A Little Princess: Intersectional Feminist Masterpiece?

A Little Princess: Intersectional Feminist Masterpiece?

People really don’t like to be called “privileged.” We’ve had a small number of readers who’ve felt compelled to leave comments rejecting the term. Most of these fit into one of three categories:

  1. “I am really offended that you would assume I’m a racist, because I’m not.”
  2. “I am really offended that you would assume that I am rich, because I’m not.”
  3. Or “I am really offended that you would assume that my life has always been easy, because it hasn’t.”

These comments speak to three of the most common misconceptions/misinterpretations of the meaning of the concept of privilege. Namely:

  1. Having privilege implies bad moral character.
  2. Having privilege implies some degree of monetary wealth.
  3. Or having privilege implies that you have never known struggle, and that nothing bad or unfair has ever happened to you.

These three things are categorically untrue. But it’s hard for some people to see a more nuanced vision of the word’s meaning. It conjures up visions of sneering 1980s rich-jock villains with cashmere sweaters tied around their necks. The kind of people named ~ C h e t ~ or ~ T i n s l e y ~. That is an idea with which, very understandably, no one wishes to align themselves!

Both history and fiction are filled with privileged people of strong moral character who undergo extreme setbacks and losses. And privileged characters can make amazing heroes. There’s nothing at all about their privileges that excludes them from being admirably brave, loyal, clever, compassionate, fearsome, ambitious, or generally fascinating.

Now, this is Bitches Get Riches. If we need an example of an awesome intersectional-yet-privileged hero, we’ll obviously go straight to a G-rated 90s film that no one remembers.

God, this cinematography...

Yes, you actually should watch this movie!

If you haven’t seen 1995’s A Little Princess, I highly suggest you watch it! You can find a way to stream it very easily with a Google search. <shifty eyes>

Unlike many of the films we obsess over (cough cough) this one is legitimately great. Alfonso Cuarón, beloved Mexican filmmaker (Children of Men, Gravity), directed along with his long-time collaborator and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (The Revenant, Birdman), and Mark Johnson (Rain Man, Good Morning Vietnam) produced. They’re all Oscar-winning heavyweights, and A Little Princess is imbued with a quality and depth rarely seen in children’s films.

“That’s the one I love. As I said, I never see my films after they are finished, but the one I love, my memories of it and everything, is A Little Princess. If I would rescue one of my movies, it would be A Little Princess.” – Alfonso Curaón

As Roger Ebert said in his 3.5/4 star review: “Unlike the insipid devices of most family films, [A Little Princess understands] that children take stories very seriously indeed, and that all stories are really about the uncertain place of the child in the mysterious world of adults.”

Everything past this point contains spoilers, but IMO none of them will diminish your enjoyment of the film.

Meet Sara Crewe

Our protagonist, Sara Crewe, is the ten-year-old daughter of a wealthy British widower (Ser Davos the Onion Knight!) living in India. When World War I breaks out, her father sends her to a New York boarding school for safekeeping. The boarding school sucks, its headmistress is a nasty skank, her dad dies, and Sara loses everything. But thanks to high melodrama and the power of friendship, everything is eventually set right again.

Oooh! "India!!"

The first scene of the film makes it clear that Sara is imaginative and adventurous. What’s interesting is that she is also egalitarian. This is the only scene set in India, where Sara is truly at home. Granted, it’s an idyllic, spectacular, saturated movie set version of India, which deserved its Oscar nod for production design. But it establishes that Sara’s default world does not relegate others to secondary status based on their class, gender, or skin color.

We as adult viewers can draw conclusions about this glimpse. Sara’s father is clearly involved in some kind of colonial activity. The ramifications of this can’t be overstated. Imperial meddling left a bloody legacy of political instability, racial inequality, violence, disease, diaspora, slavery, and oppression that continues to this day. There is probably a vast economic chasm between Sara and the other children in the scene. Captain Crewe likely has the authority to demand subservience from Maya (who seems to be some kind of employee), and insist on segregating her children away from his. Yet he doesn’t. On the contrary, the few lines they share are respectful and affectionate.

A Naive Heroine

Crucially, Sara has no reason to suspect that this is an unusual arrangement.

Cuarón and his writers were careful to imbue Sara’s world with credible insularity. Her naiveté on issues of race and class would’ve been utterly unbelievable if she’d grown up exposed to the broader culture. But her father has the means to shelter her in a pocket dimension.

