‘Edge of the Woods’ – The Feminist Potential of the Dystopian Fairytale

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About a week ago, I was moments away from signing off Tumblr and surrendering to my bed when a post came across my dash that sent me careening like Alice down an internet rabbit hole. The post was for an independent short film trailer titled “Edge of the Woods,” and I want to give the film, and its crowdfunding effort, a major plug, because this is a piece of media that my feminist heart feels the urgent need to shout about from a mountaintop.

The prospective short, slated to be approximately 15 minutes in length, utilizes classic fairytale heroes/heroines, all women in this telling, and places them in a modern dystopia. Characters Red, Ash, Robin and Snow are on a mission to get through the woods – an off-limits territory – to Red’s Grandmother’s house. The film’s director (Amrita Singh) describes the piece thusly:

‘Edge of the Woods’ is a story that explores a contemporary reimagining of classic fairytale characters, including Little Red Riding Hood or Red, by placing them in a post-apocalyptic world. In banding together on a journey that takes them to the edge of the woods, these complex and subversive characters draw strength from their friendships with one another to challenge current systems of oppression and to uncover the truth about the real monsters that inhabit their world.”

The piece is explicitly feminist and, as the film’s crowdfunding page explains, borne from the film makers’ desires to explore themes such as the marginalization of certain identities, the interplay between race, class and power, female friendships, desire and love, and much more.

The project is the brainchild of the company Puddle Jumping Productions, a collective of independent film-makers, most of whom are women of color, many of them queer-identified as well. As they explained to me, their collaboration fortuitously began with an “Angry WoC Lunch,” organized by one of the film’s co-writers and actors, Jo Chiang (who plays the role of Robin). Initially a social gathering designed to serve primarily as an excuse to “grab some Thai food, and vent about race, gender, identity, and injustice,” their meeting wound up becoming the locus of the realization that they “had a mighty need to create together.” Thus, their production company was born. It is still in the initial stages of establishing a YouTube channel and “Edge of the Woods” appears to be their first ‘big’ project. In my opinion, it deserves to be a roaring success.

Aside from the brilliance of the premise on its own merits, the film is exactly the sort of thing modern fandoms often scream that they want more of: edgy genre media focused on women, POC and which contains insightful commentary on prescient social issues. Indeed, when I asked the filmmakers why they chose to do a fairytale adaptation, the ability to use such narratives to be explicitly political was cited by Chiang one of the inherent appeals. She observed that fairytales “usually end with a lesson or a warning, which makes them political statements,” also going on to say, “[U]nderneath the monsters and magic they are human stories. They are stories we tell in order to explain who we are to ourselves.”

Co-writer Anya Josephs noted as well that “Fairy tales are…so strongly gendered–characterizing women as princesses in distress and men as saviors–that they make a rich ground for the feminist themes of the story.” Fans have long understood the political potential of transformative works, which this film certainly qualifies as, and Chiang admits that this was a direct consideration in the construction of the film’s narrative script. She states fairytales have “an immense historical and politically shaped canon to play with, to subvert, and to challenge, and that’s always just a lot of fun.” Yes, yes it is.

***

The sad truth is, media that revolves around women, queer people and/or POC is hard enough to get made on its own, let alone media that has explicitly feminist politics. While the response of “make your media” is often a marginalizing brush-off to people who rightfully argue the mainstream ought to be more inclusive, internet and social media technology have made it easier for those who are shut out from traditional media production and distribution to have a platform. “Edge of the Woods” is exactly the kind of project that currently depends on grassroots forms of financing and publicity to help make a dent in a media landscape still painfully overpopulated by the stories of straight, white men.

As I wrote not too long ago regarding the consequences of Agent Carter’s success or failure, media about any marginalized group of people is often seen as overly ‘risky’ by entertainment studios and investors. Projects such as these need to prove themselves repeatedly before the mainstream will give them a chance. I desperately want to see this film; I love post-apocalyptic fiction, I love stories that revolve around women, and I love fairytales. But I also just want to see more films and books and TV shows like this one. I want this to be the kind of thing major movie studios and TV networks and big publishers actively seek out. I want genre packed to the gills with media that resembles what this project seems poised to do with such brilliance.

And I want film makers like these women to get all the resources they could possibly need to realize the range of brilliant media I suspect they are capable of making.

When I initially came across the trailers for this short-film, my first thought was of what an amazing feature film or TV show/mini-series it would make, and the film makers agreed that they would love to have the resources to explore each character’s story in greater depth, as well as potentially the events preceding and following the planned short. (“Edge of the Woods” currently revolves mainly around Red’s narrative) See for yourself and tell me you aren’t dying for more.

In my opinion, a project of this nature deserves all the screen time in the world and a platform infinitely larger than Youtube (hence my need to write about it). However, stories like this often gets a real shot only by starting small and going from the ground up. The success of fan-favorite independent projects like the webseries Carmilla or the podcast Welcome to Night Vale (famously made viral on Tumblr) cannot yet garner their start from major media studios bankrolling them at the outset. They are too ‘risky’ and thus, grassroots funding and distribution are the typically the best/only option. And believe me, a project like this could easily be the next Welcome to Night Vale, given half a chance.

So give it a chance. Facebook. Reblog. DONATE NOW! (Their campaign ends Monday) Make it viral. Because I want to see this film, and more media like it. And believe me, you do too.

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