Marin filmmaker Brenda Chapman, who won an Oscar for writing and co-directing the animated feature "Brave," blasted Disney’s sexy makeover of her movie’s feisty heroine, Merida, as "a blatantly sexist marketing move based on money."
Chapman, a Mill Valley resident, modeled the headstrong Merida on her 13-year-old daughter, Emma, creating her as a role model for little girls.
In an email to the Independent Journal on Saturday, she said she has given Bob Iger, president of Walt Disney International, "a piece of my mind" for the entertainment giant’s decision to glamorize the tomboy character she envisioned.
"There is an irresponsibility to this decision that is appalling for women and young girls," she said, writing from Chile, where she has been on business. "Disney marketing and the powers that be that allow them to do such things should be ashamed of themselves."
Disney crowned Merida its 11th princess on Saturday, but ignited a firestorm of protest with a corporate makeover of Chapman’s original rendering of the character, giving her a Barbie doll waist, sultry eyes and transforming her wild red locks into glamorous flowing tresses. The new image takes away Merida’s trusty bow and arrow, a symbol of her strength and independence, and turns her from a girl to a young woman dressed in an off-the-shoulder version of the provocative, glitzy gown she hated in the movie.
"I think it’s atrocious what they have done to Merida," Chapman fumed. "When little girls say they like it because it’s more sparkly, that’s all fine and good but, subconsciously, they are soaking in the sexy ‘come hither’ look and the skinny aspect of the new version. It’s horrible! Merida was created to break that mold â€" to give young girls a better, stronger role model, a more attainable role model, something of substance, not just a pretty face that waits around for romance."
Chapman, the first woman to win an Academy Award for an animated feature, said she has added her name to a petition with more than 50,000 signatures that has gone viral on the female empowerment website "A Mighty Girl," joining other mothers outraged by Disney’s sexualization of her headstrong young Scottish heroine, an expert archer with a head of wild, curly red hair and a mind of her own.
Signers variously described the new Merida as "vapid," "arm candy," "unrealistic" and "vacant looking."
In an official statement to Yahoo! Shine, a Disney spokesperson said, "Merida exemplifies what it means to be a Disney Princess through being brave, passionate, and confident and she remains the same strong and determined Merida from the movie whose inner qualities have inspired moms and daughters around the world."
Chapman begs to differ. In basing Merida on her teenage daughter, then a student at Mill Valley Middle School, she said she wanted the movie to be "a contemporary fairy tale" that resonates with today’s working mothers and daughters. Her character’s image as a different kind of princess turned out to be hugely successful, grossing more than $550 million, winning an Oscar, a Golden Globe and the Bafta Award from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts.
"They have been handed an opportunity on a silver platter to give their consumers something of more substance and quality — THAT WILL STILL SELL — and they have a total disregard for it in the name of their narrow minded view of what will make money," Chapman wrote. "I forget that Disney’s goal is to make money without concern for integrity. Silly me."
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