Compare and contrast.

This makes it possible for us to accept Sara as a very pure character. Although we know that she indirectly benefits from society’s cruelties, Sara herself is totally unaware. She is almost like an alien visiting earth for the first time. Or more aptly, like a princess from a fairy tale stepping into the real world. And Sara’s organic reactions to the hypocrisies and injustices she witnesses in New York fuel much of the conflict throughout the story.

How does Sara react to a black servant?

The first time Sara sees Becky, a tiny and supremely adorable Vanessa Chester, she is visibly disturbed and confused. All the other girls at the school are dressed nicely (I love me a foot-long hair bow) and learning in the classroom. Why is this one dressed in rags and mopping the floor?

If you accept that this is Sara’s first exposure to Western culture, her confusion is super understandable. But the audience watching the film definitely doesn’t share her naiveté. We know what’s up. Watching Sara piece it together is pretty fucked up and heartbreaking, because it’s a shameful part of our culture. We don’t want her perfect kid innocence to be spoiled with our shitty post-colonial baggage.

But the most heartbreaking part is watching poor Becky. In the first act of the film, we only see her do two things: toil and panic. The camera is highly attuned to Sara’s perspective. It seeks to find Becky and focus on her but Becky scurries out of frame like the mouse she’s symbolically tied to.

Becky washing her feet.

Becky isn’t truly captured by the camera until the scene where Sara finds her icing her feet. They are blistered and dirty, a testament to the brutality of her life. When Becky realizes that Sara is watching, Becky’s reaction makes it clear to Sara that she has seen something that she isn’t meant to see. Uncharacteristic to the Becky of previous scenes, she is firm almost to the point of being rude. Sara’s gawking impugns on Becky’s dignity, privacy, and safety—and Becky shows that her mousiness is not her true personality, but a learned adaptation to survive in Miss Minchin’s School.

If this situation actually happened in real life, I think that most ten-year-olds would exit the situation immediately and give Becky a wide berth in the future. Sara transgressed, and was rewarded with the sight of someone else’s suffering and a firm reprimand. That’s not a fun reward!

But Sara is a hero, and heroes don’t back away—they double down. She leaves a note for Becky with a sincere apology, expressing that she still wishes to become friends.

Oh, and a pair of fur-lined shoes.

Now, Sara is wealthy. Surely this doesn’t constitute a real sacrifice. If anything, it could be read as insulting, though Becky is def down to party with these shoes. But there is no scene where Sara writes to Zaddy asking for another pair, no shot of her vast closet lined with many shoes. On the contrary, later in the film, we see Sara exhibit the same generosity when she has far, far fewer resources.

This makes me inclined to think that Sara gave Becky her shoes because she saw that Becky was suffering, and her natural inclination was to do whatever was within her power to alleviate that suffering. Comfy-ass shoes were within her power. But I actually think the shoes are almost a red herring here. What really matters is the note. What Becky needed more desperately than shoes was respect, dignity, and a lil’ fucking help. Sara’s offer of those things is her first big step towards becoming an awesome example of a privileged hero.

Do you mind?!

How does Sara react to a fat woman?

An undercurrent of the unnatural pervades Miss Minchin’s School. From the least powerful character (Becky) to the most powerful character (Miss Minchin herself), everyone seems to be on edge. Every character is performing a social role with which they’re uncomfortable. It fits in with the nature of a finishing school itself: learn how to conform, women! You can learn to self-medicate with laudanum later!

Sara seems to be able to see through these social artifices, and her response is always grounded in a deep respect for the humanity of others.

The impeccable Rusty Schwimmer plays Miss Minchin’s sister, Amelia. Amelia is coded as a fat, frumpy, dependent, incompetent old spinster (#goals). She not-so-secretly yearns for the milkman, but doesn’t allow herself to consider him as a real possibility.

Amelia and Sara have a conversation that I’ll paraphrase thusly:

AMELIA: I’m the bumbling, funny, fat one. I don’t get the guy at the end of the movie.

SARA: Naw, girl, get it.

AMELIA: Oh, okay!

Although Amelia is relatively powerful within the world of the film, she feels powerless because society has taught her that only one kind of woman is worth loving, and she ain’t that kind. But Sara rejects this idea with her patented “all women are princesses” shtick, and succeeds in pushing Amelia into her own happy ending.

