Fail as Old as Time: Why Boycotting Disney is Stupid

Fail as Old as Time: Why Boycotting Disney is Stupid March 4, 2017

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Two things happened this week regarding Disney’s live action remake of “Beauty and the Beast.”

First, director Bill Condon remarked that a character in the beloved story would be gay, a first for a Disney film. That was followed, very predictably, by anger from many conservative evangelicals, including usual angry suspects Matt Walsh, Franklin Graham and, well, Alabama. They’ve taken to their pedestals to cry for a boycott and decry the company whose films probably make up half of their home video libraries.

Am I being snarky? Probably. But I’m tired of the same people having a loud voice in Christian culture and repeatedly using that voice to say hateful, stupid things. Boycotting “Beauty in the Beast” is not just a futile effort; it’s a stupid one that only serves to make Christians look even angrier and more isolated from the people they are called to love.

They will know we are Christians by our love rage 

First off, protests of this sort are usually ineffectual. This isn’t the first time certain Christians have attempted a boycott of Disney; the company was just fine without their support. And really,  “Beauty and the Beast” is going to make a ton of money, regardless of whether Franklin Graham and his cronies see it; Disney is likely seeing this as added publicity. But boycotts tend to work best when there’s an organized effort among many people because rights are being violated (and even then, they seldom work). Calling on others to avoid a movie because it offends your values isn’t really the same thing. Sure, go ahead and don’t pay to see the movie if you feel strongly. But marshaling others because your sensibilities are hurt by a fairy tale just usually reflects worse on the person calling for a boycott than the product being protested.

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Second, I find it hypocritical that Franklin Graham’s three-piece suit is in a twist over what is likely a quick moment in a PG-rated film when he’s publicly supported a president who bragged about sexually assaulting women and barging into women’s dressing rooms. If Graham’s okay with a president saying he can just walk up to women and grab their crotches, then I’m sure he can handle Josh Gad batting eyelashes at Luke Evans. The truth of the matter is that Graham and many other evangelicals lost ground on sexual ethics when they supported Trump’s presidency, and that Graham has long lost any religious authority by selling out to the political machine. As for Walsh’s complaints that Disney is trying to brainwash youth, it would have more merit if Walsh wasn’t a perpetual rage machine who brainwashes his readers into believing that Christians are somehow a beleaguered minority, that true Christians vote conservative, and that there’s some sort of war being waged against Christians and Secularists.

But really, what is stupid is that we’re making another tempest in a (sentient) teacup. Does anyone think that this moment in “Beauty and the Beast” is going to be an explicit sex scene or full-on makeout session? Given the character, it’s probably going to be an off-handed, likely humorous moment near the end of the film (Vulture’s description of it — um spoilers? — confirms as much). I’d even argue that Disney’s decision to make Le Fou gay strikes me as a questionable way to introduce its first such character. His name literally means “The Fool,” and the decision to make such an innocuous character their first gay one strikes me as pandering, even though I know that many members of the film’s cast and crew — including director Bill Condon and stars Ian McKellan and Luke Evans — are gay. If Disney really wanted to make a statement, I feel like it would serve them better to make a main hero in one of their franchises gay (although rumors abound that maybe it’s already been done).  I’d also argue that publicity of this feels like an attempt to bait reactionary people like Franklin Graham and Matt Walsh and drum up controversy where, really, there shouldn’t be one.

Once again, a need for empathy

But at the end of the day, getting upset that a character in a family film is gay strikes me as mean-spirited. It’s fear-driven, the reaction of some evangelicals who are afraid that the world is increasingly being revealed as one where their beliefs aren’t driving the culture. But really, a reading of the Bible shows that Christianity is always separate from the culture. It’s not at war with it, but acts counter to it. Why should Christians be surprised when the rest of the world acts like the rest of the world?

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But is this Le Fou depiction really a harmful one? I haven’t seen the movie, but I would assume Josh Gad doesn’t turn to the camera and urge children to be gay. I doubt there’s a scene where Lumiere burns a Bible. There’s probably not a song telling families to support Supreme Court justices who will defend same-sex marriage. It’s simple a movie that allows for the fact that one of its characters is a gay man. It allows him to exist in this world.

Advocates of the boycott and protests say this “normalizes” homosexuality. And, sure, it does. It normalizes the existence of gay people. It says that they exist in this world. And what saddens and frustrates me about the anger being shown in this situation is that it seems like these evangelicals, people called to love and show compassion to others, are saying “we would prefer gay people don’t exist in these worlds.” By extension, what they mean is “we would prefer gay people didn’t exist; or at least were just hidden.”

And whatever your theological beliefs about homosexuality, that attitude strikes me as distinctly un-Christian. If we believe that God loves all and that we are all in need of grace, we shouldn’t advocate that anyone be ignored, pushed aside or told to remain hidden. We believe that Christ accepts all as we are. And even if your theological stance is that he refuses to let you stay that way, it’s not Christians’ job to say who is and is not worthy of existence in our films. Showing a homosexual character is not an endorsement, nor should the existence of a gay character require a theological screed to go along with it. It’s a simple acknowledgement that gay men and women exist, are human, and are worthy of being part of the story.

I’m not worried about Christians who might be offended by this (even if, again, I feel few probably really will be). Christians have a long history of being depicted in films, both for good and for ill. However, for the kid who feels like they have to live a lie from their friends and families because they feel they will be rejected and cast aside, I’m happy they’ll see a character who they can identify with. For the gay men and women who feel less than human because they’ve only been identified as sinners and political pawns, I’m glad that they have a character who can exist as gay without his sexuality being his only identifying characteristic. And for kids of gay parents, who wonder why their family is never depicted on the screen, I’m glad that they might soon be able to feel like their life isn’t weird or a freak show. The beauty of art is that it tells all of our stories; we need to start letting it do that, even if those stories don’t look like ours.

To those who do feel strongly about this, you aren’t required to see it, but I would caution against trying to rally the troops. But more than that, maybe go see it. If it does bother and offend you, maybe use that moment to discuss your beliefs with your children. You’re entitled to your beliefs too, but maybe a better mode of addressing them is to let your kids understand that this world has people of all beliefs, sexual orientations and creeds. And then take that depiction to the Bible, discuss your views and doctrinal beliefs, and use this as a teaching moments.

In the end, this feels like a lot of fuss over a silly fairy tale. But maybe it’s fitting. Teachers like Lewis and Chesterton have long used fairy tales to find deeper truths in faith. Maybe this provides a new opportunity.

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