Alphabetical Movie – Howl’s Moving Castle
Think about this for a minute: Studio Ghibli is one of the few studios regularly producing films with female protagonists. Howl’s Moving Castle is one example but thinking through most of Ghibli films with which Americans would be familiar - Kiki’s Delivery Service, Spirited Away, Castle in the Sky - their stories are all centered on young women.
I’m not a huge devourer of Anime so I admit that this trend may be indicative of where the films are produced (Japan) more than it is of a particular filmmaker (Miyazaki). Keep in mind, the majority of Americans have only one window into Anime and that window is the imagination of Hiyao Miyazaki. His worlds are frequently focused on young women.
Now, a significant number of Disney Animated films are centered on young women to be sure. Consider, though, that Disney women are usually princesses and most Miyazaki women are normal girls. Chihiro isn’t a princess. She’s just a little girl trapped in a frightening situation. She makes the best of it by working hard, being kind and being smart. Beauty doesn’t enter into the equation. Nor does it for Sophie in Howl’s Moving Castle as she is described as being “plain.”
Not that there is anything wrong with being plain. I think the reason it is mentioned is to point out that beauty is about more than good looks.
I’m not saying it is wrong for a young woman to want to be a princess but for the most part, that is all most mainstream films made for young women suggest that they should be. Where is the balance? Young women are shown that they can be princesses and when they grow up, they get movies like Bride Wars, which show them that they should continue to be princesses (of a considerably more annoying kind).
Studios don’t produce films for women because they don’t believe there is much money in it. When they do produce a good film for women, like My Big Fat Greek Wedding, they are shocked to discover that women will pay to see movies if you give them something worth watching.
I have no idea how many parents brought their girls to The Secret World of Arietty – by the box office returns I would guess very few – but that’s part of the problem. Parents aren’t seeking out films that will provide their children with a variety of role models. Telling little girls that they can be princesses can alight their imagination and that is a good thing but can’t there are other things that can excite the imagination of young women. How many films feature young women with an interest in science or writing? Women should be aspiring to so many great things. So few of them can be princesses – either via marriage to royalty or “American Idol” – that we ought to be giving them other options.
I mean, besides being a mom. Being a mom is great but, it is not the only thing girls should be told they can do.
As parents, we are responsible for finding the stories that will show our children who they should want to be. I think that it is easier to find those stories for young men and fixing that is no easy task. It starts with the parents of young girls recognizing that Beauty and the Beast was a great film but it doesn’t provide their daughters with the best road map for their life. No one film can do that but if every film they watch shows them the same things, their dreams will be focused in a single, unlikely direction.
I wish there were more films that provided a variety of role models for young women. In order for that to happen, though, people need to watch the ones that already exist.