“Once Upon a Time” has been redefining fairy tales for six seasons.
Thanks to the ABC hit show, princesses like Snow White and Belle aren’t just meek, innocent characters. Instead, “Once Upon a Time” showcases women in a different light, one that features braver, brasher women.
From Emma Swan to Regina Mills, there is something to love in every female character on this show, which returns from its midseason hiatus on March 5.
For those of you looking to bide the time until then, ENTITY looks at the five leading ladies dominating the fairy tale genre today.
Emma Swan, otherwise known as “The Savior,” is the epitome of a tough girl. Armored with her leather jacket and don’t-mess-with-me demeanor, Swan is the protector of all things good in Storybrooke. From the very beginning, she’s introduced as an independent young woman who doesn’t like being told what to do. Then, when she finds out she’s destined to help the fairy tale characters of Storybrooke, she, after a curse or two, finally owns up to the immense responsibility.
As the main character of a fairy tale-inspired series, Swan is designed to deconstruct a number of gender stereotypes. Unlike traditional fairy tale heroines who were meek and passive, Emma is brash, aggressive and a former criminal. She’s also a capable fighter, undeniably brave and rarely seen engaging in traditionally feminine pastimes (i.e. shopping or getting manicures). Her biggest weakness, however, is letting other people get close to her, insisting that she doesn’t need anyone’s help.
Despite her weakness, the most admirable thing about her is the fact that her decisions are never influenced by her love life. Rather, the main thing that motivates her is her responsibility of being “The Savior,” being a good example for her son, Henry, and building a closer relationship with her formerly estranged parents (Snow White and Prince Charming).
Emma Swan also has a knack for reading people, claiming that spotting liars is her “superpower.” Whether or not this is all in her head, Emma’s true superpower lies in her ability to try and see the good in others. With her help and support, characters like the Evil Queen and Captain Hook have been given second chances.
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Snow White isn’t like the traditional Disney character many people have come to know … and thank goodness for it. Not your average princess Snow White demonstrates that it’s possible to be both feminine and strong.
Yes, Snow is kind and the traditional definition of “good,” but her character doesn’t stop there. She’s also quick-witted, a skilled archer and self-sufficient. After the Evil Queen took over her kingdom, she had to retreat to the woods to hide from the Queen’s henchmen. She has had to fight for her survival, using her skill and intelligence (not her appearance) to get food and money.
The best part about her, however, is how she uses her hope as a strength. On the surface, Snow’s character may seem naïve for always looking for a silver lining. But on the contrary, she’s often the character holding everyone together through the toughest times. Because she chooses to find hope in every situation, everyone else is pushed to do better, to try harder and to fight more fiercely.
Regina Mills was introduced to the story as the Evil Queen. She was calculating, ruled with an iron fist and was driven by jealousy. But now she’s probably one of the best villain-turned-hero characters on television. Regina can be characterized by her burning desire to just be better.
Like many of the villains on “Once Upon a Time,” she just wants her happy ending. But unlike the other antagonists, Regina’s the one of the only ones constantly fighting with her evil side. Her biggest motivator to do this is Henry, the child she shares with Emma Swan. Her love for him is what drives her to be kinder, more compassionate and more loyal.
Although she’s been seen succumbing to the dark side, her journey to becoming a better woman is admirable. She accurately demonstrates what it’s like to have conflicting emotions and personalities within one person. It’s excruciating and sometimes you can’t figure out which part of you is going to win. But through it all, Regina has persevered. And because of it, audiences often find themselves rooting for her.
On top of all of this, Regina is rational. Because of her calculating evil side, she’s typically the voice of reason in the group. Unlike Emma, who often charges into problems without thinking, and Snow, who is always looking to be hopeful, Regina is realistic. She considers all the consequences and tries to devise the best plan of action, a quality the other characters need.
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Belle, like her traditional character, is the intelligent bookworm of “Once Upon a Time.” While everyone prefers using their magical powers or brawn to fight off villains, Belle heads for the books. Though this may seem like an inefficient way to fight a battle, Belle’s intelligence has often been a major contributor to the heroes’ successes. Not to mention, Belle has also been able to use her knowledge to help Mulan hunt and defeat a monster. That, on its own, is impressive.
And similar to Snow White, Belle chooses to see the good in people. This, however, was her downfall for much of the series. As the series developed, Belle fell in love with the Beast of Storybrooke, Rumplestiltskin. She spent much of the series succumbing to the idea that she can turn Rumple into a better man, but she often found herself being taken advantage of.
But six seasons later, Belle is finally standing up for herself. She’s now in the process of becoming her own person again, one who is on the prowl to save her son from his father, Rumplestiltskin.
Zelena, who is also known as the Wicked Witch of the West, is the new antagonist of the series. Similar to her sister, the Evil Queen, Zelena is a skilled witch, manipulative and conniving. Because of this, it’s easy to dismiss her character as just another person to hate on the show.
But lately, she’s been vying for the same sympathy Regina has received from the other heroes. Convinced that her newborn daughter is her “second chance,” she’s played the victim card more than once. Sometimes, audiences will find themselves pitying her story of always being upstaged by her sister and the other heroes. But other times, they are also left wondering if Zelena is actually being genuine this time around.
What’s important about Zelena, however, is the confidence she embodies. Yes, she’s evil, but she’s also learned to adapt to her circumstances. The “wicked” title was given to her by her adoptive father and she just made it her own. Although Zelena could have chosen to turn the other cheek all those times she was rejected for her magic, it was difficult for her without the kind of support and love Snow White grew up with. She’s just doing the best with the cards she was dealt. Because of this, it’s hard not to cheer for her goodness … even if you’re skeptical about her intentions sometimes.
All in all, “Once Upon a Time” has been a champion series of putting female characters into lead roles. With these dynamic women, they show the different facets of femininity and womanhood – brave, tempestuous, kind, intelligent, brash, strong. Regardless of which character you identify most with, you’re bound to find someone who represents you on this show.
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