The power dynamic between this adult woman and young girl is pretty nuanced. Amelia has autonomy, but she doesn’t lord that autonomy over the children at the school. Sara has youth, beauty, and slenderness, but doesn’t lord those privileges over Amelia. This creates a basis of mutual respect in their relationship. Sara never makes fun of Amelia’s body or implies that she has to change it somehow to be worthy of love. Amelia’s size is played for a big laugh exactly once, and it’s my least favorite moment in the film.

How does Sara react to poor people?

Sara goes from formlessly rich to destitute in two scenes flat. This is hard on her. It shakes her hopeful, cheerful character, and she has her “dark night of the soul” moment. But when Sara’s at her lowest, we get a scene that reaffirms her compassionate and heroic character.

So Sara’s in the market, and a lady drops a small amount of money. Sara attempts to give it back, but the lady assumes she’s trying to get her attention to beg from her, and steadfastly ignores her. So Sara shrugs, and converts the coin into a huge and delicious-looking cinnamon roll. She’s been mopping floors and scrubbing pots—she’s earned this.

Sara’s just started to tuck in when she sees a small family of women peddling flowers in the street. These bitches look rough. They’re huddled, they’re dirty, one of them looks ill, another is holding a baby. Their flowers look—sorry—a little busted. Sara watches person after person walk by, brushing them off, refusing to even look at them, much less buying their flowers.

Sara grimaces. She knows the right thing to do, and it hurts. But she does it anyway. She walks up to them and gives them her cinnamon roll.

When she gave Becky her shoes, Sara was a wealthy character giving away something she probably wouldn’t miss. Her generosity was instinctual and reflexive. Now that generosity comes at great personal cost. She reaffirms her values by making the exact same choice.

This is it, guys.

Even when she is at her most wretched, Sara recognizes there are people who have it worse than her. “At least I have a place to live. I’m not working outside all winter. At least I’m not sick. I don’t have a baby. At least I have a friend.”

This is the nuance of privilege. Having privilege does not mean you’re a jerk with a full wallet and a perfect life. It means you’re aware that your situation isn’t as bad as others’. Sara is rocking dirt, blisters, an empty stomach, and the stares of her former peers—but she’s still healthy, still young, still white, still housed, still employed.

Again, like a true hero, she doubles down and continues to do what she can to ease the suffering of others.

The grateful flower-sellers insist on giving her a yellow-orange rose in return. Saffron and green are strongly featured throughout the film. They’re the colors of India, the place that birthed Sara’s strong imagination and egalitarian ethos. This, too, she gives away, this time to the wealthy man next-door whose son is missing in action on the front lines.

The “right way” to respond to one’s privilege isn’t to compulsively push your belongings into the hands of poorer people. That’s Fox News’s definition of socialism (cue terrified B-movie screaming)! The spirit of intersectionality is recognizing the many dimensions through which a person can experience privilege. The man next-door has all the money in the world, but his only son is dead. Sara recognizes that this too is a deep suffering worthy of compassion.

Making friends.

How does Sara react to injustice?

Okay, okay, so there is a problem with characters who behave perfectly and purely at all times. They’re fucking unrealistic and boring.

The world is filled with injustices, and Sara starts out being oblivious to almost all of them. Obviously she doesn’t stay that way! Once she learns about them, how does she handle them?

There are three bullies in the film: a powerful bully, a petty bully, and a budding bully. They all hold different levels of power and represent different dimensions of shiftiness. Accordingly, Sara handles each of them differently.

Miss Minchin: The powerful bully

Miss Minchin is the film’s main villain. Pros: she is very good at descending stairs. Cons: she’s a cold, nasty authoritarian who’s jealous of children and mostly dead inside. Great.

Minchin represents a possible outcome for Sara—an adult who sees all of the world’s injustices, and accepts them all without fighting them. In fact, she runs a whole school designed to stamp out the spirit of rebellion and individuality. She gets angriest when Sara imagines, because the act of imagining is the opposite of accepting reality. It’s the beginning of rejecting it. And Minchin gave up on that long ago.

Calm down, you rampaging bitch.

Eleanor Bron’s memorable and nuanced performance makes it clear that Minchin wasn’t always this way. When Sara confronts her over her stank-ass attitude, she hits a little below the belt by insisting “all women are princesses, didn’t your father ever tell you that?” After angrily storming out, Minchin squeezes out of few bitter tears alone on the stairwell. Ouch. That one really hurt.

