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In which I draw a line at Maid Marian

Folks, I’m a little pissed off.

I’ve been just cruising along, minding my own business, watching TV when I come across the trailer for the new movie Robin Hood.  And while I don’t think it’s going to exactly be groundbreaking cinema, it could be a decent movie.  I almost never go to theaters anymore, but I’m thinking I’ll catch it on cable or Netflix or something.

But then, BANG.  Pissed off.  Why?  Well, there are a couple of points, but the most egregious one comes at 2:16.

For those who won’t bother to watch the (fairly awesome) trailer, I’ll tell you straight-up:  it’s Cate Blanchett as Maid Marian, on horseback, in armor.

The hell?!?

The trailer also depicts many instances of Marian being assortedly badass, fomenting dissent against King John, threatening to emasculate Robin with her favorite dagger, etc.  No problem there.  But sticking her in armor?  Having many shots of her awesomely shooting her awesome bow?  Wrong.

Every bit as wrong as whatever nutjob decided to make Guinevere a badass warrior-chick in the 2004 King Arthur film.

Photo from IGN Media

(I will say that I had reservations about the badassing-up of Arwen in Peter Jackson’s LOTR films, but after watching the movie I had no criticism.  Essentially it was combining the Arwen character with the relatively throwaway character of Glorfindel, and God knows they had tough choices to make about what of Tolkien’s work to cut out, and generally made good ones.)

Ladies, I get it.  History, fiction, and cinema haven’t been all that kind for the last, oh, let me check my watch, few thousand years.  There were thousands of badass women who never got their due, were swept aside and their stories buried because they didn’t fit the greater narrative that the established order wanted told.  It sucks, and that sort of thing should be repaired.

So, when someone wants to make a major motion picture about Boudicca, sign me up.  (And don’t even tell me it couldn’t make one hell of a badass movie.)  And if you want to revise history to include the women who were typically left out of the story (a Deborah Samson biopic, maybe?), I will stand up and applaud.  But really and truly, must we mess around with cherished fiction?  Or legend so ancient and unsubstantiated that it might as well be fiction?

I know Marian and Guinevere mostly show up in the old legends as objects to be fought over or admired (or both), but the legends have existed for time out of mind.  They’re part of our cultural fabric, and just about every schoolkid knows how the elements play out.  God knows I spent many an hour in the late 70s and early 80s pouring over the old Howard Pyle volumes.  Rewriting them just to badass-up the heroines to pass feminist muster just seems forced and excessive.  It certainly serves as a “Oh no they di’n’t!” from my childhood memories.

So, with apologies to my feminist friends, I’m drawing my own personal line, and asking the probably-impossible favor that Hollywood screenwriters a) tell a new story, b) keep political correctness out of the old stories without a damned good reason.

What do you think?  Am I way off base, or not?  Argue away!


8 Responses

  1. There’s been a lot of this subtle feminist-ing going on in movies in the past decade, and frankly I, despite my B.A. from a women’s college and my personal belief that makeup is patriarchal, do not like it. In period films from the mid-twentieth century, women help to make the marital decisions. In films set a few centuries before that, women let their hair hang loose as they help to fight off Indian incursions. I do not believe any of this; I think it is post-lib bullhunky. Although I am a fan of reworking old stories to make things more interesting, I think that forcing 21st-century values on 19th-century stories is as stupid and wrong as calling your wife property is today.

    I think telling new stories, and telling old stories with the values they probably had then, is the best way, even if it ruffles some feminist feathers. (When are they ever unruffled?)

    Incidentally: although the movie was wholeheartedly dumb, and Guinevere’s part in it was…no, Keira was pretty darn awesome in it. Well, more accurately, the design that went into Keira’s makeup and costuming and role in the movie was pretty darn awesome.

    I thought you might side with me, although I also thought that you could easily make a formidable counterargument as well. (Which I’m sure you still could if you wanted to.)

    As far as women fighting Indians, well, I can believe the Granny bit in The Outlaw Josey Wales and the like. Out on the frontier, when you get attacked, hard-working women do what they have to do. But putting them into armor and attacking in pitched medieval battles, uh, no-eth. Don’t buy it, and it smacks of PC.

    Why not remake Taming of the Shrew with Keira et al? I don’t think there’s been a popular version since Moonlighting did it in a one-hour dream sequence.

