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Beauty and the Russian Ban

Russian MP, Vitaly Milonov has reportedly called for the new Disney adaptation of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ to be banned for, “peddling,” “Gay Propaganda.” In 2013 Russian Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, signed legislation into law placing a ban on “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations.” While plans for the film still went ahead, a revised rating of 16+ has been applied, ensuring it will be kept away from Russian minors.

The mentality behind it is to reinforce traditional Russian values over liberalised western culture. Not only does this have huge implications for increased discrimination of the LGBT community in Russia, but appears to promote the idea that being LGBT is not only not the norm, but is in fact a choice. The idea that exposing minors to the LGBT community will have a negative impact on them is not only inhumane, but also ridiculous. Exposure and understanding breeds tolerance and a lack of it is dangerous. Russia’s laws and subsequent age rating of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ reinforce a climate of fear and hatred.

Appalling though it is, only in acknowledging these atrocities and increasing the saturation of LGBT characters in mainstream film and television are we ever going to create an environment of tolerance and understanding. Children are massively impressionable and what is needed is more exposure. If these things aren’t normalised at an early age, then we are setting a precedent for homosexuality as irregular. This film exposes an LGBT character to younger people, with the intent of people growing up to be much more liberal and open minded.

The film has been praised for this; Matt Cain, editor-in-chief at Attitude magazine stated, ‘It may have been a long time coming but this is a watershed moment for Disney.’ Now, I’m not by any means trying to take away from the fact that this is obviously a breakthrough. But I think the key thing to focus on here is ‘long time coming’. I strongly believe the decision to make Lefou gay was a brilliant, if not obvious, one (come on, anyone could see the poor guy was head over heels for his male companion.) But, this isn’t enough. We need so much more. So, while this can be regarded as a breakthrough for Disney in terms of overtly showing a gay character for the first time, the emphasis on the praise it has received should perhaps be less.

It shouldn’t have taken this long for there to be greater gay representation in film; from a practical perspective, as much as a progressive one. People connect with television and film when they see themselves represented within it. We expect stories on the screen to highlight the world around us. How are members of the LGBT community supposed to connect to something when their representation is sporadic at best. For far too long there has been a total lack of exposure, with hardly more than one character appearing per television programme or film. The idea of a ‘token straight’ person seems ridiculous. So why doesn’t it with a ‘token gay’ character?

‘Beauty and the Beast’ has sparked a conversation and has the opportunity to pave the way for bigger and better changes within Hollywood as well as the television industry. Steps are clearly being made towards breakthroughs, but we’re not there yet, and I don’t think we’re being nearly as progressive as we could be.

I hope that this film clears the way for a plethora of LGBT characters, with complex thoughts, feelings and emotions, in movies. What we don’t need is characters being thrown in, in order to fill the ‘token LGBT’ role. We are in desperate need of more Dumbledores and Lefous. If it truly is to be normalised then the media need to realise that characters are able to be LGBT, without that defining their entire persona. Just like in real life, someone may have a certain sexual orientation. But that isn’t all they are.

What remains hugely frustrating is that this message and progression towards normalisation is not reaching minors in Russia: the ones who are in the greatest need of hearing it. In a country that openly discriminates against the gay community, exposure, validation, tolerance and acceptance is greatly required.

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