What is the context of these tears? Did her father die too young? Did he abandon her? Was he a cruel authoritarian? Or has she stirred memories of a loving and present father who nevertheless turned out to be a jerk? We’re never told.

I think this is Sara’s worst and most privileged moment in the film. She, who grew up without a mother, should surely be capable of understanding that not everyone grew up with a father. Boo, Sara, boo!

Still, Minchin really sucks. Her punishments are overly punitive. She knows that poor people and people of color are especially vulnerable, and regularly threatens them with a double whammy of unemployment and homelessness to keep them in line. As a teacher, she humiliates her own students. She jumps to life-damaging conclusions about others and doesn’t care about the consequences of her recklessness. And she has the nerve to describe herself as generous! Man, fuck that bitch!

Sara’s relationship with Minchin reflects her relationship with the ugliest parts of the status quo. She’s initially respectful, but feels mounting disquiet when she witnesses its hypocrisies and cruelties. She rebels twice: first quietly, then tenaciously. Sara’s greatest strength is her ability to imagine a different outcome. By the end of the film, her imagination overthrows Minchin’s status quo and inverts her status. Minchin is now the menial worker she once denigrated.

Because she insisted on maintaining a broken status quo, her punishment is to be trapped inside of it. It’s the meanest possible way to impart empathy—a fitting end.


Lavinia: the petty bully

Lavinia is a garden variety brat, strictly Draco Malfoy in Sorcerer’s Stone material. She’s jealous of Sara’s easy popularity, and tries to strong-arm her way into it. It doesn’t work. Her friends abandon her.

Early in the film, Sara leans into Lavinia. She calls her a snotty, two-faced bully (true), eliciting delight from most of the other students. When Lavinia cruelly plays the role of Cinderella’s stepsister, making post-fall Sara do extra chores, Sara invents an “Indian curse” to make Lavinia paranoid that her hair might fall out.

Kids are shitty, and this is exactly the kind of bratty thing they do to each other. But these actions have consequences. Eventually Lavinia’s lieutenants abandon her. And crucially, at this point, Sara leaves Lavinia alone. Like a Montessori parent, Sara leaves Lavinia to experience the natural and logical consequences of her shittiness. She doesn’t kick her while she’s down.

One of the last shots in the film is a contrite Lavinia hugging Sara goodbye. Although almost no dialogue is devoted to this resolution, I believe both girls recognize that their friction was the result of Miss Minchin’s oppressively unnatural dystopia. No girl ever did real and lasting harm to the other, though each was given ample opportunity.

Lavinia is kind of a ho, though.

Lavinia was strictly a leather-pants Draco. She’s the equivalent of the irritating rando who jumps into the comments section of this blog to tell us how WRONG we are about the article they didn’t read. (I wish y’all could see some of the shit we moderate out of existence. Girl, bye.) She’s satisfying to push back against, but ultimately it’s a waste of energy. Sara focuses on challenging the powerful instead of the petty. And the petty come along anyway as a bonus.

Lottie: the budding bully

Hope you’re ready for my controversial HOT TAKE on this minor character from a G-rated film that came out twenty years ago!

Lottie is the smallest girl and a fucking brat. Her brattiness is coded as cute, but I ain’t buying it. She uses anything she has at her disposal to manipulate people into doing what she wants. A tiny child has very few resources, so she mostly just cries and screams. But oh what a horror she will be when she has more options.

I just don't like this brat.

Her worst moment in the film is when she’s pressed to explain Becky’s secondary status to a newly arrived Sara. “That’s Becky. She’s not allowed to talk to us.”

“Why not?” Sara asks.

“She’s a servant girl, and she has dark skin.”


Lottie falters, and shrugs. “Well…” she says, “doesn’t that mean something?”

Unlike Sara, Lottie has grown up in American culture. She knows that people with dark skin are segregated, and has absorbed that this means they are mysteriously, generically bad. Sara is baffled by Lottie, and forces her to articulate her views. Lottie immediately caves, and acknowledges that she doesn’t really know the implications of what she just said. Incredibly, it’s the only time in the film Becky’s race is mentioned explicitly.

One of my favorite pieces of Daniel Mallory Ortberg’s wisdom on Slate’s Dear Prudence is the weaponization of the question “what do you mean?”

When someone says something that isn’t outright racist, sexist, classist, homophobic, transphobic, etc., but has extremely strong implications in that regard, Ortberg’s suggestion is to meet this with the question, “But what do you mean?” You repeat the question until the jerk you’re talking to either makes their jerky comment explicit, or backs down because they realize what they just said is wholly unacceptable.

