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Chloë Grace Moretz’s upcoming animated film and South Korean sexism

June 1, 2017

Red Shoes and the 7 Dwarfs—an upcoming South Korean family film with odd moments of leering sexism.

Actor Chloë Grace Moretz is reportedly “appalled and angry” about the appearance at the Cannes Film Festival in May of a body-shaming billboard ad for her upcoming animated film Red Shoes and the 7 Dwarfs.

Before it was taken down, the billboard showed a skinny Snow White, wearing red high heeled shoes and looking quizzically at a shorter, chubbier and barefoot doppleganger holding the red high heels.

Beside the chubby Snow White was the loaded question: “What if Snow White was no longer beautiful and the 7 Dwarfs not so short?”

The implicit assumption behind this question was that beauty was synonymous with being skinny.

Before Chloë Grace Moretz could express her own outrage with the billboard, she had to get in line behind Twitter and Facebook users, like plus-size model Tess Holliday—all of whom who were quick to condemn the billboard’s blatant fat-shaming advertising pitch.

Appalling as the billboard was though, judging by the trailers for this South Korean-made parody of the Snow White fairy tale, I really can’t see why Moretz (who provides the voice of the fairy tale princess) was surprised.

Rather, I’m surprised that she wasn’t more appalled by the overt leering and misogynistic undertones (overtones?) of the scenes from the film that are showcased in the early advertising trailers!

To steal from paraphrase the writer Douglas Adams, from So Long, and Thanks for all the Fish, based on its trailers, it appears that the superficial flaws of this movie’s marketing campaign are hiding the more fundamental flaws of the movie itself.

Beauty is more than skin deep and so is the ugliness of this movie

In the first official trailer for Red Shoes and the 7 Dwarfs we see two of the film’s dwarfs magically pop out of a large wall mirror into what appears to be Snow White’s apartment. Hearing her approach, the pair hide under a table and from this vantage point they get a full-frontal view of her undressing.

We get to watch opposite the dwarfs, from underneath a lounge chair that Snow White sits in after taking off her dress, as her slender right leg—foot clad in a glittering red high heel shoe—lifts up and out of the frame.

Scenes from the first official trailer for Red Shoes and the 7 Dwarfs.

We see the red shoe fall to the floor. And then we see Snow White’s suddenly very thick right leg come back down. We also see the dwarf’s wide-eyed delight at seeing her strip instantly turn to shock and disgust.

The trailer closes sweetly enough, I suppose, with a view of a pleasantly Reubenesque Snow White in her skivvies taking a long pull from a tankard and belching happily, as she lays back in the lounge chair–clearly taking a load off after a hard day of being a thin princess.

A second “teaser” trailer leaves the leering tone of the first in the shade. This time a single dwarf happens upon Snow White sleeping on a chaise lounge. His and our first view of her is a textbook “creepshot” of her cleavage.

The rest of this trailer involves the dwarf trying to forcibly remove Snow White’s red shoes—efforts which quickly escalate to alarming levels of cartoon brutality against the limp and unresisting body of the unconscious princess.

Scenes from the teaser trailer for Red Shoes and the 7 Dwarfs.

Unable to simply pull the shoes off with his hands, the dwarf tries to pry one of them off with a crowbar; then to pull it off with an evil-looking pair of iron pincer tongs straight out of a torture chamber. He chains her down and tries to rip the shoe off of her foot by chaining it to an off-camera vehicle. Finally he resorts to a chainsaw—presumably intending to cut her foot off!

All his efforts, however, are to no avail and in a rage he grabs her by the foot and slams her back and forth, over his head, like a rag doll, hard onto the ground.

With a murderous look in his eyes the dwarf continues to physically assault the unconscious princess until—at last—he pulls one of her red shoes off.

Snow White wakes up the moment her shoeless leg expands in girth and the dwarf gets a fulsome foot in the side of his face. Snow White deftly catches her airborne shoe with her naked foot and she is again 100 percent skinny princess.

Ha…ha…ha…(cough). Nope. Not funny.

Inclusivity (like the future) is unevenly distributed

Promotional material for Red Shoes and the 7 Dwarfs from the Locus website.

I wouldn’t automatically expect the writers and producers of South Korea’s Locus Creative Studios to understand why a Canadian like myself would find so much of the “humour” in the trailers for their film Red Shoes and the 7 Dwarfs to be so off-putting and cringe-worthy.

As a 2016 story by the New York Times details (among hundreds of other reports), the degree to which misogyny and the second-class status of women is still very deeply ingrained in South Korean society exceeds and is out of step with much of the rest of the industrialized world.

And arguably this almost unconscious misogyny on the part of South Korean filmmakers may actually have sabotaged what they seem to feel is an empowering story for girls and young women.

As Sujin Hwang, the film’s producer, explained to Salon, after the controversy of the billboard erupted:

“Our film, a family comedy, carries a message designed to challenge social prejudices related to standards of physical beauty in society by emphasizing the importance of inner beauty”.

Consider this promotional copy from the Locus website explaining the positive message of Red Shoes and the 7 Dwarfs:

“In her quest to find her lost father, she [Snow White] learns not only to accept herself, but to celebrate who she is, inside and out. And to let the beauty within—the beauty that Prince Merlin falls in live with—shine brighter than anyone else in the land.”

They almost had me there—up until that stuff about “the beauty within”.

In the Canada of my childhood you didn’t tell chubby girls to their face that they were unattractive; no, you told them that they had “nice personalities”. Today in South Korea you apparently tell them that they’re beautiful on the inside. Both statements are the same sort of backhanded compliment that tells them that they are ugly to look at.

Canada has, I think, moved on a bit in 40 years; South Korea perhaps not quite so much.

But if the South Korean makers of Red Shoes and the 7 Dwarfs have trouble getting what they’re missing about diversity and inclusivity, they seem, at least, to get that they are missing something.

Prior to the outrage over the body-shaming billboard, the Snow White parody was scheduled for a 2017 release but in the wake of the controversy,  that date has been pushed back to 2018—enough time, perhaps, to send the writers and animators to some sort of body-positivity training course. Click  the images to enlarge them.

From → Animation, Art, Films

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