Why Feminists Should See Snow White and the Huntsman by Erin Lane

When all the taco meat was refrigerated, the grease-stained plates loaded into the dishwasher, and the church volunteers departed, my husband peeked into our bedroom where I had been hiding out (er, I mean reading my Bible) for the duration of his adviser meeting. “Put some pants on, Erin. We’re going to the movies.
It was a magic Monday night at the theater seeing Snow White and the Huntsman, a sort-of Braveheart-like retelling of the Brothers Grimm fable.  I was hesitant to go, afraid it would be too dark. The Walt Disney version, after all, had me running off to a child psychologist who assured me the wicked queen wasn’t all that bad. I spent more than a few nights sleeping in the bathtub with my Micky Mouse comforter, safe from her clutches.

Charlize Theron was more haunting and beautiful as Queen Ravenna in the movie version than I could have imagined. Not only is she kind of the anti-Christ, she’s the anti-Feminist. Man Hater. Youth Obsessed. Violent Oppressor. She is both “The Man” and “That Woman” all tarred together in one crazy crow outfit.

Kristen Stewart of Twilight fame plays Snow White; despite the critical flack she’s received from being a slinky sulk, I enjoy her pouty lips, big front teeth, and Tarte-stained cheeks. She, too, plays into a stereotypical feminine archetype as a virginal savior with a flush of acceptable moxy for modern women.

So why should feminists see Snow White and the Huntsman if it’s just dishing out more of the same sexist imagery we’ve come to critique? Three reasons:

1. Aren’t 90% of movies sexist? You may as well patronize one with women in lead roles. During the recent Miss USA pageant one of the contestants got flack for citing Pretty Woman as depicting women in a positive light; she tried. At least, the prostitute-playing Julia Roberts has gone on to be one of the highest paid actresses in Hollywood. Likewise, Theron and Stewart clearly stole the show (and my girl-crush affections) whereas I left the movie thinking that Hulk-like Huntsman was just ornamental eye candy. Don’t worry boys – it will be a long time before this is an insult to you.

2. Don’t you love action flicks just as much as the next guy? This is finally a film that is artsy in its cinematography whilst uncompromising in its gore. While action movies typically draw the boys in droves, the opening weekend box office results showed that female viewers actually made for a slight majority of the audience, accounting for 53 percent of viewers. This type of gender balance is good news for studios who will have to re-consider how to satisfy the tastes of both men and women in future films.

3. Aren’t you tired of the guy gets the girl ending? Enough said.
While critics have been rough on the movie’s plot, I found it to be just the right amount of predictability (the mirror! the dwarfs! the apple!) and innovation (there’s a twist on the kiss!).

Snow White and the Huntsman is no feminist nightmare, as long as you put your big-girl pants on to see it.

This article is crossposted at Holy Hellions
Erin Lane is a freelance communication strategist for faith-based authors and organizations. She received her Masters in Theological Studies from Duke Divinity School with a focus in gender, ministry, and theology. Confirmed Catholic, raised Charismatic, and married to a Methodist, she blogs about the intersection of her faith and feminism at www.holyhellions.com. She is also co-editing an upcoming anthology on the taboos experienced by young American Christian women. She lives in Durham, NC. 

Categories: General, Review

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13 replies

  1. Two spiritual feminists whose opinions I respect have recommended this movie, but not for the reasons cited here. This blog does not persuade me at all. But I’m glad you enjoyed the movie.


    • I’ve been curious about this film and appreciate the review, Erin. I’m not sure how I feel about throwing in the towel on 90% of movies being sexist, but I do agree that gender balance is good for studios and successful films with balance can change the way media portrays women. And…I’m also tired of the “guy that gets the girl ending!”

      Barbara, I wonder why your feminist friends recommended the film, what was different about this review? And why are you not persuaded by Erin’s thoughts here?


