Before March 17 when Disney’s live action Beauty and the Beast arrives in theaters, Christian rights groups are calling for a boycott. The reason? The film features a gay character, LeFou, played by Josh Gad, who is the comedic sidekick to the village bully, Gaston, played by Luke Evans. According to news reports, Franklin Graham, son of evangelist preacher Billy Graham, called for the boycott in a Facebook post on March 2 saying, “They’re trying to push the LGBT agenda into the hearts and minds of your children – watch out!” By Friday, March 3, when online reviews began to appear, Graham’s post had been shared 88,000 times and a drive in theater in Alabama said it will not screen the film. On Life Petitions, Christian groups are calling for people not only to boycott the film but to boycott anything Disney.
I saw the film on March 2 and posted my review the following day. (Click to read.) Like so many other reviews, mine was a rave, praising Director Bill Condon’s vision which resulted in a film that actually is better than the animated version. (Note that even in that film, LeFou’s sexual orientation was always a question.) LeFou and Gaston are now played by real actors and some of the dialogue does convey the thought that LeFou is attracted to Gaston. Yet those factors alone might not have created momentum for a boycott.
Our political environment has shifted dramatically since 1991 when the animated film premiered. We are currently living in a time when diversity is no longer acceptable. What is acceptable is singling out and vilifying those who are different. So gay people are now fair game and if some groups choose to use a Disney film to make their point, they will. Whether the boycott will be successful remains to be seen.
Most parents take their responsibilities seriously and quite rightly monitor what their children watch in movies, on TV, and on the Internet. But shielding a child from a film that makes a passing reference to being gay is not the right strategy. There’s so much going on in the film – music, special effects, dancing, etc. – that small children will be engaged and focus on the primary relationship between Belle and the Beast. But what if a child does ask about LeFou and Gaston? A teaching moment! That’s the time to have that conversation, dishing out as much information as is age appropriate. Unless a parent expects a child to never encounter a gay person in school, college, or in the workplace, avoiding these discussions not only is just plain wrong but will result in a young person being totally ill-equipped to manage in the world.
Of course, parents can put whatever spin they want on such a conversation. One would hope they would take a page from Pope Francis who famously said, “Who am I to judge?” when asked about gays. (In case anyone asks, the Pope is Christian.)
Top photo: Josh Gad and Luke Evans in Beauty and the Beast. Courtesy of Disney Pictures.
Charlene Giannetti is the co-author with Margaret Sagarese of six books for parents of young adolescents including The Roller-Coaster Years, Parenting 911, Cliques, and Boy Crazy! and Good Parents, Tough Times.