Promotional material for Beauty and the Beast Photo: IC
Despite the various outcries over gay content in Disney's latest fantasy film Beauty and the Beast in countries and regions such as Malaysia, Singapore, Russia and Hong Kong, the reaction in the Chinese mainland has been relatively low-key even though gay-themed content is still a sensitive subject here when it comes to film.
Released on Friday, the film has been left untouched by mainland censors. Additionally, no parental warnings have been issued for the film.
According to Chinese box-office data site cbooo.cn, Beauty and the Beast earned 85.6 million yuan ($12.39 million) on its opening day and 305.82 million yuan over its first weekend.
A live-action remake of Disney's 1991 animated film of the same name, Beauty and the Beast recently found itself the center of controversy when promotional material for the film hinted that secondary character Le Fou (Josh Gad) was gay. Director Bill Condon later confirmed people's suspicions in an interview, describing a scene in which Le Fou dances with another man as a "nice, exclusively gay moment" and "a first" for a Disney film.
With the film set for release in select Asian and European countries on March 16, the film ran into a major road block in Malaysia, where homosexual relations are illegal. The Malaysian film censorship board demanded the film remove the four-minute scene featuring the "gay moment" before allowing the film into the country's cinemas. Refusing to remove the scene, Disney chose instead to pull the film from Malaysian cinemas a day ahead of its scheduled release.
In neighboring Singapore, the film was given a PG rating for "some intense sequences" depicting moderate violence.
The film has also been given a 16+ age restriction in Russia, where the local government issued a federal law in 2013 banning "gay propaganda."
Though there is no law barring LGBT content in the Chinese mainland, homosexuality remains a sensitive subject for the film and television industry. While a few famous gay-themed films, such as Lan Yu and Brokeback Mountain, can be seen on Chinese streaming websites, none have ever been released in cinemas.
According to a report from the Hangzhou Daily, Luo Jianhui, director of the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television's Internet video and audio programs management bureau, said at the 2016 Annual Meeting for Radio, Film and Television Production that "[gay topics] are not forbidden. The key point is to see whether the theme is to promote, advocate or beautify such topics and whether it is a necessary part of the story. There are distinct differences."
Prior to Beauty and the Beast's release, mainland audiences worried that the film would be edited. However, now that the complete version has reached theaters, many netizens have turned the conversation to whether the inclusion of a gay character came across as too ham-fisted.
"Please do not include gay characters in everything. There was no such character in the original story… though I am a fujoshi (women who love male-male romance stories), I find it annoying that everything has to have gay romance in order to attract attention," netizen Dora posted on Sina Weibo on Sunday.
But there are also those who praised the character.
"[The film] not only tells a fairy tale, but also shows people that exist in real life, such as gay people. Very meaningful," netizen Momomo Lingyu wrote on Sina Weibo.
The Chinese market
Live action remakes of animated films have become a major trend for Disney in recent years.
Besides this year's Beauty and the Beast, famous 2D Disney films such as Alice in Wonderland, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella have made the leap to 3D live action.
Like many remakes, how to go beyond cool special effects to add something fresh and new to the story has been a major challenge. Compared to previous remakes, Beauty and the Beast, as seen from film websites such as IMDB, Mtime, and Douban, has received high audience feedbacks in both West and China. Though there have still been those among Chinese audiences who have criticized the film for the large percentage of musical numbers in the film or wondered what a group of British and US actors are doing in a French romance story, the film is very likely to become the most popular of its peers so far.
Currently, remakes for Mulan and Aladdin are in the works and are expected to hit cinemas in 2018 and 2019 respectively. Both audiences and filmmakers in China have shown excitement to see how the famous Chinese story of Mulan will be adapted to live action.
The same amount of excitement has been seen in Hollywood as well, as this Chinese story makes for the perfect opportunity for Disney to take another large piece of the pie from the world's second largest film market.
In a report on vulture.com, Sean Bailey, president of motion picture production at Walt Disney Studios, said that "obviously the idea of working with collaborators in China is an interesting opportunity too."
While music was a vital part of the original animated Mulan film, the new live action remake will not be a musical. Bailey told Vulture that though Mulan is "clearly an empowered-female story," they want to "make it a little more muscular, stronger, with a touch of Ridley Scott."
In recent years China-US joint productions such as Kung Fu Panda 3 and The Great Wall were warmly welcomed by the Chinese market. Reviews aside, the films performed well at the box office. This success is bound to ensure that Mulan will include more Chinese elements in order to better suit the tastes of the Chinese market.