As twisted as it sounds, Christian parents will want to screen the new Beauty and the Beast before taking their kids. Not because of rebellious children a la The Little Mermaid, but because of social progressivism – more specifically, homosexuality.
In these types of situations, I always encourage Christians to avoid sensationalizing. In some cases, films that are thought to endorse honosexuality turn out to be grossly overstated. But in this case, not much sensationalizing is needed. In an interview with the British magazine Attitude, director Bill Condon talked about what is being called Disney’s first explicitly gay character – LeFou.
“LeFou is somebody who on one day wants to be Gaston and on another day wants to kiss Gaston . . . He’s confused about what he wants. It’s somebody who’s just realising that he has these feelings. And Josh makes something really subtle and delicious out of it. And that’s what has its payoff at the end, which I don’t want to give away. But it is a nice, exclusively gay moment in a Disney movie.”
The article, which I recommend you read in its entirety, emphasizes its subtlety by stressing multiple times that it is a short scene. But that is exactly the problem. It’s taking the next step in introducing homosexuality to kids, but in a way that parents are more likely to accept. It should be noted that we don’t know the exact nature of this moment since the film hasn’t been released yet, Bu the director himself makes it clear that homosexuality is being endorsed.
So what does this mean for Christian families going forward? There are three things that I think Christians should be mindful of:
1. Christianity is counter-cultural
In a very real sense, this is something that has not changed when it comes to Christianity, particularly when you take the global context since 33 A.D., and not an American context since 1960. Christianity has always been counter-cultural. In the face of the Roman value of power, Christianity taught meekness. Against the hedonism of Corinth, Christianity taught self-control. Contrary to Jewish legalism, Christianity taught grace. In simple terms, we should not expect secual culture to conform to the standards of Christianity. While this particular development is frustrating, it should not be surprising. We ought not act surprised when the world does what God promised it would.
2. Disney films are not automatically safe
Here’s the frustrating thing for Christian parents. We have now gotten to the place that you have to screen a Disney film, and one aimed at children, before you take your kids to see it. It is at this point that we are tempted to say, “You shouldn’t have to do that for a Disney movie.” If we were more critical, we would see that while this is the first Disney film with this particular issue, it is not the first to have an issue period (The Little Mermaid, for example, encouraged an attitude of rebellion against parents). But to introduce this issue in the hearts of very young children is certainly a travesty. If this trend continues, and we have no reason to think that it won’t, Christian parents will not be able to take for granted that Disney films will be appropriate for their children. That does, however, lead to a third item that could be turned into a positive.
3. Parents need to pay closer attention to what their children watch
There are, to be sure, some Christians who have harmed our cultural influence by insisting on puritanical standards that do not allow artists to take on serious issues. But on the whole, there is a larger problem in the church on the other end – Christians who do not take the effects of worldview and subtext in film seriously enough. Compounding the problem, our young people are also woefully unequipped to deal with the challenges of cultural values that are depicted in the stories, setting young Christians on the path to losing the culture war within themselves before it has even begun.
I want that to change. But for that to change, parents need to start taking these cultural conversations, and the power of story, a lot more seriously. This development could be a way that Christian parents are shocked into doing so. We should be keeping a close eye on the cultural values that are vying for a place in the minds of our children, as well as giving them tools to discern between those ideas in a God-centered way. This means more than having standards for sexual content and profanity. But paying attention is a good first step.
I don’t mean any of this to say that we shouldn’t take this development seriously. My kids aren’t old enough to enjoy the theater, but if they were, they wouldn’t be seeing this, or at least not in theaters. But I think it also highlights an important issue – the need for Christians to approach media thoughtfully, and remember that, at the end of the day, Christianity is what it has always been: radical and counter-cultural.