05 Dec How Cruella Depicted Toxic Work Culture
Rounding up the most popular movies that came out in 2021, we have Cruella. The sympathetic misadventure debut of the fashionably rocking villain from the 101 Dalmatians franchise, Cruella De Vil, which birth name is revealed to be Estella. But we’re not talking about that today, now I’m starting to feel more like the subject that I’m about to talk about, since I cut off topics on this article before I even say it. We’re talking about the main antagonist of Estella’s story on becoming the Cruella that we know, Baroness Von Hellman, the poster mother of a ‘toxic work environment queen’ or should I say ‘The Baroness Of Toxic Work Environment’.
Played by the legendary Emma Thompson, Baroness Von Hellman is depicted as this torturous narcissist of a boss, and of course she look the part. The thing about Baroness that would ring all the bells under the label ‘toxic boss’ is not just her clearly NOT idealistic way of leading her fashion studio (from gaslighting the staffs to treating them as mere ‘useful tools’ for her own objectives), but also the fact that she did not do much anything to lead her studio beside bossing her staffs verbally.
The movie Cruella itself is set in the 1970s. Sounds pretty far away from our time, but what’s something that is present on our time (not to mention in a large scale) just like the movie, Cruella? Toxic work culture. Awareness of toxic work culture has been rising and spreading over the last few years. Even though the movie Cruella itself isn’t adapted from a true story that happened in the 70s, the movie’s depiction of a toxic work culture that is supposed to exist in the 70s clearly works! That alone gives us a hint that toxic work culture has obviously been rampaging the world far before our time, even far before the earth hit 1970.
There were no online social media or online gossip pages back in the 1970s, but there were enough reviews on newspapers and knives for the Baroness to play with. In the scene where Estella works for the Baroness for the first time, Baroness started the day by reading a review of her clothing line from a newspaper which praises Baroness as a ‘genius’. However, that review isn’t seem to be accurate to depict the Baroness as Estella’s first day goes on, showing how all the Baroness does are telling her staffs to make whole looks for her that she could use.
Yes, I did say Baroness didn’t do much anything to lead her studio, that was an overshadowing understatement. How? All Baroness does are commanding her staffs to design outfits that they have to produce themselves, and when their works are done, Baroness will take those designs her staffs made for her and claimed them as her own creations to the public. The newspapers calls Baroness ‘a genius’, sounds like they don’t really know that all the designs under the label of House Baroness are actually made by Baroness’s staffs, which designs she stole and claimed as her own creations.
Did I call Baroness a ‘torturous narcissist’? The word torturous also sounds like a bit of an understatement. Staffs could call their boss ‘torturous’ if their boss treats them badly, but still leads the work environment to reach the work’s goals. Baroness on the other hand, does taunt her staffs verbally, but she doesn’t do any non-verbal activity to lead her studio. All Baroness does is telling her staffs to design looks, and criticize the looks they’ve designed if she thinks they’re not good enough, despite not designing anything herself.
I said she taunt her staffs verbally. Well, she taunts them physically too, on some occasions. In the scene where she reviews her staffs’ designs, she criticized all of those designs, even calmly and coldly stating that one of the designers is fired because of the unsatisfying design that staff created. She criticized all of her staffs’ creations, except one, which is designed by our dear Estella. She observes Estella’s design, longer than the other staffs’ designs. After a few seconds, she cuts Estella’s dress to form a better shape for the gown, slightly injuring Estella’s hand in the process. When Estella gasped as an impact of the injury, Baroness casually asked why did Estella make a sound.
That’s just the beginning, since Baroness grabbed Estella’s hand after that, showing Estella’s injured hand to her other staffs so they can fetch her fabrics which shares the same color as Estella’s blood. Liam Hess called Thompson’s character a walking, talking manifestation of the “gaslight, gatekeep, girlboss” meme, on his Vogue article. That description fits the Baroness character well, since her ongoing habit to run her company seems to be gaslighting her staffs and criticize the things that they do for her, which she also claimed as her deeds instead of her staffs’.
Now about her narcissism. A comment on YouTube states how ‘bad’ it is for Baroness to have a belief in herself that she actually designed and made all of the looks that her staffs made. She used the newspaper reviews that calls her a genius as her affirmation, and when Estella designed a ‘stunning’ look for the studio, Baroness said ‘I’ve done it again’, describing herself as the one who made all the ‘stunning’ phenomenon happen despite not designing any of the studio’s looks.
Oh! I haven’t even mention her ‘hostility’ in work partnerships, judging other company’s representative by his physique and desiring to sue the alter ego ‘Cruella’ just because she’s starting to steal away all of Baroness’s spotlight. Not to mention how she gives her staffs any kinds of activities on workdays, stuffs that are not even in the staffs’ job descriptions, like when she commanded Estella (who works as a designer) to get her a lunch.
The important ‘fabric’ that ties the whole ‘toxic boss’ depiction to the audience is how people in this day and age could easily identify and know that Baroness is a depiction of a toxic boss. It shows how the movie depicts a toxic boss representation in a story set in the 1970s, yet making people from nowadays understand the depiction, using the still-existing toxic work culture that are often found in some places even in the year of 2021.