Recently, my kids got a big dose of history lessons linking Confederate statues and Disney’s “Maleficent”.
I get sick of listening to myself belabor life lessons to my kids. They already gaze past me thinking about TikTok or counting the seconds until they get to have an Icee (current summertime obsessions.)
I’m in desperate need (or the kids are) of someone else to lecture them about history.
Welp – ask and ye shall receive. Thank you, Disney.
This weekend, we watched Maleficent. I quickly realized the movie is basically the Broadway show, Wicked, (minus the production numbers). It’s an historical revision of a fairy tale showing that evil antagonists were misunderstood. And as in the nonfiction world:
…history is written by the victors and they get to craft and manipulate the story however they damn well please.
In Wicked, “Elphaba” the “Wicked Witch of the East” fights for justice for people and animals. Meanwhile, “Glinda” the “Good Witch of the North” is an intolerably vain narcissist. But because Elphaba meets an early and untimely death (thanks a lot, Dorothy), Glinda goes down in history as the good and kind witch.
Maleficent is similar. Poor Maleficent has been misunderstood and has gone down in fairy tale history as purely evil and malevolent. But the story of Sleeping Beauty always lacked context, we’ve come to learn. In “reality”, Maleficent was she who protected Aurora from evil and darkness. Thanks for clearing that up and digging into your own past, Disney.
The movie is fine.
But – I love that in future discussions of history, context and critical thinking, I’ll be able to say to my kids “Remember Maleficent? Remember how history had that wrong, we learned more, and found out she wasn’t all bad?”
Being able to point out to my kids, “there are usually two sides to every story and even though most history books are written by white men and consist of listing names, dates and aggrandized accomplishments of more white men, there are many nuanced and contextualized stories to be mined to understand the entire scope and context of world history.”
And this relates directly to our current age of tearing down Confederate statues and seeking to fully understand our own flawed American history so we can more effectively advocate for Black Lives Matter.
Hundreds (perhaps a majority) of Confederate statues were erected by the Daughters of the Confederacy between 1900 and 1920.
Meaning: rich white people built statues lionizing Confederate statutes in the Jim Crow South. Such movements didn’t look at nuance of history, they just white-washed it. Inscriptions “to the glory of the men who donned the gray” ignore the fact that millions of people were enslaved, tortured and killed, justifying the war.
So much of our American history is written without nuance. According to Lies My Teacher Told Me, most of American historical text books are written by the white elite and, in order to sell the most c0pies, need to cater to the the largest school districts in the country – those of Texas and California. And because of this fact of capitalism, stories important to TX and CA are given more attention to make the states look good, rather than actually informing our impressionable kiddos.
Bringing me to link Confederate statues and Disney’s Maleficent.
It’s objectively good to teach our kids to think critically. We should all examine root causes, underlying factors, and multiple players in our history. And the Confederate statues need a re-examination. Do we tons of statues to military leaders who fought for an unjust cause? What about the millions of people who displayed compassion, taught our children, and contributed to a flourishing society?
When people who oppose tearing down statues say “What’s next? Thomas Jefferson?” Well…maybe we need to consider all sides of Thomas Jefferson. And maybe it’s time we celebrate the achievements of more BIPOC and women who’ve filled out all the aspects of American life outside of the births, dates and “heroism” of a bunch of white dudes?
It’s time Maleficent and Elphaba got their due. And these pop culture references help my kids grasp super complex nuances of historical study.
Just because the men who won the war write the history books doesn’t mean there’s not another side to the story.
Thanks, you witches.
I love this stuff. And I can’t wait to bribe my kids to wade through Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States so they can be as smart as Will Hunting: