If you haven’t heard, there’s been some controversy around the new Disney film, the live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast. Most of it has to do with Josh Gad’s character, the Gaston-worshipping LeFou, and the fact that he’s quite possibly gay or, at least, questioning his sexuality. Some have taken issue with this, like one theater in Alabama which has refused to show the film. Some lawmakers in Russia have decided to place age restrictions on the film as well. The claim is that Beauty and the Beast could indoctrinate youths watching it or that it violates some religious code, all because a male wants to dance with another male. But this isn’t the first time we’ve heard claims about propaganda from a film. Many others have faced similar controversy, some for the right reasons, and some for reasons just as silly and offensive as this.
It would be easy to go through and list all the films that faced backlash for extreme violence or p*rnographic content. We wanted to look at films which were rallied against for other reasons, like propaganda. If nothing else, a list like this can provide some comparables for Beauty and the Beast, holding it up to films that were rightly persecuted or showing how other films received similar an unwarranted criticism. In many cases, it seems that the films that are shrouded in controversy do better than they would have without it. As they say, there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Unfortunately, many turn this discussion into one about the film’s agenda, as if they’re intentionally adding something to their films that would drum up publicity, when, in fact, the narrative should be how ludicrous the controversy is in the first place. For all those who are shocked by Beauty and the Beast’s “gay agenda” controversy, here are some films that got it worse. Here are 15 Films That Faced More Controversy Than Beauty and the Beast.
15. Passion of the Christ
Long before Mel Gibson’s film Passion of the Christ ever hit theaters, many people were voicing their concern that the film was going to be anti-Semitic. It came, it was controversial and now, more than 12 years later, the film is still as divisive as ever. There is a large group that sees it as a truthful and honest retelling of the “Passion” story and another that sees it as disparaging and accusatory of the Jewish people. There is a visible divide in the film, but the question is whether it was intentional or an ugly side-effect of storytelling. The big argument from the Jewish perspective is that the Romans are cruel because they are bound by duty. Gibson responds by saying simply that he told the story the way it has always been told, and Jesus was persecuted by the Jewish leaders and Roman soldiers; there’s no way around that. The counter argument would be that there are individuals who stand out and are empathetic to Jesus’ plight and they are both Jewish and Roman. As collectives, both groups are antagonists.
14. Titicut Follies
Back in 1967, a film called Titicut Follies was about to be shown to the New York Film Festival, audiences started getting some buzz because the government of Massachusetts was attempting to ban its release. Despite the attempts of the film’s director, Frederick Wiseman, to get it shown, the film was banned, making it the first film to be banned in the US on grounds other than obscenity, immorality or national security. The movie is a documentary on the patient-inmates of Bridgewater State Hospital for the criminally insane. It details the treatment and the methods of the hospital/correctional institute. The arguments against the film were that the permissions that Wiseman received from the superintendent and each of the guardians of those shown on film were invalid. They also complained that Wiseman breached his oral contract which gave the state government the final editing privileges. Later, in 1969, Titicut Follies was allowed to be shown to a select group of people such as doctors and students, but it was highly restricted because it was seen as inflammatory. It wasn’t until 1987, when the families of several of the inmates at Bridgewater sued the state for allowing the inhumane treatment of patients. Many similar institutions across the country were closed, including the Bridgewater State Hospital, which some say the exposure of the film led to. In 1991, the film’s restrictions were finally lifted.
The sexuality controversy surrounding Beauty and the Beast isn’t the first time that Disney has faced this type of talk. Not long ago, when Frozen was released, many homophobics criticized the media giant for making a film about a lesbian. If you’re thinking, I don’t remember a lesbian in Frozen, don’t feel bad. They’re talking about Elsa. While Frozen never dealt with Elsa’s sexual preference explicitly, this, to many, meant that she is probably gay. Most of this comes from the fact that Elsa’s song, “Let it Go,” was empowering and representative of coming out of the closet for many in the LGBTQ community. While could have been Disney’s intention all along, the song could work for any number of people who have been forced to hide their true selves. Many Disney movies deal with accepting people for who they are and villainizing those who attempt to restrain other people. It’s painfully ironic that many so-called fans of Frozen were so adamant that Disney did not make Elsa gay when the entire movie is about acceptance.
12. Fahrenheit 9/11
If you’ve only ever watched one documentary in your life, there’s a very good chance that it was Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11. The anti-Bush administration film was much more of a dramatization that a documentary because it was incredibly one-sided. It was also humorous and fact-filled and a great movie. While many called the film propaganda, which it could easily be interpreted as, it did little to sway American voters from bringing George W. Bush back for a second term. In the end, Fahrenheit 9/11 became something very close to its inspiration, Ray Bradbury’s book Fahrenheit 451. Over the years, Bradbury’s novel has been misinterpreted as a warning against government control, burning books to control the spread of information, but that’s not what it’s about. It’s always been about how mass media has made people uninterested in books. Similarly, Moore’s film is seen as a warning against government when it can equally be used as a warning about how misguided one-sided media narratives can be.
