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The row around the ‘gay’ moment in ‘Beauty and the Beast’

LiveMint logoLiveMint 17-03-2017 Rajyasree Sen

What will happen if our children watch a Disney film with a gay side-character in it? A character who isn’t even shown as clearly gay, but his gay leanings are lightly alluded to for a maximum of seven seconds by the watch, on-screen? Will they instantly turn gay? Does that mean if they see Batman on screen, they’ll instantly turn into half-man, half-bat?

Many such questions have arisen over that most innocuous of films, Disney’s Beauty and The Beast, which released on Friday. It seems that for once our Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) may not be the most regressive film certification board in existence.

First off, it seems that Disney has finally grown up to a whole new world and an exciting point of view. When we were growing up, some of the best Disney films came out. Animation had finally come into its own. And from Lion King to Little Mermaid to Beauty & The Beast, we watched them all. Animation and cast aside, what made Disney films memorable was the fact that stellar singers such as Luther Vandross, Vanessa Williams, Elton John and Celine Dion all sang for the films.

The new Beauty and The Beast has been in the news for its cast—Emma Watson (who turned down La La Land for this film) and Ewan McGregor, Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci and Ian McKellan. And because—hold your breath and gird your loins and get the pitchforks out—there is an actual gay moment in this film. What will happen to the children? Are we destroying them? More importantly, what will happen to our governments who cannot wrap their heads around same-sex relationships? Their finer sensibilities killed by none other than Walt Disney. The man and company which gave us talking mice and ducks who don’t wear underpants, but do wear jackets.

The Malaysian government has banned the film since gay sex is considered a criminal offence in the country and can lead to imprisonment. Censors only allow gay characters to be shown if they are portrayed “either negatively or as repentant”. It was reported that in Beauty and the Beast, LeFou (Josh Gad) was supposedly shown as pining for the film’s villain, Gaston, and dancing with a man for literally two seconds at the end of the film. Most impressively, Disney refused to cut the offensive scene and pulled the film from Malaysian theatres.

Josh Gad as LeFou in a still from the film.

Russia, which has uber-male Vladimir Putin posing bare-chested on horseback, unsurprisingly has a “gay propaganda” law which was passed in 2013 and which prohibits the spreading of “gay propaganda” among minors. Russia has given the film a licence of 16+, but hasn’t banned the film or asked for a cut. But just so you know that we are not alone with our bigots, Russian MP Vitaly Milonov of the United Russia party has described the film as “shameless propaganda of sin”.

Thankfully, Pahlaj Nihalani was so busy trying to understand the “lady oriented” Lipstick Under My Burkha, he didn’t have time to pay attention or understand the “propaganda of sin” that is Beauty and The Beast. And thank the CBFC gods for that, because there’s frankly nothing to get your panties in a twist about while watching this film.

I’d in fact say, go watch the film with your family. It will transport you to a more innocent time. There are many new layers to the film. Belle, the beauty, is shown as the only literate girl in her village in which women only cook, clean and wash clothes. The strength of books to transport you to a whole new world is brought through. That you shouldn’t judge people based on their appearance or your first interaction with them and that you must accept everyone—whether it be a teacup, a beast or even an annoying beauty. And that you shouldn’t blindly support the people you’re in love with. It’s also a lesson in dealing with people with clear rage problems and anger management issues. There are, of course, the usual tropes of love conquering all and good winning over evil. But hey, it is a Disney film. And like all good Disney films, the prince and princess are usually the least impressive of the characters—and you end up wishing the Beast had never changed into the prince, and that Ewan McGregor had played the prince instead of Lumiere the candelabra.

It amazes me that the Malaysian and the Russian censors even noticed the seven seconds which allude to LeFou being gay. And found it offensive to boot. LeFou’s character is actually shown as one of the few with a conscience and stands up to the villain, whom he fancies. But why focus on the positives, when you can try and find a negative?

As Ian McKellan accurately summed it up, “People who don’t like the idea of gay characters appearing in fairy stories should think what they would think if they were gay themselves and why should they be excluded?... I know people who don’t like gay people and make a fuss. It’s a very small moment in the movie, no one should get too excited. For people to complain about it and say they don’t want children to see it is absolute rubbish”.

And I’d go with what Sir Ian McKellen (recipient of six Laurence Olivier Awards, a Tony Award, a Golden Globe Award, a Screen Actors Guild Award, a British Independent Film Award, two Saturn Awards) says. This “gay” controversy, much like most film certification boards, which claim to know what is right or wrong for us to watch, is absolute rubbish. Go watch the film and take your children along.

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