Is the Evangelical Disney Boycott Over “Beauty and the Beast” Hypocritical?

Emma Watson and Dan Stevens in 'Beauty and the Beast.' (Photo: Disney)
Emma Watson and Dan Stevens in ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ (Photo: Disney)

Avoiding the subject of homosexuality will not prepare kids for the real world.

When it was announced last week that Disney’s forthcoming Beauty and the Beast film would feature  the company’s first gay character, many responded with singing and dancing. But some conservative Christians have opted for sackcloth and ashes.

Franklin Graham, son of famed evangelist Billy Graham and a lightning rod of controversy himself, tweeted that while Disney has the right to control the content of its cartoons, Christians “also have the right to not support the company.”, a popular conservative Christian website, launched an online petition to boycott Disney that has already received more than 110,000 signatures. And at least one Christian theater owner has cancelled screenings of the film.

Conservative Christian outrage over any positive portrayals of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in film and television is a tale as old as time, but this effort seems particularly misguided. It risks making Christians look like antiquated bigots, and it reeks of moral hypocrisy. Worse, it diverts energy from a more worthwhile effort: teaching Christian children to coexist in a pluralistic society.

Graham sparked the furor with a Facebook post warning that Disney is “trying to push the LGBT agenda into the hearts and minds of your children.” But Beauty and the Beast has not released in theaters, so Graham, like the rest of us, hasn’t seen the film. Here’s what we know:

  • There are no explicit discussions in the film about gay rights, gay marriage or the morality of gay relationships.
  • The character in question, Gaston’s manservant LeFou, doesn’t have a husband or a boyfriend or even an explicit same-gender love interest in the film.
  • In a single scene, LeFou experiences a “subtle” moment when it seems he might (or might not) be attracted to Gaston.
  • The character is not explicitly gay but rather, according to director Bill Condon, seems “confused about what he wants” and is “somebody who’s just realizing that he has these feelings.”

The nefarious “agenda” to which Graham refers simply does not exist. Boycotting the film makes it appear that these Christians object to the mere existence of gay people. And even if Graham were right and there were some discernable “agenda” in this film, a boycott would reek of hypocrisy. After all, conservative Christian leaders just helped elect President Trump, and a whopping 81% of white evangelicals voted for the real estate mogul. In light of this, the boycott looks like a Mickey Mouse position and Goofy double standard.

It’s impossible to reconcile boycotting Disney for including a kind-of-sort-of-possibly gay character in a film while supporting a thrice-married serial liar who has bragged about bedding married women and has admitted to grabbing women’s genitals without permission. Such a paradoxical position would be a perfect example of what Jesus called “straining out a gnat but swallowing a camel.”

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Jonathan Merritt

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