of movies, but every time I get to the last thirty minutes of Empire all I can think is, “This is so good.” I’ll give credit to Lucas; I don’t think he wrote Star Wars exclusively for guys. However, anyone who’s ever watched the movies (especially the original trilogy) is struck by how Princess Leia is apparently the only woman in the universe.

Being a woman certainly doesn’t stop me from identifying with Luke Skywalker. He’s a human being, after all, and so am I. But what bothers me is how every female character in Star Wars is incredibly two-dimensional, with the notable exception of Princess Leia. Congratulations Carrie Fisher, you had the unenviable task of carrying the weight of your entire gender on your shoulders and you succeeded admirably.

Rey-Finn-running-
Photo from http://makingstarwars.net

In my opinion, the really stunning moment of the trailer for the new adaptation was the revelation that the new trilogy is going to focus on a female protagonist: Rey. In honour of this overdue leap forward, let’s take a look at the past women of Star Wars.

Beru Lars

It’s never a good sign when the first significant female figure in the series is killed twenty minutes into the first movie and is never mentioned again. Beru and Owen Lars exist to tie Luke Skywalker to Tatooine, and the plot necessitates that they die in order for Luke to relinquish his hold on his old life and start his adventure.

Beru exists as a loving bridge between her husband and her adopted son Luke, who have fundamentally different ideas about what Luke’s future should hold. She is also the one who first points out that Luke “has too much of his father in him,” thus starting a trend throughout all the original films of people remarking that Luke resembles his father. Of course, the horror of that statement is only really revealed in Empire where we learn exactly who it is that Luke resembles so much. Beru exists as a plot device—her death is the tragedy that spurs the hero forward. In that light, it makes thematic sense that not a lot of time is spent establishing her character. Beru does show up in the prequel films as well, but no new information is really given about who she is as a person. Of course, as we’ll see later when we get to Shmi Skywalker, if you don’t establish a character complexly, the audience is not very emotionally invested in their death. This works to the advantage in A New Hope, since it is a light-hearted film, but backfires in Attack of the Clones.

Mon Mothma

Monmothma
Photo from http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Mon_Mothma

I decided to include Mon Mothma mostly because she is one of the only women to have ever appeared in the original Star Wars films, and also because she plays such a monumental role in the Expanded Universe. I’m not going to explore the Expanded Universe in this blog post—it exists outside of  the canon for most fans—but it’s important to realize that Mon Mothma is essentially the leader of the rebellion, even in the original films. She has also been the subject of many jokes since she is “the only other woman in the universe” besides Leia. If you haven’t yet checked out the Family Guy parodies of the classic Star Wars films, I highly encourage you to do so, if only because that joke gains especial poignancy when you realize that Angela, Peter’s boss in the cartoon, parodies Mon Mothma and that Angela is voiced by Carrie Fisher herself. Interestingly, in addition to being the only other woman in the universe, Mon Mothma, much like Leia in the first film, is shown almost entirely in white, continuing the trend of female political figures attired in spotless white.

The Slave Girls on Tatooine

Sexual violence is downplayed in Star Wars—with good reason. The sort of trauma that results from rape doesn’t really fit into the Star Wars feel of everything being alright at the end of the day. After all, we never see Luke grieve for his slain relatives ever again and Leia does not even mention Alderaan after the first movie. Leia’s torture in A New Hope is non-sexual (we are even more thankful for this when we realize that Darth Vader, the interrogator, is her father).

However, though it is never explicitly spoken of, there is an undertone of sexual violence in Star Wars. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Jabba’s palace in Return of the Jedi. Slaves are seen dancing for the entertainment of Jabba’s court. In a famous scene, Jabba tries to draw a Twi’lek dancing girl towards him by her neck chain. When she resists his advances, he cuts the chain and throws her down to feed the Rancor. After she is captured, Leia is forced into the famous bikini-outfit, which certainly carries an implication of objectification and potential sexual assault. Jabba licks or kisses her in an off-camera moment (again, he draws her to him by her chains).

Check out my second post, featuring Shmi, Padme, and, of course, Princess Leia!

-Contributed by Lara Thompson

Illustrated by Gwen Wolinsk