Homosexuality in the Live-Action “Beauty & the Beast”

The best thing about the recent live-action Beauty and the Beast is that watching it has caused my three-year-old son to become obsessed with the classic animated movie. Because that’s the one we own. And to be honest, it’s the only one I ever want to watch again.

Okay, yeah, it’s pretty cool that Emma Watson’s Belle invented a rudimentary washing machine so she could spend her laundry time reading and teaching other young girls to read. And that extremely brief glimpse of two men dancing together at the end (which if you ask me had been blown way out of proportion by so many critics) is admittedly an important step for Disney to have made.

StanFou

But the pacing, character development, and action sequences that make the original a timeless classic, in the remake just completely miss the mark. The overall feel of the live-action movie is just wrong.

Still, let’s start with positive changes the live-action version made. Its take on drag, for instance.

animated Stanley

 

The animated B&tB would have us believe that dressing a man in women’s clothing is humiliating and horrific.

live-action Stanley

 

 

 

But in the remake, three men are dressed in beautiful gowns and one of them, Stanley, appears to enjoy it. Stanley is later seen dancing with LeFou at the celebratory ball when the curse on the castle has been lifted.

 

As for LeFou himself, I personally struggled a bit with his character arc. Like many of you, I heard the news that LeFou would be gay long before this movie was released. So I was disappointed to see that his relationship with Gaston was still that of a bully and his lackey.

The way I saw it, LeFou had not changed at all. He didn’t want Gaston – he wanted to be Gaston. No different from the animated version.

It wasn’t until I read an interview with the director Bill Condon that my opinion on LeFou changed.

“LeFou is somebody who on one day wants to be Gaston and on another day wants to kiss Gaston. He’s confused about what he wants. It’s somebody who’s just realizing that he has these feelings.”

LeFou is me, ten years ago. Because when you’re so repressed that you can’t accept wanting to kiss a person of your same gender, you over-correct by wanting to be that person. Leading to self-hatred because you’re not that person, and you never can be.

At least, that’s how it was for me. Even now that I’ve completely embraced my sexuality, remnants of that self-hatred still haunt me. But now it manifests as a knee-jerk reaction to hate fictionalized chLeFouaracters whom I see myself in.

So you can imagine how I felt when I read the above quote. Suddenly, LeFou was not just a lackey, or a villain, or even comic relief. Suddenly, LeFou became a reflection of myself – an insight to the vulnerability and brokenness of my own relationship to sexuality.

If you are where LeFou is at the beginning of the live-action Beauty & the Beast, where I was ten years ago, I see you. Your feelings are valid, and you can heal your psyche. Once you stop fighting who you are and start embracing and loving every aspect of yourself, you will find that you can be happy.To Love Oneself

 

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How to Teach Consent with “Beauty & the Beast”

As Inga Muscio states in her brilliant Declaration of Independence, rape’s best friend is silence (144).

So no more silence. Starting here. Today, we’re going to discuss rape culture and the value of consent.

Brock Turner was twenty years old when he became a sex offender. He was a grown man, making his own decisions. The way his parents raised him can no longer be an excuse.

But they sure could have given him better odds for not committing sexual assault.

Reading Dan Turner’s letter to the judge sentencing his son, it is clear that Brock Turner never learned the right lessons about consent or accountability.

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Dan Turner’s letter is what a parenting fail looks like. I can think of no better way to respond than with a quote by Inga Muscio.

If you have children, please make sure they know what consent is.

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As a parent, I wish my son would never need to learn what rape is. But in the society we live in, I know that conversation will need to happen someday. Because the only way to end rape is to end the silence that surrounds rape.

The conversation will be different depending on the age of your kids. But the fundamental concern you cover should be consent.

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This does not need to be a heavy or awkward conversation. In fact, you can teach your children about consent while watching Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.

That’s right. It’s right there in the movie, just waiting for you to point it out to your kids.

Plenty of people claim that Beauty and the Beast is basically a Stockholm Syndrome love story.

