Netflix Proves Wednesday Is Addams Family’s Scary Feminist Icon
You would be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t like The Addams Family, cartoonist Charles Addams’ delightfully macabre satire of the American family. Across decades, and mediums, they have provided a look into the darker side of life. It’s no surprise, then, that the property is receiving yet another reboot: a Netflix live-action series directed by Tim Burton, following daughter Wednesday Addams’ school adventures.
The Evolution of Wednesday Addams
It’s been a long road to get to the point where Wednesday Addams can carry her own television series. She debuted, along with much of the rest of the Addams Family, in a series of cartoons by Charles Addams. Beginning in 1938, and continuing for an incredible 50 years, the single-panel comics were published by The New Yorker among other publications. (However, the characters weren’t given individual names until the arrival of the ABC television show, in 1964.)
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The comics consisted of unrelated comedic scenarios starring the offbeat family. In this first iteration, Wednesday’s iconic appearance (pale face, with dark hair) is codified, as is her love for the macabre. Unlike some later depictions, however, she’s deadly serious and almost never smiles.
Wednesday, like the other characters, was given more dimension in the ABC sitcom The Addams Family. There, she was depicted as cheerfully morbid, raising spiders and playing with her beheaded Marie Antoinette doll. However, Wednesday was also shown to be a happy child. She event danced ballet — while wearing a black leotard and tutu, of course.
A Wednesday Addams for Modern Times
Following multiple TV incarnations — an animated series, a live-action Halloween special and a failed variety-show pilot, among them — the Addams Family finally made the jump to the big screen with 1991’s The Addams Family.
Played by the perfectly cast Christina Ricci, Wednesday’s character is decidedly darker than in earlier adaptations. She’s often grim and deadpan, as she had been in the original cartoons. She’s overtly sadistic, too, relishing in the torture of brother Pugsley more than she ever did on the 1964 series. This Wednesday Addams also displays more agency, often commenting on, and influencing, the film’s events.
However, Wednesday truly shines in the 1993 sequel, Addams Family Values. She and Pugsley are shipped off to summer camp, through the scheming of their baby brother’s nanny. It’s the first time viewers have seen Wednesday spend prolonged time among “normal” children and adults. And the results are every bit as chaotic as you might expect.
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The next major revamp came in 2009, witha Broadway musical based on The Addams Family. Also called The Addams Family, the stage production follows an older Wednesday as she brings home a “normal” fiancé, and struggles to reconcile her spooky upbringing with her partner’s chipper influence.
The most recent appearances of Wednesday are the 2019 animated movie The Addams Family, and its 2021 sequel. There, Wednesday looks much like her original comic version, and spends much of the films undermining the schemes of villainous adults.
The Subversive Genius of The Addams Family
The Addams Family was conceived as the antithesis of the stereotypical nuclear family. That’s reflected in obvious ways, such as in the Addams’ aesthetics and wealth. But it also emerges in more subtle ways that make viewers question societal norms.
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For starters, Gomez and Morticia are the opposite of the typical comedy couple. The stereotypes of the beleaguered wife and the hen-pecked husband are thrown out the window. Gomez and Morticia are madly in love. And from their earliest depictions, they enjoy working, scheming and raising their children as a team.
Wednesday’s upbringing is every bit as subversive. She’s given the same expectations and opportunities as her brother. Her parents fully support her interests, even — or, perhaps, especially — when they’re mad, macabre or decidedly “unfeminine.” In most of her iterations, she’s the one taking charge of her antics with Pugsley.
It’s no wonder she isn’t afraid to rock the boat, and advocate for truth and justice.
Wednesday Addams, Timeless Champion of Justice
Wednesday has always challenged gender norms and the expectations placed upon girls. She was subversive, from the very beginning, and has developed into an icon, and inspiration, for assertive, “unusual” girls.
Every version of Wednesday Addams bucks societal norms. However, her recent depictions have shown her overtly challenging oppressive systems.
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In 1993’s Addams Family Values, Wednesday faces relentless attempts at assimilation by bright-and-cheery Camp Chippewa with her signature deadpan snark. That is, until she’s cast as Pocahontas in the camp’s annual play about the first Thanksgiving.
Wednesday breaks from the script with a monologue that highlights how Native Americans have been, and still are, exploited. She then leads her fellow outcast campers in setting fire to the camp, and roasting the head counselors on a spit — in front of an audience of aghast parents.
A Wednesday Addams for a New Generation
Arriving this fall on Netflix, Wednesday appears to continue in that same vein. In the teaser trailer, Wednesday Addams (played by Jenna Ortega) exacts vengeance on the school’s water-polo team, which has been bullying Pugsley.
“The only person who gets to torture my brother is me,” she announces as she drops two bags of piranhas into the swimming pool. The lead bully is, quite literally, emasculated by one of the ravenous fish.
“I did the world a favor,” Wednesday deadpans in voiceover. “People like Dalton shouldn’t be allowed to procreate.”
This show is the first time onscreen that Wednesday Addams is fully in the spotlight. It’s been advertised as a mystery comedy with a supernatural twist, following Wednesday’s adventures at Nevermore Academy. (Better still, Christina Ricci returns in a mystery role.)
The teaser already showcases Wednesday’s deadpan speech, macabre inclinations, and propensity for violence. It will be fun to see what else Wednesday will bring to the table, and in what ways she will inspire a new generation of girls to embrace their assertive, quirky selves.
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