I’ve always been annoyed by the treatment of green eyes in movies and books. I have green eyes myself, and as a child I always hated that green eyes were supposed to be some sort of shorthand for villainous, jealous, or somehow evil characters. It’s like, blue eyes are for “pretty girl” characters, brown eyes are for “smart girl” characters, green eyes are for “crazy/jealous/evil or minor character girls.”
One of my favorite books growing up was A Little Princess, (which I would have loved anyway since it is a delightful story), but one of the reasons I clung to it was because the heroine, little Sara Crew, is repeatedly described as having gray-green eyes. I loved Sara’s imagination, bravery, and selflessness, but most of all I loved that she was such a good character who also happened to have green eyes.
“Oh,” sniffed Lavinia, spitefully, “that is the way her shoes are made. I don’t think she is pretty at all. Her eyes are such a queer color.”
“She isn’t as pretty as other people are,” said Jessie, stealing a glance across the room, “but she makes you want to look at her again. She has tremendously long eyelashes, but her eyes are almost green.” (–Sara’s first day at boarding school, from chapter 2 of A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett)
Then of course Harry Potter came along when I was a bit older, and throughout seven glorious books the boy who would save the Wizarding world again and again was the proud owner of a pair of green eyes, just like his mother.
Harry had a thin face, knobbly knees, black hair, and bright green eyes.
“Las’ time I saw you, you was only a baby,” said the giant. “Yeh look a lot like yer dad, but yeh’ve got yer mom’s eyes.”
-(from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by J.K. Rowling, chapters 1 and 2)
Of course, the movie adaptations of Harry Potter feature a blue-eyed star, (and inexplicably his mother has brown eyes as a child), so needless to say that was a disappointment. And in both of the Little Princess movies that I’ve seen, the main character had blue eyes.
What sparked this post was the release of the first image of Angelina Jolie as Maleficent in her latest project, a live-action version of Sleeping Beauty. The first thing I noticed were the eyes.
The accompanying article in Entertainment Weekly describes her image by saying:
There’s a kind of vampire quality to the tipped back head and slightly parted, blood-red lips, and of course the glowing eye — pure nasty.
I know they aren’t outright saying that green eyes are nasty. But it still feels a little personal, that the costume designer went with glowing green eyes and not blue or brown or some non-human color like purple or red, and especially because my eyes actually have rings of color similar to this rendering of Maleficent; green on the outside and then brown and yellow in the center. (I would post a picture, but I’m paranoid about the personal information that I put online, and what if iris scanning becomes a thing? You’ll just have to take my word for it. Some might classify my eyes as hazel, but they are predominantly green and I’ve always self-identified as a green-eyed girl.)
I’m just so sick and tired of my fellow green-eyed people being negatively stereotyped onscreen! Or, more often, completely absent from the screen. Thank goodness for books, where my imagination’s casting director never has a hard time projecting characters that actually match their written descriptions. I recently came across a new book with a green-eyed heroine for me to admire, the main character in Matched.
“Greenspace, green tablet,” Grandfather said, and then he looked at me and smiled. “Green eyes on a green girl.”
“That sounds like poetry,” I said, and he laughed.
“Thank you.” He paused for a moment. “I wouldn’t take that tablet, Cassia. Not for a report. And perhaps not ever. You are strong enough to go without it.”
I close my eyes and think of Grandfather’s poetry.
Green tablet. Green space. Green eyes. Green girl.
-(Matched by Ally Condie, Chapter 10)
The movie rights to Matched have been sold, but I won’t hold my breath for accurate eye-color casting. With the exception of the Twilight films, contact lenses and digital re-touchings seem to be too much bother for film producers to concern themselves with. Just look at The Hunger Games, where the books describe Katniss and Gale as having gray eyes and Peeta as blue, but they cast blue-eyed actors for the former and a guy with brown eyes for the later. And they didn’t bother with contacts.
Until Rapnzel in 2010’s Tangled, I don’t remember encountering an on-screen princess with green eyes. None of the Disney Princesses have them. If I had still been a little girl when Tangled came out, I probably would have idolized her.
Then of course there are neutral portrayals of green eyes, like how the Earth Benders in Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra tend to have them.
And while we’re on the subject of Legend of Korra, I have to give a shout-out to Asami Sato, a non-bender who holds her own in combat, drives race cars, stands up for herself and is on team Avatar. You go, green-eyed Asami!
In conclusion, I guess I feel like I can relate in a very small, insignificant way to the frustration that other minority groups might feel at being under-represented, sidelined or negatively stereotyped in film and literature. There’s just something about having a hero you can admire and say, “Hey! They look like me!” that resonates. I can only imagine how much more it would matter if to me if I were talking about skin color or cultural background. Eye color is relatively trivial by comparison, but I will still always keep a (green) eye out for positive green-eyed representatives.