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And this is an important point to bring up with kids. (“Do you think the Beast was wrong to put Belle’s father in the dungeon?” “The Beast is being mean, isn’t he? Do you think he’ll learn to be good?”)

But I like to point out that Belle did not fall in love with the Beast until he changed. She specifically says she wants nothing to do with him. In fact, she escapes on her first night in the castle. The Beast saves her from a pack of hungry wolves, then collapses, and Belle has the chance to get away. She almost takes that chance – we can see it in her expression as she gazes at her horse’s saddle. But now the Beast has saved her life, and she’s too morally upright to let him die alone in the snowy forest.

Their conversation upon arriving back at the castle is what shows Belle’s true character. The Beast yells at her, and she yells right back. She takes none of his shit. This is not an example of an abusive relationship – this is an example of an argument, which all couples have.

It is only after this exchange that Belle and the Beast begin to develop a relationship. Their falling-in-love song is all about the fact that the Beast is changing, for crying out loud!

Still, Belle does not love the Beast until after he has let her go. At the beginning of the movie, the Beast did not understand consent. He used Belle’s father as blackmail to entrap her. (This was unintentional, as the Beast did not even know that Maurice had a daughter. Nevertheless, he should not have imprisoned an old man simply for seeking shelter from a storm.) But through the movie, he changes. And part of this change is his understanding of consent. He releases Belle because he now knows how wrong it is to keep her against her will. It is only after the Beast learns this lesson and puts it to use that Belle is able to love him.

Now, think of the theme Beauty and the Beast shares with The Hunchback of Notre Dam: What makes a monster and what makes a man? Let’s ignore for a moment that Belle straight up answers this question at the end of the movie (“He’s no monster, Gaston, you are!”), and that when we’re introduced to Gaston even the Bimbettes who are lusting after him call him a “handsome brute.”

Ignore those statements and look at Gaston’s actions.

When he proposes to Belle, Gaston completely disregards her body language. He barges into her house uninvited, convinced that he’s about to give her exactly what she’s always wanted. He closes in on her personal space, even pinning her back to the wall.

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Her only way out is to fumble for the doorknob and duck away as he tumbles through the now-open door, which she promptly slams shut.

The whole scene could’ve been exactly the same and still so much darker if it were not a children’s movie.

Kids watching this scene know that Gaston is the bad guy. They should also be made aware of what Gaston does wrong: He blatantly ignores the fact that Belle’s body language is screaming, “No!”

Later in the movie, the Beast asks Belle if she’s happy with him. When she answers, “Yes,” the Beast smiles to himself, and the audience knows he’s preparing to declare his love for her.

beauty-and-the-beast-on balcony

But when he looks back at her, he sees her sadness. And he responds to it.

Her words gave consent, but her body language did not, and he responded to the body language.

This is what we must teach our children to do.

Consent comes in many forms, and we must be absolutely certain they will know what is and is not consent when they see it.

Keeping a Deadline Despite a Busy Life

How does anyone manage to write regularly when they have a family and a full-time job?

No, seriously. How?

Hopefully you didn’t come here to find out, because if I knew I wouldn’t be writing this apology post three months after my most recent one.

At the beginning of this year I set myself the goal of posting at least once per month. I was working on call, so the only thing hindering my ability to post was the fact that I was living with depression while parenting a two-year-old. I posted in January and February but, like most New Year’s resolutions, progress stalled after that. I got a full-time job in March, and I haven’t posted since.

Well, that’s about to change. Unlike most New Year’s resolutions, I’m jumping back on the horse!

There’s a writing tip, if that’s what you came here for: Don’t give up. Even when you feel like you’ve fallen short. Even when you’ve taken an unintentional break and your brain is rusty. When you fall off the horse, you get back on.

I said I was going to write a feminist blog series on Disney Princesses, and that’s what I’m going to do.

Coming soon: a feminist take on Belle from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.

I can’t wait!

