I love being politically engaged, but once you learn about sexism and racism, you start seeing it everywhere—even in beloved movies from your childhood. So imagine my shock when I re-watched 2003 computer-animated Pixar film Finding Nemo and had a devastating realization: it is not the feminist tour de force that I remembered. Not at all.
When I was growing up, I held up Finding Nemo as a feminist viewing staple for all to see. I required all of my friends to watch it. After years of watching the other unrealistically beautiful and motherless Disney princesses, I loved how different Finding Nemo was from the rest. Finally, a movie that isn’t about a woman achieving meaning in her life through finding the right man! Little did I realize, the movie isn’t about a woman at all. It’s about a fish.
How the hell did I miss that?
If you had asked me a week ago if Finding Nemo passed the Bechdel Test, I would have laughed in your face. I was positive it was an exemplary example of feminist discourse and would have punched anyone in the face who implied otherwise. In fact, I believed most scenes were voiced by Ellen DeGeneres. Boy, was I wrong. It turns out that Marlin (the father fish) is voiced by the male Albert Brooks, actual clown fish biology dictates that in the case of the death of a mother, the father transitions to female, meaning that conversations between Dory and Marlin are actually conversations between women. Of course, I was flabbergasted when I rewatched the movie and realized that. Also, as it turns out, most of their conversations are about finding Nemo, who is male.
This movie was not the feminist exemplar I had thought.
It turns out that most of the female characters in Finding Nemo are (trigger warning: strong language) quirky, lovable, or dead. What bleak picture of womanhood is this? What are we teaching our children? That if they’re also a fish, they will end up kooky or dead? Why are we led to believe that only female fish are dumb enough to swim into the tentacles of a jellyfish? Why can’t we hold up our children’s movies from 13 years ago to the same standards we have today?
I thought I knew what was feminist back in 2003, but with what I’ve learned since then, my whole world has been turned upside down. I only hope that newer children’s films show that women really can be anything, even if they’re actually fish.