The Disney film studio is in damage control this week, as news spreads that its live action remake of Beauty and the Beast may contain a gay subplot, in what is being described as a first and now a last for any high budget children’s film. Conservative pundits and cinemas alike are protesting the “unnatural” inclusion, with concerned parents asking how they are supposed to explain to their children that a film featuring a talking candle has a character who falls in love with another man.
“It’s just wrong to expose children to such material,” said one parent protesting outside a cinema this morning. “Why, if they see gay characters at such an impressionable age, they may grow up thinking gays are just regular people who are part of the rich tapestry of a society that we live in, and I hate to think what that could lead to. They may even grow up to be gay, and we all know that the lack of gay characters in children’s films is the only thing stopping people from being gay up until this point.”
Parents were also said to be outraged that Disney had taken the liberty of changing an existing well known storyline in an attempt to broaden its inclusiveness. “It’s an outrage that they’d think it’s okay to just go in an meddle with the story of a classic like this!” commented one concerned parent online. “When I go to see an adaptation of a film, I expect them to make the film exactly the same as the last time they made it. Why else would you remake a film if not to simply retell a story that’s already been told?”
However Disney has so far held its ground against the protesters, explaining that as a company Disney seeks to be welcoming and inclusive of all people no matter what their gender, race, or sexuality. “All walks of life are welcome in our films,” the company announced in a press release, “as long as they represent a large and cashed up demographic.”
Disney has also clarified that earlier reports of explicit homosexuality in the film were wrong. A spokesperson has explained that the line in questions was actually “Lumière loves the clock”, and had simply been misheard.
On Saturday (4 March), news broke the Russian government was considering banning the film under its strict ‘gay propaganda’ laws. Vitaly Milonov, a member of the State Duma, urged the Russian government to ‘scrutinize’ the film to see whether it held up against the anti-gay laws. Milonov is also the politician who wrote the law.
In a letter to the culture ministry, he said Beauty and the Beast showed ‘overt and shameless propaganda of sin and sexual perversion under the guise of a fairy tale’.
On March 6, the ministry announced Beauty and the Beast would be shown. But they also gave the film a 16+ rating.
“We are issuing an exhibition license to the movie without any problems,” Vyacheslav Tyelnov, head of the culture ministry’s film department, told KinoPoisk.ru. “The age restriction will be 16+.”
Normally, anything found to contain ‘gay propaganda’ would need to be given an 18+ rating. But even with a lower rating, the film still locks out Disney’s key audience, which is likely to have a negative impact at the box office.
Russia’s decision is not the first controversy surrounding Beauty and the Beast.
On Friday (3 March), an Alabama drive-in movie theater cancelled all screenings of the film.
“If I can’t sit through a movie with God or Jesus sitting by me, then we have no business showing it,” the owners wrote in a now-deleted Facebook post. “I know there will be some that do not agree with this decision. That’s fine. We are first and foremost Christians. We will not compromise on what the Bible teaches. We will continue to show family oriented films so you can feel free to come watch wholesome movies without worrying about sex, nudity, homosexuality and foul language.”
Modern Family star Jesse Tyler Ferguson weighed in on the controversy, dismissing it with the remark that despite watching hundreds of heterosexual-themed movies, they have never made him question his sexuality.
Interviewed on the Conan O’Brien show, he said he was excited to see the movie and that he knew Josh Gad, the actor playing the “gay character”.
“People are worried that this gay character is going to make their children gay,” he said. “I’ve seen a million heterosexual movies and never for a moment did I think for a split second… although Ariel did make me want to become a mermaid!”
Sarah Kate Ellis, president of LGBTQ media campaign group GLAAD, welcomed the plot of the new movie, saying, “It’s a wonderful step forward. And this is incredibly important for the youth of today. They need to see themselves reflected in the media they consume. More and more, as studios want to appeal to youth audiences, they’re going to have to include LGBTQ storylines and characters.”