Ihave only seen a trailer for Brave, Pixar's latest film, but even watching a few fleeting frames my heart swelled with pride.
That Scotland looks romantically lush and mysterious is, of course, a bonus, but the really clever bit was the filmmakers' pin-sharp social realism. In one single detail, they captured what makes Scotland distinctive.
I'm not referring to the fact the heroine Merida is a feisty, talented young woman, of which Scotland has more than its fair share. No, what's striking is her unruly nest of red hair. This mane takes on a life of its own, tumbling around her face when she gets angry, streaming behind her like a flag as she rides through the forest, fizzing with anticipation as she fires an arrow that hits its target smack on. In terms of characters, it has as big a part as she does, suggesting her independent spirit and courage. But she's not the only redhead. The scene where Merida and her siblings chat around the dinner table is like watching a box of tomatoes spring into life. You begin to wonder if, by using such brilliantly rich colour, the director is trying to evoke the passion that makes Merida's family, and indeed this nation, tick.
I'm sure I won't be the only one who thinks Pixar has scored a bulls-eye for Scotland's flame-haired tribe. If there's one defining physical characteristic of the Scots down the centuries, beyond skin whiter than chalk, it's the preponderance of ginger-heads in any crowd. No other country in the world can boast as many. Roughly 13% of Scots are copper-coloured, a clan of much maligned folk who from childhood have had to endure taunts of "ginge" and sniggers about Heinz soup. No wonder their fuses tend to be short.
Since the day the Romans stepped beyond Hadrian's wall, enemy armies have probably come to a halt at the sight of the Scottish infantry: short, red-headed blokes who might at first look like stunted carrots, but turn out to be ferociously terrier-like. Their latter-day equivalents were the likes of Jimmy Johnstone and Billy Bremner, dinky-sized footballers who ran rings around their opponents, and in so doing gave their fellow gingers a much-needed confidence boost.
When you think of how many talented redheads we've had, from Mary, Queen of Scots to Ewan McGregor, it's anyone's guess where the stigma comes from. Some, apparently, used to think it was a sign of immorality, as if devilish flames were licking around the person's head. Personally, I love it: whether it's a Tilda Swinton burnt orange, or a Robert Redford strawberry blonde, all reds are beautiful. Sadly, though, not everyone would agree. And perhaps because women have been more easily able to disguise their natural shade, it's men who continue to bear the brunt of an entrenched prejudice which, under the term "gingerism", is deemed by some to be as serious a form of discrimination as racism. Just last year, one of the biggest sperm banks in the world said it would no longer take donations from redheads because demand was so low. As the company's director commented, only in Ireland were such donors actively sought. Elsewhere, brown was by far the preferred colour.
So, even though chemists' shelves abound in russet hair-dyes, the fear of red lives on. Admittedly there was a flurry of interest in redheaded men when the American thriller Homeland was aired this spring with Damien Lewis in the main role. A glance at Lewis's career, however, shows that he's made a living playing sinister characters, as if his coppery thatch was a convenient shorthand for viewers. Benedict Cumberbatch, meanwhile, toned himself down to a dull brown to play Sherlock Holmes, and Michael C Hall, from Dexter and Six Feet Under, is boringly mousy in both series when in reality he could effortlessly hide himself in a field of pumpkins.
I simply don't understand why anyone would camouflage themselves as brunette or black or even blonde when they could stand out like a lighted match, a flaring beacon in a sea of mediocrity. I just hope Merida's crimson curls mean redheads finally get the respect they deserve. Otherwise, they will surely soon be dyed out of existence.
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