Thaw a Frozen Heart: Beauty, Love, & Upended Expectations in “Frozen”

In honor of Valentine’s Day, the February installment of my Feminists’ Guide to Disney is all about

LOVE

But not romantic love. Because isn’t there already enough focus on that in Disney Princess movies?

Today we’re going to look at the love between Princess Anna and Queen Elsa.

One reason why Frozen is amazing – not only for opening up a conversation about feminism with your kids, but also just in general – is the way it turns our expectations on their heads. (This has been a common theme for Disney Princess movies ever since Enchanted. Keep checking in, and maybe I’ll post about Giselle.) There are three specific princess tropes we have come to expect from Disney that are tossed to the side in Frozen. The first is that a princess is always beautiful, and the second and third are different aspects of the importance of romantic love.

 

1)Fairest of Them All

Beauty was one of the only characteristics of early Disney Princesses. Somehow it is always something that side characters bring up when they’re meeting the princess for the first time.

appearance vs accomplishments

image courtesy of Carmen Fought and Karen Eisenhauer, via the Washington Post

In fact, when linguists Carmen Fought and Karen Eisenhauer studied the complements that characters give Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty, they found that 55% of those complements were based on the princesses’ appearance, while only 11% were based on “skills or accomplishments.”

 

During the Disney Renaissance, characters complemented princesses on their appearance about 38% of the time, and on their abilities or actions about 23% of the time.

In the New Age of Disney films, finally, princesses receive only 22% of their complements on their appearance, and 40% on their skills.

 

But the moment in Frozen when the trope is truly turned upside down is when guests are making their way to the newly opened gates for Elsa’s coronation. One of the men walking in states how excited he is to see the princesses, because they must be lovely.

And his companion says, “I’ll bet they are beautiful!”

Cut to:

bed head Anna

This is a fleeting moment, which at first glance seems to be purely for humor’s sake. But it is so much more. To a little girl watching the movie, a little girl who longs to be a princess with perfect clothes and perfect hair and a perfect body, this moment is a small victory. To that little girl, this moment says, “Princesses are not always beautiful.”

When it comes to portraying the wide range of beauty present in humanity, Disney has a long way to go. But this moment is a small step in the right direction.

 

2) So This is Love

Ugh, love at first sight.

I’ve always hated the notion of love at first sight. Even as an idealistic little girl. Even as a boy-crazy teen. I always thought the very idea of love at first sight was an insult to what love truly is. Because true love is about so much more than what you can see in one instant. True love comes from learning who a person is. And people are complicated. Learning who someone is takes time.

So imagine my delight when I first watched Frozen in theaters and saw what Disney had done with the old “Hey, I just met you – and this is crazy – but I love you so let’s get married and also subject an entire kingdom to the consequences of our impulsive whims, why not?”

Anna and Hans meet one afternoon, sing a duet about finding their other half in each other that same evening, and are engaged to be married before the night is over.

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But Elsa, apparently unaware that she’s in a Disney movie, will not give her blessing for their union because they’ve known each other less than a day and Elsa is a sane human being. Later, we find out that Hans was playing Anna for a sap the whole time, and goes so far as to call her “desperate.”

I was briefly worried the movie would still have a let’s-rush-into-love couple, when Anna and Kristoff (whom she’s also known for about a day) start to run to each other for true love’s kiss. Fortunately, even that trope kicked the bucket in this movie…

3) True Love Conquers All

True love’s kiss has been a staple of fairy tales since they were nothing more than oral traditions. So naturally, when the characters discover that only an act of true love will thaw a frozen heart, they immediately jump to the conclusion that the only solution is true love’s kiss.

Anna’s heart has been frozen, and the rest of her is rapidly turning to ice. Kristoff rushes her to the castle so she can kiss Hans. And when that turns out to be a bust, Anna rushes out of the castle so she can kiss Kristoff.

But it’s not Anna’s love for a man that saves her. It’s her love for Elsa. By sacrificing herself, Anna not only saves her sister, but she also saves herself.

