Princess Cyd is available to watch for free on Kanopy.
It is a common trope in a lot of media that women’s self-worth is tied to their sexuality. They are judged for how old they are; how often they have sex, and whether they have sex with men, women or both. Furthermore, all too often female characters are punished for their exploits in contradictory ways. Princess Cyd, therefore, was a breath of fresh air.
Princess Cyd is a soft, but impactful summer flick, ideal for anyone who feels starved of content that passes the Bechdel test. It is the story of teenager Cyd and her aunt, best-selling author Miranda, as they bond over the memory of Cyd’s mother and grow to understand each other’s expressions of sexuality. Despite their palpable differences, there is no forced conflict. Each of them is trying and – in a very human way sometimes failing – to connect with the other.
Miranda is happy in the life she has made for herself as a single woman, holding regular soirées with friends and colleagues and nurturing intimate friendships. She says she is fulfilled by losing herself in stories, good food and great company, yet she seems to long for a deeper connection when she finds her gaze lingering on her friend Antony. The film both validates her single lifestyle while not completely stripping her of her sexuality, un-sexing her, and although that message is a little confusing on first watch to decipher, I got over my initial disappointment that she didn’t completely assert herself as satisfied with her single lifestyle and low libido. After all, people can live alone and be happy, and still may get lonely from time to time – especially in a society that is set up for monogamous, nuclear families. Princess Cyd says that there is nothing wrong with having both positive and negative feelings about your life and to wonder what things may be like if they were different.
Cyd, on the other hand, explores her sexuality across the film, with various partners of different genders. She has a boyfriend back home – which is something that didn’t quite sit comfortably with me, perhaps perpetuating an outdated idea about attraction to multiple genders meaning a higher libido or tendency towards cheating. However, it is a breath of fresh air for the conflict to not come from her sexual choices, and I was relieved when Miranda reassured her early on that she was valid for exploring her sexuality. Nonetheless, maybe it would have been nice for her to face some consequence for cheating on her boyfriend back home, but for better or for worse, Cyd is not punished by the narrative or by those around her for exploring her sexuality and trying things out. This in itself is a positive and refreshing message. It feels as if Cyd has grown up in a world where she has never faced judgement for following her attractions or being who she is, and it is lovely to watch her express her sexuality without self-doubt or fear.
The main source of conflict in the film between the aunt and her niece is beautifully handled towards the end of the film. Miranda rebuts a snarky comment from Cyd, who does not understand Miranda’s lifestyle, and is frustrated by her attitude towards sex. Miranda lays bare the chasm between them, making Cyd understand that she will never understand the deep fulfilment and joy she gets from her lifestyle, and that is okay. They must “respect each other’s selves.” It is a beautiful message, that even if we do not understand each other, we must do our best to be respectful, and one that Cyd takes to heart. It isn’t a one-way learning experience, either: Miranda also learns a thing or two from her niece. She allows herself the opportunities to be a teenager again and feel sexy, laying out on the lawn in a bathing suit and flirting more openly with Antony. Their relationship is full of playful fun that she has been missing from her life, and we get the feeling that she needed Cyd just as much as Cyd needed her.
I realised after finishing this film that by trying to put labels on these characters’ sexualities is exactly what it tries to avoid – not because there is anything wrong with labels, but to be human is to live in states of flux and confusion. Often sexuality does not work in logical, coherent ways. Other films may focus on representing the specifics of sexuality, but I do not think this film is wrong for its alternative approach. More of a thought-experiment than a mission statement, Princess Cyd argues that we must remember to take a moment to appreciate the non-sexual and platonic moments in life. That way, we can respect women for who they are, and not for how much sex they do or do not have.
Featured Image Source: Megan Shepherd