  2. I have seen this film; and I have to say I cannot give the movie the same the positive endorsement that you give here.
    You state that the ‘Evil-Queen-Stepmother’ is, ” kind of the anti-Christ, she’s the anti-Feminist. Man Hater. Youth Obsessed. Violent Oppressor. She is both “The Man” and “That Woman” all tarred together in one crazy crow outfit.” But I wonder, why do you see her in particular as anti-feminist, and not just another female monster that the patriarchy wants us to kill? Another Medusa, or female serpent (who’s female embodiment of power is made out to be distorted, wrong or monstrous)? I for one, am pretty tired of slaying the “evils” of female power in fantasy and myth.
    I do agree, on the other hand, that the Queen is supposed to be a kind of anti-Christ in the film. I found it very interesting that while Snow White is supposed to bring life back to the land and has a beautiful interactive scene with fairies and the stag in the forest, she also significantly, prays The Lord’s Prayer when she is incarcerated by her ‘evil step mother.’
    The film did have some very visually beautiful scenes; but overall, I found it a let down– a missed opportunity to significantly shift from the original tale’s patriarchal message or to challenge patriarchal religion…. but despite the allowance for “moxy,” I doubt change or challenge was a part of the film’s agenda.


    • Just a correction to my final statement above– I do think the film makes some attempts to subvert oppressive categories. For example, I think it tried to challenge the size-ism often attributed to little people, depicting the “seven dwarfs” as contributing members of society (howbeit, segregated members) with problems, feelings and deceased families, instead of fantasy/ magical “unreal” people… But overall, I think the film is largely complicit with patriarchal norms.


  3. Hmm. If I see a ‘snow white’ movie, I think I’ll choose “Mirror Mirror” instead; anyone here seen that one?


    • Darla, I actually just watched Mirror Mirror today. It takes even greater risks with its reinterpretation of the guy gets the girl narrative and offers a more well-rounded portrayal of Snow White as both empathetic nurturer and fierce warrior. However, I still have to give Snow White and the Huntsman the upper hand for its dramatic narrative and stunning visual effects. As with any review, in the end it’s a matter of taste.


      • Thanks, Erin, for your feedback! And I appreciate your exploration and perspective on feminism within these movies — plus it was simply fun to find a movie review here. :-)


  4. The movie is absolutely crazy! This blog is great and I see where you are going. If Kristin Stewart (sp?) wasn’t the WOST actress in the entire world, I would have most likely liked it more. Apart from her Christ like stance and virginal white attire while she is “dead,” I found the movie had a lot of interesting parts to it in regards to religion, feminism, and gender.

    And I loved that she didn’t get the guy in the end!


  5. I hate action films. Violence is not my bag.


  6. Actually I love action and sci fi films, provided they have strong female characters(often they only have one). Interestingly enough, Charlize Theron plays a similar character in “Prometheus”, a cold corporate Queen with very little feeling. And there is a lead Female character who is an anthropologist/Scientist. Seeing these two strong Female characters in ‘Prometheus” is what I expected from the “Alien” genre. It was almost as good as Signourney Weaver’s original role in “Alien” and done by the same director, Ridley Scott. The rest of those were pretty crappy and done by action directors in the typical action format. Prometheus however, I is taut, powerful, believable, and yes, scary, at the same time, thought provoking. For a ‘Feminist Film’ I would suggest “Prometheus”. And there is the same slow buildup as in the original ‘Alien’ and developement of characters and plot,along with powerful vistas and special effects. But it does NOT rely on special effects to move it along! It is well worth seeing.


  7. And there is the question of oor origins as humans, and of faith and belief in finding the truth out about it, by the female scientist. The acting is excellent.


  8. While watching the film it became quite clear that it seems to pass the Bechdel test in flying colors.
    1. There are two lead female characters recognized by name.
    2. They converse with one another
    3. Conversation is not about a man.

    I also couldn’t help noticing that Snow White is not defined by the men around her, and she doesn’t end up with any one of them in the end. I was half expecting a rivalry to begin between William and the huntsman, but not once is she treated as the “prize”, but rather as their endeared leader who they all choose to follow. It was because of the ending that I right a way googled to see what was written about this from a feminist perspective. It has been quite interesting to see the articles, columns and blogs going both ways.

    Yes, one of the female characters is the anti-hero who states how she hates men, had the hero been a man, this might have bothered me. I like how they both struggle with good, evil and beauty and take it to different places. Interesting how the queen takes to the dark side, driven crazy by her mirror that makes her obsess about her beauty. How true is that of all our mirrors, when we can’t find the beauty within us our mirrors can reflect a very grim picture of ourselves.


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