Wednesday, January 22

Reel Representation: Diversity in ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is less radical than Disney claims

Diversity in film and television came into the spotlight in 2016 with #OscarsSoWhite. A USC study in 2016 found only about a quarter of speaking characters belonged to nonwhite racial groups. In “Reel Representation,” columnist Olivia Mazzucato discusses different issues of race and representation in media as they relate to new movies and TV shows.

Hollywood rushing to pat itself on the back for diversity is a tale as old as time.

Jimmy Kimmel captured the sentiment at the 2016 Emmys when he said, “Here in Hollywood, the only thing we value more than diversity is congratulating ourselves for valuing diversity.” Shortly after, he congratulated the Emmys on their increased diversity.

This is a self-satisfied pattern into which Friday’s “Beauty and the Beast” adaptation falls.

In multiple interviews, the film’s director Bill Condon has pointed out two “historic” aspects of the film, claiming that the film features Disney’s first interracial kisses and the studio’s first gay character, LeFou.

The kisses Condon refers to take place between Maestro Cadenza (Stanley Tucci) and Madame Garderobe (Audra McDonald), followed by another kiss between Lumière (Ewan McGregor) and Plumette (Gugu Mbatha-Raw).

Condon is mistaken in his first claim – films like “Snow Dogs” and “Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement” feature interracial kisses.

What is more troubling is the emphasis in the film’s publicity campaigns on these seemingly progressive moments while ignoring the limited representation of people of color and the LGBTQ community.

Condon’s overstatements follow the dangerous trend of Hollywood’s self-congratulatory tone regarding diversity, which downplays how far the film industry still has to go.

The myth of the interracial kiss began in an interview with BBC, in which Condon said, “I didn’t give it a second thought, then at the preview, the (Disney) chairman told me that it was the first and second interracial kiss in a Disney movie. … That shocked me.”

Condon was right to be shocked, mainly because it wasn’t true. Buzzfeed and internet commenters quickly pointed out other interracial Disney kisses: Cuba Gooding Jr. and Joanna Bacalso in “Snow Dogs” and Julie Andrews and Hector Elizondo in “Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement.” Condon has not yet responded to the corrections.

What isn’t mentioned in this interview is the minor role the characters play. Lumière may lead the sentient household items that inhabit the castle, but Madame de Garderobe and Plumette play minor roles and are far less recognizable to fans of the original classic.

I’m happy that people of color were included in “Beauty and the Beast.” It’s important to recognize that film’s setting in a magical version of olden France means it’s not beholden to the same casting rules as a period film. There’s no historical continuity to keep intact because the film deals in fantasy.

While the film recognizes the ability of people of color to exist within the narrative, it relegates them to small, supporting roles. Yet Condon claims the cast is pioneering diversity.


Casting actors of color in supporting roles isn’t inherently unacceptable. However, it becomes problematic when minor moments are touted as championing diversity without looking at the way in which people of color function within the narrative.

Similarly, the film’s publicity focused on the introduction of Disney’s first gay character – LeFou. In an interview with Attitude, Condon said, “LeFou is somebody who on one day wants to be Gaston and on another day wants to kiss Gaston. … It is a nice, exclusively gay moment in a Disney movie.”

Again, I’m all for Disney including a gay character in a movie. The inclusion of the LGBTQ community in Disney’s narratives should have happened sooner and should happen more often. What makes me uncomfortable is the fact that Disney has chosen LeFou to be that first character.

In the original film, LeFou is a bumbling fool, seemingly infatuated with Gaston even if he isn’t explicitly gay. It’s not the most positive portrayal of the LGBTQ community and enforces some gay character tropes, especially as a sidekick who feels unrequited love for a cooler, straight character. Calling such a cliched character groundbreaking feels odd.

Whether of his own volition or at the urging of the studio, Condon emphasizes the two additions of racial and LGBTQ representation, framing the film as revolutionary. Diversity of any kind is positive and I do believe the film marks some sort of progress, just not the type of progress that Condon and Disney seem to think it does.

Holding up the moments as landmarks lessens the significance of true milestones and superficially lets Hollywood off the hook, making it seem like diversity is rapidly increasing when in reality, change is slow in Hollywood.

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  • Álvaro de Campos

    I knew someone would still complain. People won’t be satisfied until pretty much all parts are replaced with an entire spectrum of marginalized people. You want an overweight, Asian Belle and a wheelchair-bound Muslim Beast and a black Gaston.

    It’s just not going to happen. It was meant to be a live action replication of the animated film, not some re-worked adaptation with a political message. I think that people expect too much, when they have the ability to create their own films, their own characters and write them however they please.

    It’s not like Ilene Chaiken did a solid for gay women, or the writers of Will and Grace broke any stereotypes.

    • t34r

      A fairy tale, that should express the time in which it was written, following the life of history, the way it was and when it was written. Who can tell me of a dark persons story where the ancestors would be happy if the role was played by a pale person. After all the movie tells a story that love can be shared by anyone, regardless of appearance.

    • Fareed Dudhia

      ” not some re-worked adaptation with a political message”
      what do you think is the “political message” behind casting a few black people in the film.

      I like this, from the Independent. It’s written about LGBT characters but based on your comment it equally applies to the black characters in this:

      “Whenever LGBT characters are represented in mainstream stories, the producers are accused of shoehorning them in where they are not “necessary”. The addition of LGBT characters seems to always be perceived as a forced political statement. The implication is that LGBT characters don’t exist in real life, and could never arise in a fairytale organically.”

      • Álvaro de Campos

        Not at all. I actually hate when people suggest that PoC, female, or LGBT characters were added simply for PC fodder. But the thing is, I have no issue at all with that in B&TB. My issue is, why are people still complaining about it? It’s never going to be good enough. So then, just write your own stories with whoever you want represented as the leads. It’s that simple. Stop getting angry because people won’t re-write stories to tell it the way you want them to.

        • Fareed Dudhia

          You didn’t even attempt to answer my question. You’re imagining things;

          “You want an overweight, Asian Belle and a wheelchair-bound Muslim Beast and a black Gaston.” — where does this even come from? I can’t see this opinion expressed anywhere. You’re just getting angry at strawmen you yourself have created.

          • Álvaro de Campos

            I feel like you’re trying to create a debate where none exists. I’ve already addressed your responses. What are you trying to achieve, exactly?

      • Philip James

        They couldn’t. And shouldn’t.

  • marvin

    The inclusion of people of colour in Beauty and the Beast looked too forced. It was obvious that Disney only did it for commercial purposes as the characters were very superficial. Luminiere would have been better as the gay character and Mrs Potts could have been cast as a black women as the character would have fit well with a mama figure ! Plus there are some amazing soul singers that would have made the role and the songs amazing !

    • Classy Kassie

      Luminere liked women though, he and the feather duster were always playing footsy in the animated version.

      • Philip James

        Jerry Orbach is like the least gay person ever. Enough of the nonsense.

    • t34r

      In a time where cultural diversification is obvious, Disney went over the top with anti-racism in this one. If the world wants racism abolished, would not the word racism be stricken from the dictionary be a good place to start.

  • Bobby

    Why on Earth would Disney include people of color in a film set in 14th century France???

    Oh right. Social Justice. The thing everybody hates but Hollywood forces on us every chance it gets.

    • Classy Kassie

      Im sorry 14th century what??!

      Beauty and the Beast is a traditional fairy tale written by French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve and published in 1740.

      • xenotypos .

        Does this change anything about how ridiculous it is to have black people everywhere in a film with such a setting?

        It’s like whitewashing, but the other way around (so it’s much more acceptable! ahah, people are so amazingly stupid when they want to). Let’s call it blackwashing?
        In Cinderella too (though I still found it was a very good movie, while Beauty and the Beast was horrible for various reasons).

        • Fareed Dudhia

          “Does this change anything about how ridiculous it is to have black people everywhere in a film with such a setting?”

          Didn’t a film come out recently with a black muslim protagonist, playing a prince and war commander in 17th century venice? how ridiculous is that? typical SJW- oh wait, that wasn’t a film. it was a play called “Othello” and it was written in the early 1600s.

          Also, it’s cool to see someone so interested in racial historical inaccuracies in modern films! I can’t wait to see how outraged you get when you find out that it isn’t a middle-eastern guy playing Jesus Christ in, well, every film about Jesus. Something tells me it won’t bother you though.

          • xenotypos .

            Who was outraged? I was rightfully replying to an absurd comment and stating undebatable facts. If I was so outraged, I wouldn’t have liked Cinderella. You should really read others’s comments before replying, not just imagine what is convenient for you.

            It was above all in reference to all those people screaming about whitewashing (I even wrote it explicitely), while being surprisingly quiet when you see something as absurd as a typical ancient European town populated by blacks. But actually, “inaccuracies” (more like “aburdities”, since it’s really too obvious and feels weird) are bad no matter where they come from. I’m not like you, I don’t have an hypocritical agenda, everyone is equal before absurdity, white and black, and any other color. A shame I didn’t see any Jesus film and don’t care at all about it (who does?), but surely it’s a bad thing yes. Sorry for being silent about films I don’t care about, omg.
            On a side note though, I think it’s probably easier to pick a tanned westerner and make it look like a middle-easterner in whatever historical film. It’s not as good as the real thing, but can still theorically work as a make-believe (if it’s well done). While for example it’s impossible with east asians or black africans, with a lot less in common physically. Sad and problematic truth I admit but well.

          • Fareed Dudhia

            “You should really read others’s comments before replying, not just imagine what is convenient for you.”

            This is funny considering the number of times you said that there being black people in 18th century France was “absurd”. In fact, you’ve said it was inaccurate, “ridiculous”, “absurd” (x3), and referred to that period as “ancient”. If you had bothered to actually look up the history of this before you called it “absurd”, you’d know that a) the 18th century is pretty far from “ancient”, and b) you’d know that there were many black people living in France in that period. Look at Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, who served as a general in Napoleon’s army. If a black person can be a general in the French army in the same period in REAL LIFE, who are you to say it’s absurd when a few start popping up in a film in which a giant magical buffalo ballroom dances with emma watson? It doesn’t make any sense.

            You’ve said “I’m not like you, I don’t have an hypocritical agenda”, and I’m not sure what you’d imagine mine to be, but spouting off about “absurd inaccuracies” when you don’t know what you’re talking about seems pretty hypocritical to me.

          • xenotypos .

            Dude, history is by far my speciality, moreover I’m french so I know the history of this country even more, and you come here with your ridiculous anecdote which is common knowledge, you should really refrain from embarassing yourself. Ridiculous. You know very well what I meant by absurd unless you’re a complete idiot. So I really hope it was just for the sake of argument, like the way you count words to assume how people feel about something.
            Just tell me I don’t have to explain why what you said about 18th France is amazingly retarded, please tell me that this debate isn’t so low.

          • Sean Gall

            Yeah, black people lived in France then, they were slaves. This movie is plagued by manufactured “diversity,” which is racist in and of itself.

        • Philip James

          It’s completely ridiculous to have black people in this film. End of story. it was very distracting and inappropriate.

          • C.J.

            So people darker than a paper bag was distracting and inappropriate but the British accent of Belle wasn’t? Interesting.

          • Brigadon ᴰᵉᵖˡᵒʳᵃᵇˡᵉ✓

            She has to speak English so that American audiences understand, duhh.

            While subtitles would have been more appropriate, They would have lost the American audience.

            It’s called ‘willing suspension of disbelief’. We can believe we understand french, but half the population of a medieval European Town being Moorish breaks that suspension completely.

            Doesn’t human nature suck? We all keep insisting on not being interchangeable cogs in your social Machine.

          • C.J.

            Let me repeat since you didn’t read: British accent. My comment isn’t about her speaking English or there not being subtitles because, yes, they would have lost the American audience given a lot of Americans refuse to read. The fact that you replied to my comment as you have makes me think you’re American and just proved my point as well as your own. So let me make my point in another way. It’s like having a New Yorker with a heavy accent play a Texas general and keep his New York accent. Or how Australian Hugh Jackman uses an American accent to play the American character of Wolverine. In this case, you had a British woman with a British accent playing a French woman. Get it now? And, yes, human nature does suck, especially the part where people search and hunt for negativity and conflict where there really need be none. And I don’t have, run or operate a social machine, but feel free to check your local and state governments. Try to let go of the snide bitterness and have a wonderful day.

          • Brigadon ᴰᵉᵖˡᵒʳᵃᵇˡᵉ✓

            Wait, are you arguing for or against the fact that she is an absolutely atrociously crappy actress that cannot even fake a french accent?

            You are not arguing with me there.

          • C.J.

            I wasn’t trying to argue anything. I was initially commenting that I, personally, find it interesting that people found it “distracting” there were people darker than a paper bag dancing and singing and/or passing by in the background in a few scenes (because that’s not historically accurate in a French-based fairy-tale) but don’t seem to find the main character’s British accent (once again, in a French-based fairy-tale) an issue/noteworthy/distracting.

          • Brigadon ᴰᵉᵖˡᵒʳᵃᵇˡᵉ✓

            massive cultural difference, especially since movies are visual media.

            It’s hard to be distracted by a different race voice on a soundtrack, because the differences are not in your face. But in visual media, a massively politically-motivated Anachronism is jarring.

            Call it racist if you want, but I would think it similarly jarring if I saw a bunch of asians and whites in Shaka Zulu’s Army in a movie.

          • C.J.

            Shaka Zulu was a real person. Belle is a fictional character. Fairytales with magic already have an affair with suspension/detachment to an extent of reality. I saw the people darker than a paper bag in the background, was like, “Hmmm, interesting. I guess this is Disney pushing more diversity,” and moved on. But I also heard Emma speak and was like, “Bonjour with a British accent, interesting,” and moved on. I understand your point but I still stand by mine.

          • Brigadon ᴰᵉᵖˡᵒʳᵃᵇˡᵉ✓

            You are welcome to stand by your point, I was simply answering your question.

          • C.J.

            My question was rhetorical. I’m well aware of American (and to an extent global) hang ups on race. Because, being completely honest about “cultural differences” British and French culture are very different– language, accent, food, etc. But had the movie been made with Belle portrayed by a French actress who is darker than a paper bag, outrage. It still would have been more acceptable for Emma Watson in all her British glory because she’s white. Though, culturally, Belle is French. But thanks for answering, I guess. Especially with the initial condescension (“duhh”) and snide remark– still trying to figure out what “social machine” I’m proprietor of. At the end of it, I still find it as relatively interesting, as I did 4 months ago. And by “interesting” I meant–and mean– typical and predictable. But the movie has come, gone (in theaters), and race is still the same issue it has been for centuries so there’s no further point in me participating in this conversation. It is what it is, as they say, and that’s much of what it’s been.

          • Brigadon ᴰᵉᵖˡᵒʳᵃᵇˡᵉ✓

            That’s an awful lot of words to say “We are done”.

          • C.J.

            I said more than that but if that’s all you could discern, that’s fine too. Be well.

          • delicate_dream

            No people are more distracted and annoyed by her English accent and generally how anglicized the movie was. There have been way more articles and forum discussions on that. Google it.

          • C.J.

            While those articles and forum discussions may exist, THIS is the article/forum discussion I commented on. And the people in THIS article/forum discussion’s comments are about the skin tones of minor and background characters, not “her English accent and generally how anglicized the movie was.” Ergo, making my comment in THIS space valid.
            Happy holidays!

          • delicate_dream

            Moors aren’t black Africans anyway.

    • Classy Kassie

      “In his tour Cogsworth refers to both the baroque period (1585-1700ish) and rococo period (1700-1770ish), and based on the costumes and hairstyles it could be as early as 1730 or as late as 1870 (excluding about 1780-1830). Factoring in the technology, 1840-1860 is the most likely answer. “

  • Timoyr

    2 black main characters out of 12 is 16%. More than the actual demographic in the US (12.6%). So, I don’t see the problem there.
    This is of course not taken into consideration the time period the film is supposed to be taken place in nor the actual setting.
    I’m just saying, I think they did pretty good in terms of diversity, at least from an american perspective. Sure, they could’ve have an asian person in there (who make up 4% of the US, which would be 0.5 people in the main cast of 12), but I think these are problems to be solved in movies with modern settings in order to be appropriate. We haven’t even gotten over everybody needing to speak english or not having the appropriate accent yet, but it it an american film, so I think it’s fine for them to cater to american expectations (hence why these are judged by american racial demographics and not european or asian).

  • Bryce Carmony

    The casting was completely monochromatic, black and white. Why not just cast people who can SING (sorry emma) and not worry about skin color. 18th century alternative history france can have any “race” in it the globe was circumnavigated 1519 people.

  • Warp

    I love it how when some company engages in forced diversity in their product of fiction… and the social justice warriors are *still* not happy about it. There’s never “enough diversity”. It’s always too little. They will never be happy, no matter what. I suppose they will only be happy with a movie that represents a black-only ethnostate where the evil whities are not allowed. (Oh, wait, that has already happened. There is a movie like that. A rather mediocre one. But because it depicts a totalitarian black closed-borders ethnostate, the social justice warriors are fawning all over it.)