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Reel Women: The Women of ‘Oz’ Are the Great and Powerful Ones

Oz the Great and Powerful
Walt Disney Pictures

Oz, The Great and Powerful‘ is in theaters this weekend, and while the film serves as an origin story for the Wizard of Oz, it’s the women who are truly great and powerful.

‘Oz, The Great and Powerful,’ or as I like to call it, ‘Witches, Please’ (see what I did there? Sorry, not sorry) is the tale of a huckster carnival magician (James Franco) who relies on spectacle and misdirection to sell his show to a crowd of Midwestern folk, but must find the goodness and honest talent in himself when he’s transported to a magical land in need of salvation from an evil witch. It’s a delightfully whimsical story filled with dark flourishes courtesy of director Sam Raimi, who creates a film pleasing for both children and adults… but more importantly, for women.

Even the tiny fairies — traditionally, a stereotypical feminine creature — are given sharp teeth in this technicolor fantasy land, proof that nothing is quite what it seems. Franco’s Oscar Diggs is a womanizing jerk, a guy who takes advantage of pretty ladies for their temporary and disposable affection, and doesn’t realize the impact of his actions until it’s far too late. In the Land of Oz, this insensitivity and selfishness comes back to bite him, and it’s that first encounter with the sharp-toothed fairies that gives us an indication of the power of a woman scorned. As Mila Kunis‘ Theodora notes with a smirk, they’re quite spiteful creatures.

All facets of powerful femininity are on display, starting with Michelle Williams‘ Glinda the good witch, whose airy demeanor hides immense power and wisdom. Glinda knows the true meaning and consequence of such power, which is why she refrains from using it unless absolutely necessary. She’s more concerned with goodness, which she thinks is much better than greatness — for greatness belies arrogance and pride, twin traits that lead down the path of destruction.

This is where we get into SPOILER territory — Turn Back Now, etc. Rachel Weisz plays Evanora, an adviser to whomever sits on the throne of Oz, but it becomes evident early on that Evanora has a dark secret: she is the evil witch, consumed by her desire for power to sit on the throne built for a man. Even the antagonistic women of the film have feminist qualities, however slight. A man has always sat on the throne of Oz, and the prophecy tells the citizens that it is a man who will save them and sit on the throne again. But Evanora is powerful, conniving and clever, and why shouldn’t she hold all the power? Rather than claim the throne as her own, Evanora quietly masquerades as an official of the Emerald City — by appearances, she’s a tourist guide and key-holder to the kingdom, but it’s not the person with the crown and the gold who has ultimate control, it’s the person with the keys and the knowledge.

Theodora serves as the middle ground between Evanora and Glinda — a witch born with inherent wickedness, who fights against it and must control her emotions to keep from letting the evil consume her. When Oz betrays her feelings with a perceived slight, Theodora sobs, her hot tears leaving scars down her cheeks in an obvious yet touching metaphor. Her emotional weakness leaves her distracted long enough to take a bite of an apple from her sister, leading her down an inescapable path to evil, where her heart grows cold and shrivels to nothing, and all that’s left is rationality. Evanora maintains that life is so much better when you don’t have feelings — a sentiment to which most women can and will undoubtedly relate. But Theodora remains good-hearted down to the final second before she turns into the iconic Wicked Witch of the West. She realizes the error of her ways only when it’s too late — she’s given herself over to spite, malice and hatred, and all because of some charming guy.

While it’s easy to perceive Theodora’s transformation as a cheap illustration of the ways in which women are weak by letting men dictate their emotions, it’s quite the contrary: it’s a lesson in why we shouldn’t let men — or anyone, really — consume us in such a way that we harden our hearts to all that is good and positive. Ultimately, it’s a woman who really saves the day and reveals her adversary for what she truly is on the inside: an old, withered hag covered in warts.

Although two of these witches are evil, all three are relatable and empathetic in their own ways, and each serves as a strong representation of women on screen. Through each of their stories, there’s a lesson to be learned — and you thought this movie was just for kids.

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