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What's the problem with showing same sex relationships within the ambit of age appropriate depictions?

Violence misogyny get U-rated but will we welcome Beauty and the Beast with a gay characterScreenshot/ Youtube
Flix Cinema Thursday, March 09, 2017 - 14:48

Disney's live action film Beauty and the Beast has kicked up a furore because it supposedly features an openly gay character. And how on earth can you subject children to the real world?

While we're totally cool with letting children watch a beast falling in love with a woman and desiring her, it is completely unacceptable to let them watch two people in a same sex relationship. Patriarchy works in mysterious ways, indeed.

Bestiality or Zoophilia in films is never considered problematic as long as the object of lust remains a woman. Which is why the central storyline of love between Beauty and the Beast has raised no comment. And remember King Kong? Beast tamed by Beauty and all that.

This is not limited to Hollywood either. 

In Shankar's I, for instance, the Ennodu Nee Irundhal song is a rendering of the Beauty and Beast fairytale. It's of relevance to the film because the hero turns into an unsightly person (a "monster") because of a conspiracy...and as can only be expected, the beautiful heroine doesn't abandon him when she realises who he really is. The same film came under flak for its insensitive depiction of a trans woman who falls for the hero.

In SS Rajamouli's Eega, the hero is turned into a fly but the heroine's faith and love for him remain unchanged. And what's more, he continues to "protect" her honour in his new avatar.

Not only animals, we're also fine with films that show non-living things falling in love with women. In Endhiran, Shankar had a robot lusting after a woman, with enough jokes about his "penis" which could satisfy her in bed.

When it's the hero who has feelings for an inanimate object (like Rajini's emotional bond with his taxi Lakshmi in Padikadhavan), the relationship does not take on sexual overtones.

In the few occasions that a man is shown to lust after a non-human character, as in Species, the being takes on the form of a conventionally beautiful woman who "lures" him into it. Avatar is among the rare films in which the female character remains distinctly different from a regular human being but is still projected as desirable to the regular human male.

The representation of same sex relationships is not taboo in Hollywood any more. Moonlight, an evocative portrayal of the complex and poignant love between two gay men, won the Oscar this year after all. But it is still considered too "bold" to be inclusive of sexual diversity in children's films.

One of the prime reasons for this discomfort is the assumption that the portrayal of same sex relationships cannot be done without showing people having sex - which would be inappropriate in a children's film.

Of course, we don't ask ourselves how we manage to show heterosexual relationships in kids’ films then, or why we're okay with a storyline like Ice Age which revolves around a male mammoth trying to convince a female mammoth to mate with him. Patriarchy's mysterious ways, once again.

However, there are children's films which have already shown characters who are not heterosexual. In Storks, for instance, if you watch carefully, towards the end you will see same sex couples, too, receiving babies from the delivery service run by the birds. Zootopia had a married gay couple - a pair of antelopes - and Clawhauser, who appears as an "effeminate" police dispatcher.

These representations, though, are either blink and miss or subtle enough not to raise any eyebrows (no wonder the censor board in India allowed them to pass!).

Did you think Albus Dumbledore was gay till JK Rowling spoke about it? Probably not. But if you think about it, there's no reason really for not normalising sexual diversity in children's films within the ambit of age appropriate depictions, especially when it's considered acceptable for other films (not necessarily certified Adult) to do so.

In India, of course, we're very far from having such a debate on children's films, considering our censor board is so "sanskaari" that we can't even explore a heterosexual relationship or fantasy from a female perspective.

While the respectable board continues to issue 'U' certificates to violent, misogynistic, and sexually explicit (as long as it's male-centric) content, it's sure to have objections to a same sex consensual relationship, whether that's in a children's film or otherwise.

So what will happen to Beauty and the Beast when it comes to India? Threats? Protests? Russia has issued an 'Adult' certificate to the film because of its "gay" moment...so perhaps the question we should ask is whether it will come to sanskaari India at all.

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