So I finally saw Tangled on some plane ride or another (they are starting to blend, yo). For the most part I was super-impressed–the animation is just weepingly gorgeous, even for a pastel-shunner like me, and the story did not completely offend my feminism (only a little) which is really all I can ask from Disney.
But I can’t get past the evil witch.
Now, you all know I love me some evil witchery. And evil witches often have gross motives. That’s fine.
But I can’t help the yucky feeling here. See, the witch in this Rapunzel story is extremely explicitly coded as Jewish. No one else in the movie looks anything like the witch, who could have walked out of 21st century New York. Everyone else is pastel and soft and very midwest. She looks and sounds like a combination of Bebe Newirth and Fran Drescher, so much so I had to check to see if Bebe did the voice. From her hair (black and super curly and in a weirdly modern sharp cut) to her voice to (does she have a big nose? *goes to check* Awesome.) her overbearing mother attitude and icky Mama Knows Best song–I feel like they’re all playing to these Jewish stereotypes and wrapped up to be the evil version of the Jewish mother. Gothel is also a Jewish surname, and Google says the ad copy described her as the "classic Jewish mama." So there you go.
And that makes me WAY uncomfortable when you consider that Rapunzel is as white and blonde as they come, and the whole story is about this Jewish woman consuming a white woman (whose power is in the culturally significant symbol her whiteness, her blonde hair) in order to stay young and beautiful, which is not what the witch in Rapunzel is about, incidentally. It’s more of a property rights question, and loneliness and want of a child. But the cackling stereotypical Jewish lady stole a baby and is basically eating the nice Aryan girl to live forever is rather eeeeeekbloodlibelgetmeoffthisplaneack.
Maybe I’m being oversensitive here. But every time she came onscreen I cringed. This is without even discussing turning Rapunzel, which is really not about that, into a story entirely about feminine obsession with beauty and youth (thanks Disney! I’ve never heard that story before) and cutting out my favorite part which is that Rapunzel up and wanders the desert (indeed) with her twins being fairly badass survivor girl before healing the prince. (Nice that 17th century Germany allowed ‘Zel a more complicated and interesting story than we will in 21st century America.) Or that this witch seems to have been around since the dawn of time but can’t think of anything better to do with phenomenal power. Or that we’re talking fairly horrific emotional abuse here–not the kind where she has to clean shit like Snow White but where her mother is constantly telling her she looks fat and is weak while compelling her love. Enjoy that marriage, kids. Rapunzel should totally not be scarred by this.
Anyway, Disney has notorious race issues–Much as I admire The Princess and the Frog for giving the "princess" an actual job and a desire beyond getting married, they had to shove a bunch of offensive voodoo shit in there and make sure her ambitions were soul food-oriented and have the little white girl who seems to have no parents, just a wandering helpful cutie, lend a helping hand to save the day. And, you know, the prince is a total douchefrog who does not deserve her at all but the movie tries to say that somehow Tiana needed to grow too, by…partying more, I guess. Tiana was awesome, movie, shut up. God forbid somebody work hard for their goals.
Rapunzel does add in the logical step that, given that she has nothing to do but hang in the tower, Rapunzel knows everything because she has read all the books. Sure, ok. But her superpower is healing (all girls are healers) and the boy takes it from her despite what she chooses and ONCE AGAIN dark hair is used as a sign of evil (the witchmother) or not being magical anymore (Rapunzel) because blonde is magic and brown is gross. Fuck you, Disney. It was a really nice movie. You didn’t have to fall back on that tired shit.
I haven’t heard anyone else point out the witch issue. Am I off the mark here? Did anyone else get react to her this way?