Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Little Princess

The Little Princess is that older, Shirley Temple film following a young, wealthy woman during the Boer War, based on the novel of the same name. In the story, Temple's character, Sarah Crewe, enters a young ladies school run by the miserable spinster Miss Minchin. After her father is believed to be dead, Sarah becomes a servant at the school, begins living in the attic and is treated harshly by many of the other students. Sarah begins to visit a Veterans' Hospital, convinced that he is not dead.
What is most interesting in this film is race, or rather the lack of race. The Second Boer War took place in South Africa, and involved Africans, who were caught between Boers (of Dutch ancestry) and the British, who died as soldiers. It does not it mention the horrific concentration camps that were used as part of the British government's attempt to destroy the Boers, and, in turn, Africans. (Over 12% of Africans in these concentration camps died.) Not that you could ever guess all of that, watching this movie. The movie is entirely from the point of view of –you guessed it!- white people.
The film has Others in it and they're sidelined for the more important story of a young white woman. There’s Becky, the young maid that Temple’s Sarah befriends. In the newer version, she was depicted as a young black woman. In this movie, she’s white, though there’s something exotic about her looks, much like Sissy Jupe in Dickens's Hard Times. And, as always, her struggle is overlooked to tell the story of a Sarah, who has only recently began to see what real poverty is like, and ultimately gets out of it. There is also the character Ram Dass, the magical Other of the story. He somehow creates wonderful things for Sarah, helping her. No one ever helps or acknowledges the struggle of these two minority characters within the movie. They just exist to aid the narrative.
This film is enlightening in the sense that, if you're familiar with South African history, it shows how easily whitewashed stories can become.

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