Fuss over ‘gay’ Disney character unbecoming of a tolerant society

Homosexuality is no longer a crime in Hong Kong but protests over Beauty and the Beast show that we have a long way to go on the issue of inclusiveness

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 March, 2017, 4:27am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 March, 2017, 9:46am

It is regrettable that homosexuality is still regarded as a sickness, sin or crime in some places. While many societies have become increasingly tolerant, there are those who continue to reject, suppress or antagonise gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people on moral or religious grounds.

The controversy surrounding the newly released film Beauty and the Beast is a case in point. The fairy-tale classic brought to life on the silver screen by Disney has been banned or censored in some parts of the world for containing “gay scenes”. In the United States, a drive-in cinema in Alabama refused to screen the film. Malaysia only allowed a censored version to be shown and required those aged below 13 to be accompanied by guardians. Russia has restricted it to viewers aged 16 and above.

Hong Kong group opposes rating for Disney’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’ over claims of gay content

The film’s director conceded that there was a “gay moment” involving a minor character, who has “confused feelings” towards the story’s villain. The scene was added in honour of a late, HIV-positive writer who gave life to the beast in the cartoon version decades ago. But the actor who played the role in question said it was never scripted as a gay character. Indeed, the so-called gay subplot appeared to be so subtle that it was not even noticed by others involved in the production.

The first “openly gay” Disney character has, unsurprisingly, been greeted with mixed reactions. While some saw it as a breakthrough, others criticised it as harmful to minors or in breach of their religious beliefs. In Hong Kong, an anti-gay group petitioned the local film classification authority, suggesting that the film should have the gay scenes deleted, be rated as suitable for adults only or be banned altogether. A Christian school also urged parents to boycott the film. Whether the petitioners have actually watched the film remains unclear. But what is ironic is that they see nothing wrong with romance between a woman and a beast, but reject affections between two men. The uproar brings to attention the prejudice faced by those of different sexual orientations.

Ewan McGregor jokes about Beauty and the Beast controversy: ‘There is a lot of gay sex in this cartoon’

It was not until recent years that homosexual characters have emerged in television and cinema. But the truth is that same-sex relationships have always existed. It is perhaps time that bigots came to terms with the reality that even the fantasy world cannot ignore the fact that the LGBT community forms part of all societies.

We hope the local opposition to the film will not snowball into an international story and tarnish our reputation as a tolerant society. The Equal Opportunities Commission earlier staged a joint campaign with 75 groups calling for a public consultation to outlaw discrimination against people on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status. This should give the government a much-needed push to tackle a long-standing issue.