Brave knights. Fair maidens. A damsel in distress. That is sooo 476 AD. At least, we’d like to think it is.
Let’s face it: The Middle Ages is one of our favorite periods of history to relive. And what is it often chockfull of? Dudes with swords who kick butt and helpless princesses who need saving.
Out of date, right?
Unfortunately, the truth is that men in the “lead” and women in “supporting roles” is as present now as it’s ever been. Many of us are still bafflingly uncomfortable with the idea of a female president, but totally fine with a president who belittles and objectifies women on a near-daily basis!
That presents a special challenge for modern day re-enactments like Medieval Times, an elaborate theme restaurant in the United States and Canada that entertains diners with a live-joust and other medieval performances.
Though its show is set in the Middle Ages, Medieval Times’ audience lives in the year 2018. And, lately, the restaurant’s owners were getting more and more feedback about their 30-some-year-old performance: It needed more women.
Early this year, Medieval Times decided to make a big change to some of its shows: They would now feature a queen in charge, instead of a king.
Who rules a kingdom? A king, of course!
Well, not so fast.
Sure, the Middle Ages were the heyday of the patriarchy in a lot of ways, but queens were powerful, too, and played important roles. They were often key strategic advisors to the king behind closed doors. (Catherine de Medici, one of the late queens of France, was known for being particularly conniving and ruthless, for example.)
So, yeah. Queens did more than just sit around and look pretty.
Yet, since Medieval Times first opened its doors in 1983, the company’s restaurants typically feature a live scene starring a “king” hosting a jousting tournament for the viewing pleasure of himself and the audience while they down their supper.
Clearly, rewriting this script wouldn’t exactly be a stretch of history.
Fortunately, starting at the Lyndhurst, New Jersey location on Jan. 11 — and soon rolling out to all nine Medieval Times restaurants — “Queen Dona Maria Isabella” is taking over.
“Where previously our female characters played in more supportive roles, we are now showing a woman fully in charge, a woman whose authority is sometimes challenged, but she quickly rises to the occasion as a strong leader, squelching opposition,” says Ingrid Hunt, senior general manager at Medieval Times, in a press release.
The update might seem like a small tweak, but it’s a big win for better representation.
Some data suggests that while roles for women (in Hollywood, for example) are on the rise, they still only make up about 32% of speaking parts. Female leads are even more rare.
Shows on broadway have a similar problem.
So a major rewrite to a decades-long show like Medieval Times — that brings in over 2.5 million audience members every year — is actually pretty awesome.
And the Chicago Times reports that the show’s director, Leigh Cordner, took the gender-flip extremely seriously, spending well over a year rewriting the performance script to accommodate a matriarch in a powerful way.
We only hope that more and more shows follow suit and start to think outside the box about how women and people of color can be better represented in their performances.