Cruella de Vil is stylish, a new Disney film’s ad campaign suggests. She’s rich. She skins dogs for clothing. She’s an anarchist.
Hang on, actual anarchists say. WTF?
Disney’s forthcoming film Cruella is a live-action prequel to 101 Dalmatians, an animated classic about a deranged villain who kidnaps puppies so she can wear their skins. Starring actress Emma Stone, the movie attempts to explain what, exactly, Cruella de Vil’s problem is.
Prominent on the poster is a common anarchy symbol: an “A” in a circle.
That’s unwelcome news to anarchists, who say their movement is vocally in favor of animal liberation. While no one wants to be associated with puppy-hunters, the association is an extra slap in the face to people who say they actually go considerably out of their way to advance animal rights.
Ryan Only, a longtime vegan and member of the anarchist public relations group Agency, told The Daily Beast veganism is common in the political movement.
“For many anarchists, practicing veganism—abstaining from supporting the exploitation or use of animals for food or other purposes—is seen as a baseline for living an ethical life,” they said, suggesting it was “in a similar spirit that one practices a commitment to anti-racism, or anti-sexism.
“It’s about walking the walk, a consistency of means and ends,” Only added. “If we believe in a world without oppression, we need to dismantle and disengage from the systems that are responsible for it.”
Only pointed to a long tradition of vegan zines and potlucks in anarchist spaces, alongside participation in actions against fur and animal-testing facilities.
Anarchists oppose hierarchies: most famously governmental and class disparities, but often those between species, too. That can make eating steak—much less culling puppies—a controversial act in the movement.
The Metropolitan Anarchist Coordinating Council, a New York City-based collective, told The Daily Beast its members wanted nothing to do with the Disney villain—or, for that matter, Walt Disney himself.
“The figure of Cruella, a narcissist and a sadist obsessed with the airs of wealth and luxury, stands in direct contrast to the anarchist principles of collectivism, anti-capitalism, and care for life in all of its forms (human, animal, and ecological),” MACC spokesperson Keira Anderson told The Daily Beast. “We also direct our critique toward Walt Disney himself, a corporate oligarch who held anti-unionist, sexist, and racist views and is rumored to have been a Nazi sympathizer. As committed antifascists, we condemn the misuse of anarchist symbols and the misrepresentation of our social and political orientation in this film project.”
Walt Disney’s relations with Nazis have long been in debate, with him hosting a Nazi filmmaker, but later making anti-Nazi films for the U.S. government. Disney, the film company, did not return a request for comment on whether Cruella de Vil was canonically an anarchist. The company’s official description for the film describes it as “set in 1970s London amidst the punk rock revolution.”
But even if de Vil was a hardboiled ’70s punk in the U.K., she wouldn’t necessarily be a dog-killer.
Joe Strummer, guitarist for the band The Clash and one of the era’s most famous punks, became an ardent vegetarian after witnessing a disturbing scene at a ’70s concert. During the 1971 show, he watched a musician’s beloved pet chicken fly onto a crucifix, which was about to be lit on fire.
“All of us in the audience saw Hector the pet rooster on the crucifix, and yet the roadies are desperately trying to strike their matches in the wind. Everyone started to shout, but the roadies couldn’t hear,” Strummer told interviewers decades later. Eventually the rooster was rescued and his owner made an impromptu speech asking the crowd to remember the incident “the next time you have some Kentucky Fried Chicken.”
The message clicked, and Strummer gave up meat.
Seldom the heroes of big-budget films, anarchists appear to have run especially afoul of Disney in recent years. Falcon and the Winter Soldier, a forthcoming TV miniseries by the Disney-owned Marvel comics, is rumored to center on a conflict between Captain America’s friends and an anarchist group called the “Flag-Smashers.”
The Cruella trailer might have punk-rock aesthetics, but Cruella de Vil probably isn’t interested in non-hierarchical political theory.
“From the trailer, it appears Cruella de Vil is challenging the notion of what it means to be a woman in the world by sowing chaos and wielding personal power,” Only said. “But it’s unlikely the character actually views herself as an anarchist. Instead, she appears to be just one more example where the status quo attempts to dismiss any threat to itself as chaos, and then define chaos as anarchy.”