I love this tactic, and Sara basically uses it here.

Because this is the only moment where race is explicitly voiced, I wish the moment were stronger. But if Sara’s response had been “now now, little lady, that’s what we call RACIST,” it would’ve seemed hokey and unnatural, like a Very Special Episode. Kids are pretty savvy about that kind of insincerity.

The reality is that many self-proclaimed “woke” adults still struggle with calling out the casual racism of their friends, coworkers, and family members. I don’t expect a fresh-off-the-boat ten-year-old to do it perfectly. But questioning implicitly hateful statements is a good place to start. It doesn’t allow the comment to stand unchallenged, and forces the speaker to reexamine their words. It works best with people who are shitty because they’re ignorant, or lazy, or habituated to discriminatory attitudes.

Sara’s happily ever after

Through a pretty crazy set of fantastical coincidences, Sara reunites with her father. Her wealth and status is restored, and Sara has been tested. But rather than the world changing her, Sara has changed the world.

Her father buys the school and institutes a change of management. The stuffy, prescriptive, authoritarian vibe is gone. The girls are much happier; the whole street is brighter. Sara’s father adopts Becky, and the two become sisters, riding off together in white gloves and dresses.

Brb #sobbing.

I suppose you could interpret this ending as colonialism solving colonialism. The white imperialist gentleman rides in on a fucking horse and solves everyone’s problems by throwing his blood money at it. But I think you should shut up because that’s fucking joyless. This is a G-rated children’s film, with elements of fantasy and magical realism. It’s not going to dig deeply enough into the themes of war, poverty, class, race, and imperialism to satisfy adult tastes.

That said, I think Sara is a fantastic example of how inspiring and intersectional a privileged character can be. Throughout the film she moves from passively powerful, to downtrodden, to actively powerful. At each stage, she makes the most generous and ethical choices she has the ability to make. As far as ten-year-old girls in gigantic bows go, Sara Crewe is a certified bad-ass.

Y’all, I’m exhausted




43 thoughts to “A Little Princess: Intersectional Feminist Masterpiece?”

  1. I have seen it and did love Sara herself, she is awesome! I’m not sure it’s quite up there on my list of amazing masterpieces, mainly due to the happily ever after type ending, where the princess gets rescued!


    Except I loved it back then because it was a movie about magic and princesses and friends and had a happy ending, not because it was a nuanced look into privilege and intersectionality. So thank you for breaking it down like this because I can’t say I’ve thought about it much at all as an adult, let alone through this lens. Also we should all be Sarah Crewe when it comes to recognizing our privilege!

    And I think I’ll go work some magic to figure out how on earth I can watch this tonight 😉

    1. Also fun facts that I just learned last night: Mallory Ortberg just came out as trans and is now going by Mal and using male pronouns and also The Toast’s archives are going back up permanently! (I ended up on Nicole Cliffe’s Twitter feed last night, how can you tell?)

      1. Wha?! I had no idea! I gather from Google that she will opt to begin changing pronouns sometime in the future, but not yet. I’m gonna leave this article as-is for now, but I will go back and amend at that time! Good for her!

        1. Oh this is SO wild to me because A Little Princess used to be one of my favourite BOOKS when I was younger. And reading this movie review, they’ve clearly adapted so many things to be portrayed in a way that makes more sense for the American audience and whatnot. I really, really recommend reading the book because it’s pretty fascinating (though a warning for it also being more british) and goes deeper into how Sara was a child who was reacting as best she could to the world around her – a really interesting feature that I’m not sure was included in the movie is that she acknowledges her privilege

          (Oh and a side note, love your blog and what you do, thank you for all your work)

    2. This was also one of my favourite childhood films, and one we rewatched many, many times. I can’t believe its an unknown!

  3. I didn’t see it, but I read the book “Sara Crewe” when I was a kid. Later I saw a movie with Shirley Temple in the role, and got confused: The character of Sara was nothing like that plucky li’l songstress. It felt weird to me.

    And yeah, NO ONE wants to be told s/he is privileged, ESPECIALLY if they are. So many of us are completely, utterly unaware of our invisible privileges/supports.

  4. I completely forgot about this movie. And I’m ashamed to say I didn’t get all of this when I watched it as a kid…

    For some reason, this brought back memories of another childhood movie, Curly Sue. Ever see that one? It’s definitely less full of wisdom, and has a much more superficial plot of rags to riches.