    I had no real reason to watch the Arthur movie, and I probably still wouldn’t go seek it out, but I’ll take your recommendation in mind if I pass it by while flipping channels.

    • No, don’t, it’s really not very good.

      I just meant that in all likelihood, the majority of the frontier women would be hiding in the basement with the children.

      Also, yes, there has, it’s called 10 Things I Hate About You.

      Oh, you’re right, I’d forgotten about that one. I didn’t think it was half bad. Although I never would have predicted that Heath Ledger had that Joker performance in him based on that movie.

  2. And while I’m at it, you know what this reminds me of? The first section of my American lit textbook when I was in high school. They included Anne Bradstreet and a number of other female writers who, in my opinion, sucked, but they had to scramble to include every early American female writer they could possibly find, even if they sucked, to try and make it “even”. Fact is, not as many women wrote then. Admit it, and we’ll accept your apology, and we’ll all get over it and study writers who are good.

    Point taken. Put a big note up front, say that it wasn’t considered fashionable to educate women back then, say that it was wrong, and go on. Kind of like how Warner Brothers puts the disclaimer about racial stereotypes on the old Bugs Bunny cartoons. Yes, there were female writers, and some of them were good, but pretending that they were all over the place and every one of them a superstar denigrates the struggles of those women who never were taught to write (god forbid, Sir William, a literate woman?!?), much less made it to a printing press. Acknowledge the fucked-up-ed-ness and atone for it in the present, not in the past.

  3. Olivia de Havilland wasn’t exactly a damsel in distress in the Errol Flynn version of Robin Hood either. That’s why I liked her. 🙂

    All of the Errol Flynn version that I’ve seen are the snippets woven into Bugs Bunny cartoons, so I’ll have to take your word for it.

  4. I am no feminist, could care less about promoting women’s rights and the like, but I abhor the damsel in distress character in film. It’s cliched and hackneyed to death so I welcome a woman who uses her brains over always depending on her male counterparts for support & protection. Ugh, I’ve just seen that scenario played out too much over the course of 50 years. I’ll take a little decade-old rebuttal of that concept & am looking forward to an arrow-shooting, chain mailed Marion to a flimsy, unintelligent broad who just screams to be rescued throughout the entire film! Bring it on I say!

    I have no problem with the Elizabeth Swann character in Pirates of the Carribbean for that reason. That was a fairly well-written kickass-gal character – takes initiative and the sword, does what needs to be done, and could care less about whatever designs the male characters have on her (including her father). That’s fabulous.

    But to me a rewriting of the Robin Hood legend to include Maid Marian in a cavalry charge is akin to making a Revolutionary War-era pic in which Martha Washington runs a spy ring and escapes a gang of Redcoats by dashing across rooftops and fighting saber-to-saber. It creates enough cognitive dissonance to ruin the whole gal-power point of it.

    If the Marian character played by Cate Blanchett works for ya, then what the hell. You don’t need my permission to enjoy it. Different strokes for different folks.

    Thanks for commenting!

    • That sounds like an awesome movie. If we could make it in the 70’s with Bo Derek it would be even better.

      With or without the cornrows?

  5. I try to not even watch the previews when they come on. In fact, from what I’ve seen of this summer’s movies it looks like no one in Hollywood has had an original idea in about twenty years.

    Which makes it more or less just like the last ten or fifteen years, huh? (Let’s not even get started on all the damn remakes.)

  6. So I too was bothered with what they did with Guinevere… but I’m sure I was more offended that they digitally enhanced Kira Knightly’s breast size.

    They did? I’m telling you, making Keira Knightly look like a B-cup probably took more CGI magic than creating the Balrog in Lord of the Rings.

    Sir Thomas Mallory (and Mary Stewart, and White and anyone else who chronicled Camelot) make sure we all knew Guinevere was a dainty woman who felt alone and had an affair. She wasn’t that bright but apparently was beautiful. I’ll go with HELPLESS here (or at least lazy and had a big ass, just like women of her time were supposed to look).

    Not once did I ever read that she was a Celt. Never. She’s supposed to cry, and scream and not be able to do anything for herself. Well, she was great at being a manipulator.

    I’m tired and rambling.

    Well, she did SOMEthing for her self. Namely, she did Lancelot.

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