Row over ‘gay moment’ in Beauty and the Beast

Something there: LeFou “wants to be Gaston and on another day wants to kiss Gaston.” © Disney

The live-action remake could be the biggest film of the year — but not in Malaysia. Despite the country’s request, Disney has refused to cut its first same-sex subplot. Is it the right call?

It is, as everyone knows, a tale as old as time. A cursed prince. A beautiful, lonely bookworm… And a man who “wants to kiss” his male best friend?

This is Disney’s $300m remake of Beauty and the Beast, which will be released tomorrow. And last week, director Bill Condon announced that it will include Disney’s first ever “exclusively gay moment”. The brief scene will involve Gaston’s sidekick, LeFou, who is “confused” about his sexuality.

The decision has been praised as a “watershed” moment by many in the West.

But Disney films are watched around the world, and some countries are less pleased. Homosexuality is illegal in Malaysia, and so officials asked Disney to cut the storyline out of their version. “Children will be watching”.

Disney refused. It has now delayed the film’s Malaysian release indefinitely.

Beauty and the Beast had a special place in LGBT film history even before this news. Its songwriter, Howard Ashman, was openly gay. He died of AIDS in 1991, a few months before its original release.

Was Disney right to refuse to censor its first openly gay character?

Be our gayest

Yes, say some. It is 2017 after all. Some characters are gay; Malaysia should get over it. Studies suggest that showing LGBT people on screen can help to reduce prejudice in the real world. That is why it is so important to include all types of people in children’s films. If anything, Disney should try even harder.

Countries like Malaysia are not ready for that, say others. We shouldn’t force them. They only asked to cut four-and-half minutes — surely that is better than not showing the film at all? After all, western tourists are used to respecting local customs when travelling to foreign countries, even if they do not agree with them personally. Why should movies be different?

You Decide

  1. Should Disney have agreed to cut its first “gay moment” in Malaysia?

Activities

  1. With a partner, list three LGBT characters whom you have seen on film or TV, and discuss whether they changed your perceptions.

Some People Say...

“Movies can and do have tremendous influence in shaping young lives.”

Walt Disney

What do you think?

Q & A

A side character with a crush doesn’t seem like a big deal…
To most modern Western audiences, it is not — they have become used to seeing far more explicitly gay characters on screen. But these are noticeably absent from children’s films. When ParaNorman (made by an independent studio called Laika) included a gay side character in 2012, there was an uproar among concerned conservatives.

Word Watch

$300m
The film cost $160m to make, and has a $150m marketing budget.
Indefinitely
For an unlimited period.
Howard Ashman
Also worked on Aladdin and The Little Mermaid, winning a posthumous Oscar for the song Beauty and the Beast.
AIDS
Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) can develop in people with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). The virus can be transmitted through unprotected sexual intercourse, particularly between men.
Studies
Edward Schiappa from the University of Minnesota has completed at least five studies with these results.

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