Since the teaser trailer for the new live action “Beauty and the Beast” had over 98.1 million views within the first 24 hours of its release, I think it is fair to say that people are pretty hyped over the movie. There is no denying that Disney classics hold a lot of weight in our culture, specifically in how we tell stories to young people. And with all of the money and resources going into revamping these classics, as well as their expanded fan base, I think we really need to take a look at these original stories and decide if they represent the values and morals we want to continue passing down and interring. “Kid’s movies” are never just kid’s movies; they represent some of the first values we are introduced to and some of the more central themes to most other stories we encounter in our adult lives.
Beauty and the Beast in particular is a movie that I think needs to be reevaluated. Belle, the protagonist of this movie, is painted as a new type of Disney princess - the smart (maybe even nerdy) princess who does not fall for someone just based on physical appearance or love at first sight. I think in this sense, the story of Beauty and the Beast really did try to do something good. But it completely missed the big picture of its actions. Belle is held captive against her will, forced to live with a cursed man who constantly berates and intimidates her. The Beast is prone to fits of violence, destroying objects or verbally lashing out at anyone around him. He is unused to being around people and at being on an equal level to them. While this may not be entirely his fault, that in no way excuses his actions against Belle.
We are told by this movie that the Beast’s violence is justifiable by his past, as well as the love he later develops for Belle. And Belle supposedly shows us what true love is by standing by the Beast long enough to change him into a decent human being (physically and emotionally). Take the word from someone who grew up in an abusive household: these ideas are so beyond problematic. No one should be tasked with the job of “fixing” his or her abuser. A bad past is no justification for treating the people around you terribly or for violating the law (kidnapping people). And “true love” is impossible to form in a situation where such a power imbalance exists. For the same reason you cannot date your teacher or direct boss, power imbalances can distort consent and love in relationships. Belle’s relationship is a product of Stockholm Syndrome and abuse. There is no way around it. She has limited rights when she is around the beast, and she gets rewarded when she does what he wants (by him not yelling at her or locking her in her room).
Abuse is subtle sometimes, and does not have to be physical or sexual to be real. And when you are in the abusive relationship, it can be really hard to see beyond it and recognize it for what it is. When we watch Beauty and the Beast, we are watching a woman fall in love with her kidnapper and justify the abuse in her relationship by focusing on how he needs her and how she can change him.
I am really angry, and a little frightened quite frankly, that more people do not see what I see when I watch this movie. If we can all ignore abuse and power imbalances when they are so clearly laid out in front of us in our kid’s movies, what does that say about how well we can spot it in the real world?
Also, what does it say that one of our most beloved young political feminists is playing the starring role in the new film? I expected more from Emma Watson, and I really hoped for more from all of us as dictators of the content we consume.
I'm a bi female undergraduate student majoring in Psychology, with minors in Women and Gender Studies and African American Studies. I am passionate about issues of domestic violence and sexual assault, and intend to get my masters in social work in order to serve those populations.