When the debut trailer for the Princess Diana biopic “Spencer” was released last week, the Boomers, the Gen-X, the millennials, and the Gen-Z came together in their shared excitement, to the point of frenzy. How is Diana still relevant? Does Diana mean the same thing to the Gen-Z and their parents? Or has the mythology of Diana evolved into something contemporary?
The long-awaited trailer for “Spencer,” the upcoming biopic of Princess Diana by Pablo Larraín, features Kristen Stewart silent throughout, in varying shades of pain, until the very end where she utters only two words, “They don’t.” That was enough to send Twitter into a frenzy last week when the trailer debuted.
“Since you saw that #Spencer trailer, you can find where Kristen Stewart stands on the best actress #Oscars charts,” tweeted Clayton Davis, Variety’s Awards Editor, “Spoiler alert: she’s ranked high.” Total Film, Out Magazine, IndieWire, Reel Talk Inc., critics Lauren Hoff and Scott Menzel were among the dozens on Twitter who were quick to predict Oscar gold for Stewart come the awards season.
How is it that the voice and intonation of Princess Diana, who died 24 years ago, is still recognizable instantly and globally? How is she still relevant, still rocking the pop culture as she did decades ago? Does Diana mean the same thing to the Gen-Z (a generation born after Diana’s death in 1997) and their parents? Or has the mythology of Diana evolved into something contemporary?
Snapshots from Diana’s life for new generations
Following a binge-watching session of “The Crown”s Season 4, where Diana takes center stage as the fresh-faced new bride to the Royal Family, entertainment writer Bonni McLaren wrote last year, “This year has been strange — but perhaps the strangest thing of all is that I’m now completely obsessed with Princess Diana. Even though I was born in 1998 — the year after she died.”
One of Netflix’s major award-sweepers, “The Crown”s most recent season single-handedly put Princess Diana once again back on the radar. Snapshots from Diana’s life as the newly minted royal (played by the newcomer Emma Corrin who won a Golden Globe and an Emmy nomination for her portrayal of Diana) were introduced to new generations.
Those snapshots were familiar to earlier generations, introduced to them in the ’80s and the ’90s through the paparazzi photos, tabloid stories, tell-all bestsellers, and one famous (or rather infamous) interview Diana gave to BBC’s Martin Bashir in 1995.
That interview has continued to keep the myth of Diana alive and relevant to date. The various versions of it, along with edited and cut parts, have been viewed on YouTube over five million times. In the interview, Diana confesses (remember, this is national TV) to her eating disorders, the self-harm, and her husband’s (the future King of England) long-running affair with Camilla Parker Bowles. With a mischievous smile, she shares her take on the affair: “There were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.”
Diana: In her own words
It’s hard to imagine the desperation and the courage to talk about these very personal issues to millions, issues that were supposed to be swept under the carpet if you’re a woman, no less a Royal. That interview is also what makes Diana’s voice and intonation instantly recognizable, even today. Listen to Diana’s “I don’t” in that interview, and now compare it to Kristen Stewart’s “You don’t,” and you’ll see why Twitter went crazy.
Juicy revelations continued when Andrew Morton’s tell-all Diana: Her True Story hit the bookshelves three years later. Working with sources close to the Princess, Morton didn’t shy away from Diana’s bulimia, the affairs on both sides of the marriage, and the cries of help in the guise of suicide attempts.
After her death, Morton revealed that his deep throat was none other than Diana herself. The contents of the book were reintroduced to newer generations in a different, more accessible format in 2017, the 20th anniversary of her death. The Netflix documentary, Diana: In Her Own Words, bared a troubled soul, in her own words.
A style icon: ‘Gangsta with her clothes’
Pop culture never let us forget Diana and her “brand of magic” (as put eloquently by her brother Earl Spencer in an emotional speech in Diana’s funeral) in the 27 years since her death, with films, TV shows, and documentaries. A quick look at Instagram will show that Diana continues to be a style icon. She might be the only celebrity who came through the ’80s and the ‘90s’ unscarred, even triumphant, without a single fashion blunder.
“You know who is the best who ever did it? Princess Diana,” said Rhianna in 2017 in an interview. “She was like — she killed it. Every look was right. She was gangsta with her clothes… I loved everything she wore.” In 2009, Hailey Bieber modeled for a Vogue reshoot of Diana’s iconic clothes. The American model said that she had “looked to Princess Diana for style inspiration for as long as I can remember.”
There’s a hashtag and a Wikipedia entry for “revenge dress,” the black, off-the-shoulder evening dress Diana wore the same night Prince Charles admitted to his affair with Camilla. The dress is also known as the “I’ll show you dress” or “her fuck-you dress.”
Diana was voted as the most iconic woman of all time in 2016, nearly twenty years after her death. But it was her embodiment of rebelliousness and grace, vulnerability and grit that resonated with one generation after another. In the age of #metoo and #timesup and #girlboss, Diana became a new torchbearer for the outspoken millennials and the Gen-Z with their take-no-shit attitude, most certainly a moment of déjà vu for their parents.