    Ok, now I might start rewatching childhood movies to find the deeper meanings that I missed.

    1. Looooool I went to film school, and really prided myself on my critical analyses. My thesis was on the “textual-filmic interplay” of Buffy the Vampire Slayer media versus its adapted comic book series… Yikes.

  5. I remember this film very well! (And I also remember that Tamzin Merchant was supposed to play Daenerys, at least briefly. It’s very hard to imagine anyone else in the role, but I’ve not been a huge fan of Emilia Clarke, and well, am so angry at the writing of the show that it’s hard to be objective.) Great post as always, very detailed explanation and analysis.

    1. I really feel that Emilia Clarke does that role a disservice. She is so one-note (stiff and lofty). Dany is a very conflicted character, and Clarke just doesn’t know how to show it. Merchant’s was electric on The Tudors, and I think she could’ve brought a lot to the role.

      In general, the Tudors was an insane showcase of some of the very best female talent on television. GRRM agrees. He and I had a long discussion on this topic, true story.

  6. This movie meant so much to me as a child I am so glad to see it so well-loved by other people! The book brought me tears because of the (SPOILERS) not so happy ending, but this movie tugs on your heartstrings but then gives you a happy ending after all, and I need that more than I’d like to admit.

  7. I was honestly getting ready to be irritated, because I feel like too many people use the word privilege as a dagger (gross generalization, I know). BUT, I freaking loved this post. Mostly because you SHOWED UP and laid out an impeccable analysis of a movie I’ve never seen, but now desperately want to. So thank you for that on this Friday. You go, girl!

    1. It’s true, people sometimes throw out “privileged” like it means we’re a shitty human being. We’re not! Everyone is privileged in some way, and that is not a barrier to being awesome.

  8. I have read nothing but the header so far and I am already offended: HOW DARE YOU say that no one remembers the Little Princess?
    I have seen every adaptation of that book.

    Ok, I will go and read the article now.

  9. I love The Little Princess – just one of the best films ever! I have a friend who loves it so much, she can’t talk about it withough crying (not kidding, I might even have, erm, *tested* it out a few too many times – we’re still friends though, I think…).

  10. I loved The Little Princess so much. It was such a great film. Unfortunately I wound up more like Danny for a long time and it took me a while to circle back to the sort of Little Princess method of recognizing (and attempting to help) injustice and inequality.

    That being said: As much as I hate Buzzfeed (Artistic theft isn’t cool, y’all)… This is still quite possibly one of my favorite ways to explain privilege to people, and how people have varying degrees of privilege even when belonging to the most privileged class in western society. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hD5f8GuNuGQ

  11. OH. MY. GOD.



    (Yes, that statement required all caps. You cannot fathom how excited I was. With the first two gifs I was like “Could it be…?!” and then when my eyes landed on the one of her climbing the head, I nearly screeched with glee while in my very professional work setting.)

    ((Also, yay intersectionality!))

  12. Man, every post from this site feels a little bit like that moment when a dorky, be-bespectacled, socially awkward pubescent girl who has read too many books finds her sister-soulmate who has exact same penchant for historical fiction, musicals, and hot takes on minor characters… When I read this blog, I feel the exact same thrill of belonging as when I met my best childhood friend (and we bonded over Little Princess and Anne of Green Gables). And I also love reading the comments that are like “Piggy and Kitty, are you bitches ME?” because, same.

    Little Princess for the win, BGR for the win, little girls who read too much who grow up into adults with hot takes and deep thoughts for the win!

  13. Oh my goodness, I love this. This was seriously one of the most important movies of my childhood (along with The Princess Bride). I remember going over to my grandma’s house and watching it over and over and over, but I haven’t thought about it in so long. Thank you for providing me with a reason to go re-watch it and appreciate it so much more than I ever did before, and for writing one of the best pieces on privilege I’ve ever read!

  14. I hate to say it, but I haven’t seen this movie. I was in university when it came out and therefore was much too “cool” to see a children’s movie. After reading your post/ode to it, I must change this fact tout suite! Thank you for expanding my horizons.

