Since Disney’s animated classic Beauty and the Beast was released in 1991, the world has changed vastly and rapidly. Nowadays, it’s not uncommon for movie fans to re-evaluate films with a different social perspective many years after their initial release. For example, despite being a classic piece of cinema, the portrayal of Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s is now rightly recognized as being vastly inappropriate and offensive.
With the Emma Watson-led live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast hitting theaters next month, the debate has reignited asking whether the story depicts a young woman in an abusive relationship and suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, rather than being a classic story of love triumphing over adversity. For those unaware, Stockholm Syndrome is a recognized phenomenon whereby a prisoner develops positive emotions or even love for their captor.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Emma Watson was posed this question and asked whether Belle and the Beast actually represent an abusive relationship. Watson responded, claiming:
“It’s such a good question and it’s something I really grappled with at the beginning; the kind of Stockholm Syndrome question about this story… Belle actively argues and disagrees with [Beast] constantly. She has none of the characteristics of someone with Stockholm Syndrome because she keeps her independence, she keeps that freedom of thought.”
With Watson a United Nations advocate on gender equality, she is perhaps in a better position than most to understand whether the characters’ dynamic is abusive in nature and it’s unlikely she would have taken on the role if she felt this was the case. Her comments also suggest that the new movie will portray Belle as an emotionally strong character that knows her own mind and – despite her love for Beast – is independent of, rather than reliant upon, him.
Despite Watson herself playing down the accusations of Beauty and the Beast depicting a case of Stockholm Syndrome, there is still likely to be criticism surrounding the movie’s release. With Fifty Shades Darker recently (and perhaps more understandably) also suffering similar claims of glamorizing abuse and the furor over last year’s X-Men: Apocalypse poster which showed the titular villain choking Mystique, sexism is a sensitive topic in the movie industry at the moment.
Others will no doubt argue, however, that in the case of Beauty and the Beast, a fuss in being made over nothing and that the movie is simply a tale of fantasy that shouldn’t be a part of such serious conversations. There’s also little doubt that the remake will update its more dated content to suit a modern audience in order to avoid causing offense. Whether that will cease the criticism, only time will tell.