Monday, November 30, 2015

Let's Talk: "Slave Leia"

I'm not a woman.  With that in mind, you can probably just skip this entire article and go back and read my rant about my least favorite Christmas Carol.  Everything I'm about to say is purely from my perspective, and if anybody would like to discuss it with me, I'm more than happy to sit down with them, listen to what they have to say, and compare their perspective to my own to see if there's a middle ground or if I need to press my case or if I'm completely wrong and need to just shut UP already.

We good?  Good.

Let's talk about Princess Leia's slave bikini.

Over the past few weeks, I've seen more and more articles discussing the fact that Disney might be attempting to bury the bikini costume worn by Princess Leia in Return of the Jedi and pretending it never existed.  I've read articles discussing what role the outfit has in the Star Wars mythos and what role it has in our culture as a whole.  I've read essays by people who love the costume (and aren't just guys who think it's hot), and I've come to three conclusions:

1) Apparently, in many eyes, I have no place having an opinion based on the fact that I'm not a woman, I've never been a slave, and in general I'm part of the "problem" by being a man, not part of the solution.

2) Gender stuff is hard, man.

3) It feels sometimes that people are getting the character of Princess Leia confused with the costume.

Please, let me explain.

I think Princess Leia's awesome.  Through the movies she was strong, confident, defiant, and both a leader, a soldier, and also royalty.  She didn't take lip from anybody, she tended to engage in action just as often as the men in the movie series did, and while yes, she was captured repeatedly through the series, she never let it temper her fire.  She resists what's obviously torture at the hands of Darth Vader in the first movie to lie and say the rebel base is on Dantooine.  She kills Jabba with the very chains he was trying to use to put Leia into her role as her "oriental slave girl" (for the sake of that reference, picture Ming the Merciless in place of Jabba the Hutt).  She attempts to warn Luke off when he shows up to rescue everybody in Cloud City.

She also infiltrates Jabba's palace dressed as .... well, a man, I guess.  It's an alien, so gender can be kinda screwy there.  She helps lead the attack on Endor and is first to take off after the stormtroopers on speeder bikes with Luke desperately hanging on.  She pretty much leads her own rescue on the Death Star once Luke and Han get the door open.

She's a pretty great character.

Now, Carrie Fisher has come out stating she regrets the bikini scene.  Many authors have denounced it.  Others have held it up as a symbol for patriarchal oppression, as a symbol of what many women in those days were finding themselves either physically or emotionally forced into being: quiet women who simply sat at the feet of their man.

Like I said, gender stuff is hard.  I'm sure there are men and women who would look at the exact same scenarios and see something else.  I don't know anything about that.

However, what I do know is that Leia's slave bikini is a highly sexualized part of the Star Wars canon.  There's innumerable amounts of fan art of Leia striking "sexy" poses while wearing the costume.  There's also artists who draw other female characters in the same costume in sexy poses.  Just recently I saw that there are people who even dress up as other characters in the costume, including three of the most strong and independent female characters Disney has in its stable of princesses. And Belle.

In my eyes, the slave costume is an important part of Leia.  It's wrong to ignore it or pretend it never happened.  It'd be like pretending that the death of Luke's family in the first movie never happened, or Han being frozen in Carbonite never happened.  It represents a moment where forces beyond the character's control attempted to demoralize, demotivate, or otherwise destroy the character's will.  Leia wore the bikini, but the bikini didn't represent Leia in that moment.  She was strong despite the bikini, and refused to let Jabba's lecherous whims shape her into something she wasn't.

So when I see other characters being put into the costume, or I read about how wearing the costume gives people "strength," I'll admit I'm confused.  Loving Leia for being strong is great, I'm all in favor of it.  However, to glamorize the costume is something I don't currently understand.  I suppose it could easily be worn as a statement, to represent other struggles a person or character goes through, and shows how they weren't able to be defined by something that, by its nature, objectifies and reduces any actual personality and depth into simply "they look hot in a bikini."

But I don't think that's how most people would see it.  They see Elsa, Pocahontas, or superhero characters like these, and they're probably thinking "wow, hot" if they're men or...well, I don't know what most women would think.

Women who read my blog (all maybe one of you?), do you see someone wearing that costume and think "they look confident" or "they're embodying something strong?"  In a time when many young women might not even know the original trilogy of films, would that costume still mean anything, regardless of whether they're a nerd or not?

The costume is, in many ways, a prison for Leia, both metaphorically and literally with the chains attached to it.  I feel that by all means we should celebrate a character who breaks free of those bonds, but I'm not sure we should apply the same strength and defiance to the prison itself.  To really butcher an analogy, I don't think that if I saw the prison cell that Nelson Mandella stayed in, I'd want to start drawing fan art of other characters in the same situation.  Maybe smashing out of the cell, but not simply trapped in it.

Which I guess leads to another question: why isn't there more cosplay of Leia in her outfit when she was in the Ewok village?  She was captured there, too, but quickly assumed control of the situation.  Or just Leia in her Endor gear in general?

...say, where did those Ewoks get that dress?

Anyway, to make a long and rambling blog post short (too late!), I don't think Disney should bury the costume.  However, I think there's a difference between acknowledging something as part of the canon/an important part of a character's history and not doing things to glamorize or exploit it.  Treat the subject matter with respect, Disney.  There will be people who will be unhappy no matter what you decide to do with it, but if you hide it, it indicates you're embarrassed of what a lot of blog posts from women I've read indicate is a pretty important scene of one of their favorite movies.

No comments: