Disney Introduces a Gay Character in Beauty and the Beast: Six Reflections

Regardless of our personal thoughts on why Disney did this, we should not miss the larger cultural indicator this movie represents.

Entertainment is a powerful form of persuasion. We must not forget how powerfully movies and other forms of entertainment shape how people think about the world. And they especially influence young people, which is the target audience for this new film. As John Stonestreet and I lay out in our book Same-Sex Marriage, the largest forces that have shaped how our culture views marriage and sexuality are such as shows like Will & Grace and Modern Family.

 

Although there have been rumors about supposedly gay characters in Disney films of the past, Disney is officially introducing a gay character in its upcoming live-action film, Beauty and the Beast. The issue is not the mere existence of a gay character, for gay people are obviously as much a part of our culture as anyone else. The question is whether Disney uses this character as a way of promoting a certain view of sex and relationships that Christians may find objectionable.

Christians will be tempted to respond in a number of different ways. I don’t pretend to have the right answer for how Christians should respond. In fact, I am not sure there even is one right answer for Christians to embrace.

Nevertheless, here are six thoughts for reflection:

1. We should not be surprised. Given how our culture has become more accepting of homosexuality, and the 2015 SCOTUS ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges that made same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states, we should not be surprised at all that Disney introduces a gay character into one of its classic films. In fact, any Christian who is surprised has simply not been paying attention to culture.

2. The fact that Disney introduces a gay character NOW is very telling. There were obviously extensive discussions within Disney leadership about whether they should introduce a gay character now, and if so, what the narrative of this character should be. Disney certainly weighed the potential economic backlash from such a move and decided that the benefits outweigh the costs. Regardless of our personal thoughts on why Disney did this, we should not miss the larger cultural indicator this movie represents.

3. Entertainment is a powerful form of persuasion. We must not forget how powerfully movies and other forms of entertainment shape how people think about the world. And they especially influence young people, which is the target audience for this new film. As John Stonestreet and I lay out in our book Same-Sex Marriage, the largest forces that have shaped how our culture views marriage and sexuality are such as shows like Will & Grace and Modern Family.

4. We need to be thoughtful in how we respond, not reactive. It is tempting for Christians to respond in anger, fear, and disgust. Like some designers who have refused to dress Melania Trump (and many Christian efforts of the past), there is a temptation to mount a boycott against Disney. But before doing so, we ought to really reflect on whether this would be effective and also what message it communicates to the broader culture.

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