My family was on a Trans-Atlantic Disney cruise when Disney’s Maleficent debuted. Half of my family (the half that wasn’t six years old or taking care of the six-year-old) stayed up to watch it at 12:01 a.m. Thursday night, and chattered about it during the next morning’s leisurely breakfast.
The movie, which re-imagines the story of Sleeping Beauty, focuses on the traditionally evil Maleficent. Jolie stuns in this role, emanating a grace and dignity while conveying an injustice that wounds her so deeply that the audience (sort of) understands how she eventually ends up cursing the king’s baby.
Not an easy feat.
Since the movie came out, Jolie has said that this scene is symbolic of rape.
In a kids’ movie?
But movie critic Rebecca Cusey says this isn’t a bad thing.
After all, fairy tales have always covered dark topics, and this one is no different. She writes in the Federalist:
Jolie isn’t talking about rape culture, as defined by the current crop of American feminists. It’s no accident that her film rules the global box office just as she takes the stage to combat the idea of rape as an inevitable part of war.
Western women have it relatively good, she argued at the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict on June 10-13 in London: “We must send a message around the world that there is no disgrace in being a survivor of sexual violence — that the shame is on the aggressor . . . We need to shatter that impunity and make justice the norm, not the exception, for these crimes,” Jolie said. “I have met survivors from Afghanistan to Somalia and they are just like us, with one crucial difference: We live in safe countries, with doctors we can go to when we’re hurt, police we can turn to when we’re wronged,Sc and institutions that protect us.”
In other words, Western women have what many women around the world do not: Tools to fight back. That’s hardly the word from the #YesAllWomen crowd.
Fighting back for justice has become one of the major themes in Jolie’s film projects. In addition to other projects about reconciliation and justice, she produced Difret, an Amharic-language film out of Ethiopia that has been making the festival circuit. It tells the story of a fourteen-year-old girl kidnapped by a man who wants to marry her, as is a custom there. As she defends herself, she kills him, only to find herself on trial for his murder. This film explores the boundaries between customary practice and law that attempts to change custom.
For Jolie, the story of rape does not end at the violation nor at fighting back. She goes further. “Maleficent” baffles victim-centric American feminists because instead of merely a story of victimhood or vengeance, it goes beyond both to become a story of rising above abuse and choosing to be better. As Jolie told the BBC, victims have a choice: “The core of ["Maleficent"] is abuse, and how the abused have a choice of abusing others or overcoming and remaining loving, open people.”
That message is increasingly the Gospel According to Saint Angie: Evil is complicated and must be stopped, but can only be overcome by good.