Thursday, February 14, 2013

Feminist Movie Review: Hansel and Gretel


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I recently saw the movie Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters. I’m not going to ruin the entire plot for those of you who haven’t seen it, but basically, the lovable siblings become a pair of professional witch hunters. It wasn’t my type of movie, but I did enjoy it, although I could’ve lived with less blood and gore.

Going into the movie, I was curious as to what the gender portrayal of the witches would be. I was unsurprised, but nonetheless slightly disappointed, that only women were shown as witches.

I suppose Hansel and Gretel was just being (mostly) historically accurate, as traditionally, women were the ones accused of witchcraft. One reason for this is because healers were usually women, and people were often suspicious of what they perceived as healers’ supernatural powers. Midwives were especially susceptible, as grieving parents of an infant who died would often accuse the midwife of murdering their child through witchcraft. Widows and older women were another especially victimized demographic, largely because they lacked a man to protect them from people’s speculation. Since the witch hysteria occurred in Europe and America when Christianity was the dominant religion, it was spurred on by medieval Christian teachings that women were the perpetrators of sin, as they understood it from Original Sin.

Although most accused witches were women, numerous men were also suspected of witchcraft and executed. Men were usually labeled as witches so the accuser could exact revenge or gain financially or politically. Unfortunately, Hansel and Gretel decided to ignore the viability of men as witches and only depicted them as women.

I also was interested to notice how the movie showed witches of color. As the story takes place in a small town in nineteenth century Europe, all of the characters are white. However, towards the end of the movie, witches from all over the globe make an appearance. One Asian witch is shown. However, that is the end of the diversity; every other witch shown is white.

Factually speaking, the concept of witchcraft existed in pretty much every society in the world in the nineteenth century. The Atharvaveda is an Indian book of spells and charms, assumedly used by witches. In West Africa, an obayifo is a witch or vampire-like creature who can possess animals to kill people, inhabit people’s bodies, kill children, and weaken crops. Brujos and brujas are South American witches of both sexes, conceived through a fusion of Spanish, Portuguese, and Native American folk beliefs about magic.

Despite the fact that so many non-white cultures have concepts of witchcraft, past the token Asian witch, everyone in Hansel and Gretel was white. Would it have been so difficult to cast more non-white actors as witches? If a witch could travel to Europe from Asia, certainly witches in Africa and South America could hop on their broomsticks and make their way over.

Well, the end of the movie definitely made it possible for a sequel. Let’s hope that if there is a follow-up movie, witches will be from both sexes and more races rather than predominantly white women.

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