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Is Merida Non-conventional?

So on the subject of movies, I ran across this awesome review of Brave (with no spoilers) and wanted to share part of it with you. (The teal section is quoted from the article)

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Today, crowds will line the streets of cities like New York and San Francisco for parades that mark the high point of LGBT Pride Month. At the same time, legions of kids will swarm into theaters to watch Pixar’s Brave, the animated story of a young Scottish princess named Merida who goes to extreme lengths to avoid having to marry one of the three noblemen that her parents have chosen for her. The two events don’t seem to have much in common at first glance. But it’s quite possible that while watching Brave’s tomboyish heroine shoot arrows, fight like one of the boys, and squirm when her mother puts her in girly clothes, a thought might pop into the head of some viewers: Is Merida gay?

While Markovitz’s appeal to lesbian stereotypes is outrageous, his underlying question isn’t. Merida really could be gay. She could be straight. She could be asexual. We just don’t know. Over the course of the film, she shows romantic interest in neither boys nor girls; it’s only by assumption that her parents—and, presumably, most viewers—think she’s heterosexual.

Is this ambiguity intentional? Almost definitely. Pixar is notoriously meticulous—the Easter eggs and subtle references in each of its works are legion—and it’s unlikely that the filmmakers simply didn’t think to give Merida any sort of love interest. No, this is a deliberate sort of ambiguity. With that in mind, here are five ways of looking at Pixar’s motivations for being so coy:

  •     Brave is about a daughter’s relationship with her mother, and sexuality would only distract from the developments within that relationship.
  •     She is gay, and Brave is Pixar’s subversive way to put a lesbian in one of its movies.
  •     Merida is a straight girl who likes to run and shoot and fight.
  •     She’s neither gay nor straight; she’s asexual. (This would be just as sexually radical—if not more so—than making Merida a lesbian.)
  •     The ambiguity is itself a message.

My thoughts on the subject matter (keeping in mind I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I’m dying to) is that Merida is more non-conformist. She’s a self-rescuing princess if I’ve ever seen one, because she’s tougher and more talented than all the boys around her. She loves to shoot and ride and be rough and tumble with the guys, in her father’s image.

She clamors for the freedom to marry who she chooses because it’s such an important part of one’s happiness to choose who to be with. She’s the first Disney princess to have core values that resonate with me. She wants the freedom to be herself and choose her own fate. It does help that I hated wearing dresses as a kid, learned to shoot a gun and a bow from a very early age, and took riding lessons, so I very easily identify with Merida not only for her activity choices but in her non-conformity in choosing her fate.

As a hero, I think Merida will be enchanting girls and boys alike for years to come with her non-conventional ways. More people will see a piece of themselves in Merida than in Ariel. Merida isn’t dumbing herself down for any man, nor is she holding herself back in the hopes of pleasing anyone. To me, that’s a very strong message to be yourself and you will be accepted for who you are by the people who really love you.

What do you think?

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