    That and I have a three year old that will need to see it when she’s the right age to enjoy it. Sooner or later she will want to watch something other than Paw Patrol and Daniel Tiger’s Neighbourhood …

  15. I think I have a good film to show my future son in a few years. Love the analysis — super sharp. And yeah, privilege needs be less, um, triggering in our conversations. It’d be nice to get to a point where we can talk about the advantages we have (and I have a TON) without everyone getting crazy defensive. You can be privileged and be awesome, too.

  16. Wow, I love this! I feel like watching the movie itself won’t be nearly as gratifying as reading this interpretation. Thanks for writing this 🙂

  17. I grew up with the book! I never even realised that there was a movie. Also awesome interpretation of it all, very in depth!

  18. I would like to point out that, if memory serves, the ending of that version of the movie is not, in fact, how the book ended, and I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on how the ending of the book itself plays out.

    1. I have actually never read the book. (I determined pretty early in life that Victorian fiction is just not for me.) But I’ve read a summary and it kinda sounds like it’s the rare case where a film adaptation greatly improved on its source material. It’s not just that the film ending is “happier,” I’m indifferent to that aspect. It’s that Sara doesn’t learn from her experience being a servant that servitude suuuuucks and no one should enjoy a posh life at someone else’s expense. Boo!

  19. Watching with my 7 year old daughter right now… She wanted to watch a cartoon. Okay, bet. Handled. Then it was my turn to choose. She decides she wants to go play with dolls… No, ma’am! Now she’s sitting here giggling and enjoying every minute. My sister called and she screams out, “I’m watching Little Princess!!! ” lol.

    I’m tempted to be a Ms. Minchin & turn it off until tomorrow LMBO

  20. I loved reading this. It was both a great celebration of and a fair socioeconomic analysis of an often forgotten but beloved childhood movie. Thank you!

  21. One of my absolute favorite movies ever, and one of the ones I drag out now when I see well-meaning girl-power types try to drag the “princess” archetype down. There are too many badass princesses in literature and film to denigrate the term just because it also labels an ultra-pink Disney brand. Just discovered your blog today and am very much enjoying it. Thanks for this gorgeous analysis.

  22. As I’m still (slowly) working my way through your archives, I’m so thrilled to see articles like this that take a closer look at things I’ve seen or read and articulate exactly why I love them even though I didn’t have the ability to put it into words myself. A Little Princess is one of my FAVORITE movies and I watch it at least once a year. I tend not to think about deeper themes with my entertainment (my life provides me plenty of rumination material so I don’t really want it in my escape time), but I really love this analysis and it makes me feel awesome about the thousands of times I’ve seen this movie (I didn’t really care about the book even though I read it). I do have a different take regarding Amelia and the scene using her size to get laughs. I definitely do not deny that it can come across that way and was likely intended to elicit a laugh, but I always saw it as joyful because she’s finally broken away from the influence of her sister. She’s running away with the love of her life and for once she’s just letting herself live in the moment, counting on her prince to catch her like she is a fairy tale princess. Then again, maybe that’s my own privilege talking as a relatively small person failing to see the scene from a larger person’s perspective. I definitely have a long way to go on my own journey of becoming aware, but I’m trying!

  23. This was one of my favorite books and movies growing up; my mom and I watched the VHS tape so much that we wore it out. I’m Puerto Rican, and we have all skin colors in my family; we have each faced different challenges in life, depending on how we look, despite being in the same fucking family.

    My children look like Sara Crewe. They came out with light hair and blue eyes despite my medium-olive, tannable skin, brown-black curly hair, and what my mother called “Hershey’s kisses eyes.” My kids don’t know what racism is; I’ve shielded them and they have a white set of grandparents and a PR set of grandparents. They are growing up exposed to English and Spanish.

    They are also starting to see people asking if I’m their nanny. It’s fucked up.

    So I sat down with my newly-minted five year old to watch this movie, and she was ENCHANTED. She has asked to watch it every Saturday and Sunday since I introduced it. She sits in my lap and asks why Becky is treated mean, and proclaims that it’s unfair. On her first watch, she saw Sara and Becky meet onscreen and said, “I think they’re secret sisters and don’t know it yet.”

    I fucking adore this movie and I am so glad my kid likes it too.

  24. What are your thoughts for how Indian characters and culture are portrayed? Particularly the neighborhoods “assistant guy?”

  25. I grew up with the book, which was one of my childhood favorites. I remember watching the movie as a child and feeling it did zero justice to the books and lost most of the nuance. Definitely more sensationalism added, and less depth for all the characters, and the ending. I could imagine if another film were made it could be done much better.

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