So true love does conquer all. It’s just not the same kind of love you were expecting.

Anna & Elsa

Not a Prize to be Won: A Woman’s Agency in Agrabah

As the first month of this new year draws to a close, I begin my Disney blog series with its first installment: a feminist exploration of Princess Jasmine.

 

Aladdin was the first Disney movie to feature a non-Caucasian princess. Finally, little girls with darker skin and hair could see themselves in a Disney Princess.

But how well did Aladdin portray Jasmine’s nationality and culture?

The movie takes place in the fictional Middle Eastern kingdom of Agrabah. The narrator is our first impression of this land, and one of the first lines in his opening song is: “It’s barbaric, but hey, it’s home.” This sense of barbarity continues later on in the movie when a marketplace vendor nearly chops off Jasmine’s hand for stealing an apple. Not exactly painting a positive cultural image.

Although they are Middle Eastern characters, both Aladdin and Jasmine have typically Caucasian features, other than their hair and skin color. Which characters do have the stereotypical Middle Eastern features? Jafar, Gazeem (the “humble thief” who gets eaten by the Cave of Wonders in the beginning of the movie), the palace guards, the narrator, & various background characters. In other words: villains and side characters.

Also be aware that almost every name is mispronounced. I grew up pronouncing Allah incorrectly, which in certain company can be upsetting and offensive. I didn’t even know that Aladdin and Jasmine had their name pronunciations butchered until I watched the movie with a friend of mine who speaks Hindi as her first language.

In short, if someone tells you Disney doesn’t whitewash, because they didn’t make Jasmine into Jessica, you can show them the realistic depictions of the princess whose name should be pronounced “Jaz-meen.”

historically accurate Jasmine - model
image courtesy of bustle.com
historically accurate Jasmine - drawing
historically accurate Jasmine courtesy of deviantart user Wickfield

Of course, Jasmine’s role in the movie is what you’ll want to focus on when discussing Aladdin with your kids. And Jasmine’s role and experiences would have been very different had the creators chosen to follow realistic cultural values. We’ll assume the movie takes place around the beginning of Islam because they reference Allah, and Jasmine is allowed a say in who she marries – just a bit later in history her consent would not have been required for her marriage. Suitors come to her, and she has the power to tell her father that she will not marry them. When Jafar suggests to the Sultan that he should choose for his daughter, the Sultan argues that she didn’t like any of those suitors and he can’t pick someone she doesn’t like.

But this time period also means that Jasmine would most likely be one of four wives. Depending on her husband’s opinion of her, she might still be considered a “queen,” but probably not one with much power.

Instead, Jasmine is the heir to the throne in her own right. Her husband will become Sultan through her. She is the one with the power.

Jasmine is well aware of this power she has. We see this when she tells Jafar that the one good thing that will come of her being forced to marry is that “when [she] is queen, [she] will have the power to get rid of” him.

Yet when Jasmine overhears her father, Jafar, and Aladdin talking behind her back about who she will marry, she tells them off. She is indignant, and she is not afraid to let them know it. And rather than berating her for speaking in their presence, the men are actually ashamed of their behavior when she calls them on it. (Well, not Jafar, but he’s the bad guy! I mean, Jafar also says that being speechless is “a fine quality in a wife.” Make sure to point out to your kids that there’s a reason it’s the bad guy saying that!)

Jasmine’s reaction in this scene is what to emphasize with your children when you watch Aladdin together – not just your daughters either. Jasmine’s expectation of how she deserves to be treated is how all children should learn to treat people. And the crazy thing is, the words Jasmine uses directly contradict what a realistic society of the time would not question: “I am not a prize to be won.”

The Eurocentricity of Disney

I recently saw a post on Facebook linking to this debate over Disney princess ethnicity representations. The image is of four princesses (and one queen), the most recent four: Rapunzel, Anna, Merida, and Elsa: A commenter notes that all four are white. The response to this comment is pretty brutal: “Rapunzel is a German story. […]