Princess Amelia Mignonette Thermopolis Renaldi aka Mia Thermopolis aka an unlikely childhood feminist icon.
A few weeks ago I embarked on a journey into the past– I rewatched both The Princess Diaries and The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement. Based on the novels of the same title by Meg Cabot, the movies follow the character of a young Mia Thermopolis from when she receives the news that she is a princess (as a 15-year-old in high school) all the way to coronation day (a bit after her 21st birthday). Even though I’ve watched these movies countless times, I never get tired of watching Mia’s (or should I say Amelia Mignonette Thermopolis Renaldi) journey towards the throne.
Lately I’ve found myself wondering, why do I love them so? After all, they seemed to be following the same devices as every other teen rom-com.
Exhibit A: Enter the “nerdy” girl with curly hair and glasses who gets a makeover that consists of (surprise!) giving her contacts and straightening her hair. Suddenly, all the boys that used to make fun of her are drawn to her and she becomes the center of attention. Typical, right?
Not entirely, and stick with me here… As Mia’s journey progresses, she evolves into the feminist icon I didn’t know I needed at the time, and keep coming back to again and again… In the first movie, The Princess Diaries, Mia finds out she is actually a Princess in the land of Genovia. She must then decide whether or not she will accept this role– as a 15-year-old high schooler! Imagine that. After much reflection and self-appreciation, Mia decides to assume her duty to Genovia.
Fast forward about six years to Princess Mia’s college graduation. In The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement, Princess Mia is given one month to find a husband or else she cannot become queen. After a frantic search for a husband, Mia agrees to an arranged marriage for the good of Genovia. However, on her wedding day, she leaves her fiance at the altar. She says this is not only for her happiness but his as well as everyone deserves to find true happiness.
After she decides she will not get married, Mia delivers a speech (something she’s come a long way in since that first movie) to the audience:
Mia Thermopolis: Welcome. A few moments ago, I realized the only reason I was getting married was because of a law, and that didn't seem like a good enough reason. So, I won't be getting married today. My grandmother has ruled without a man at her side for quite some time, and... I think she rocks at it. So, as the granddaughter of Queen Clarisse and King Rupert...
Congregation: [interrupting] King Rupert, may he rest in peace!
Mia Thermopolis: I ask the members of Parliament to think about your daughters, your nieces, and sisters, and granddaughters, and ask yourselves: would you force them to do what you're trying to make me do? I believe I will be a great queen. I understand Genovia to be a land that combines the beauty of the past with all the best hope of the future. I feel in my heart and soul that I can rule Genovia. I... I love Genovia. Do you think that I would be up here in a wedding dress if I didn't? I stand here ready to take my place as your queen. Without a husband.
Blame it on the nostalgia, but as Princess Mia said “without a husband” I couldn’t help but cry happy tears. To stand in front of an audience and declare herself worthy of ruling Genovia on her own breaking years of tradition is what makes this princess tale unlike any other. This movie shaped me into believing that I am worthy just as I am. By making this a princess story of just that–a princess– the movie emphasizes the value of indepence and power.
Although it’s not perfect, as we could’ve done without the whole stereotypical makeover scene, these movies really did defy all expectations of a princess fairytale and spun it instead into a story of self-confidence and courage.
I hope creatives draw inspiration from stories like these to create tales of empowerment for young audiences. Children everywhere should be able to have an unlikely feminist hero to look up to– someone who looks just like them. After all, what does a feminist have to look like?