When the early reviews of Kevin Smith’s Dogma came out, it seemed like most viewers enjoyed the film but there were plenty of haters out there. At a number of the theaters showing the film across America, people protested and picketed the film, calling it blasphemous for several reasons. The main rallying cries were that Alanis Morrisette played God, a woman, and that the black Chris Rock played a disciple. People suggested that Christianity should be exempt from all forms of criticism and satire. In response to this debate, Roger Ebert, himself a Christian, hailed the film as a quality work of art, stating, “We are actually free in this country to disagree about religion… and blasphemy is not a crime.”
10. The Da Vinci Code
Both the novel and the film, The Da Vinci Code, were marked by criticism, specifically from the Catholic church. Because of, what the church called misrepresentation, the film was deemed “morally offensive” by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and they urged people to boycott it. The film and the theories it presented as fact were also criticized from the history community; however, most have come around to accepting the film as a work of fiction and nothing more, trusting that people will use their brains and resources available to them to separate truth from speculation. Since so little is known about the history surrounding the real Jesus, he has been a topic of debate for centuries and this will remain so. Until there is a law in place that says creative imaginings are illegal, people will continue to twist and contort commonly held beliefs into fictional accounts for the sake of entertainment.
9. The Moon is Blue
At the height of the Hays Code in the US, many films were being edited and banned because of their allegedly “immoral” content. One of the biggest transgressors at the time was 50’s film, The Moon is Blue, from director Otto Preminger. Other than the fact that the film treats the discussion of sex so casually, the Hays Code censors were up in arms about the words “virgin,” “pregnant” and “mistress” being spoken. When asked to edit all of this out, Preminger said: “no way, Jose.” Instead, he took his studio, United Artists, and withdrew it from the Motion Picture Association of America. He then released the film without the association’s permission and watched as audiences came flowing through the doors.
When the 1933 Czech-Austrian film, Ecstasy, was first released it was met with a controversy unlike any film had seen before it. The romantic drama directed by Gustav Machatý featured an early nude scene which had people up in arms, but it was the sex scene between Hedy Lamarr and Aribert Mog that caused the greatest stir. Some say that it is the first ever sex scene on film. While the scene showed nothing but Lamarr’s blushing face, her pleasure was discomforting for the censors. Germany refused to release it for a couple of years and the US banned it until 1940. Obviously, our censors have become a little laxer since the 30s, but it just goes to show what kind of material used to bother us compared to what we see nowadays.
7. The Lego Batman Movie
While Beauty and the Beast is under fire from hate groups across the world, there is another film in theaters currently that is taken more than its fair share of venomous controversy. Considering that The Lego Batman Movie deals with toys and comics, you would think that it would be in the clear from hate groups claiming it has an immoral agenda, but you would be wrong. One of the crazy talking points is that Robin is adopted by Batman, but, since he views Batman and Bruce Wayne as two separate people, he feels that he has two dads. This running joke rubbed certain bigots the wrong way and they’ve since insisted that the film has a pro-gay agenda and is trying to force-feed children the awful messages of tolerance, equality and kindness. Who do these filmmakers think they are?
6. Life of Brian
The Monty Python troop were never afraid of a little controversy, but when Life of Brian came out and was met with picket lines and bans in several countries, even they were surprised. The film was criticized in many places as being blasphemous and many Christians rallied against it for how it depicted Jesus Christ and the crucifixion, mocking the faith and the iconic figures in it. However, there’s a great irony in all this. The film was never intended to mock God or Jesus Christ, and it never does; it mocks the fanatical believers and the modern organized religious system. Still, that didn’t jive with viewers who thought the film was heretical and insulting to their boy, Jesus. The Monty Python members stood firm, insisting that they never once made Jesus look like a joke. In fact, the filmmakers suggest that, because the film deals with the average man in 1st-century Judea, it might be the most accurate film of the time period out there.
5. Brokeback Mountain
Despite the enormous critical praise and numerous awards that Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain received, there was resistance from large chunks in the United States for its supposed “gay agenda” and glamorizing of non-traditional families, which is just another way of saying it had gay characters and themes in the film. Some places, like China, refused to show the film, citing that it wouldn’t be met with large audiences to mask their hate. It should be noted that the word “brokeback” is now synonymous with gay in China, which should show you where they stand on the film. Some conservative celebrities, like the always-lovely Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh, made jokes at the expense of the film and the characters, even suggesting that left-leaning Hollywood was trying to force homosexuality on the viewers as if it were a propaganda film. If nothing else, films like Brokeback Mountain are great tools for exposing the ever-dimming intelligence of people like this.
4. The Last Temptation of Christ
Still to this day, Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ is banned in Singapore and the Philippines. After its release, the headquarters of Universal Studios were picketed, theaters with moviegoers watching the film were set on fire, the Pope publicly condemned the film and many theaters were successfully convinced never to show it. If you haven’t seen it, The Last Temptation of Christ deals with Satan’s temptation of Christ as he hangs on the cross. In this fictional Hollywood movie, Jesus imagines his life were he not the Messiah and, in this vision, he consummates a marriage with Mary Magdalene and is tormented by the voice of God, among other things. Filming this alternative version of Jesus’ life was not acceptable to many, who claimed the film could do severe and irreparable damage to the souls of the viewers.
3. The Interview
Whether the film is any good or not is another story altogether, but The Interview, starring James Franco and Seth Rogen, was a media mammoth leading up to its release. Once it was announced what the film was and that it was moving forward, the buzz took off. Catching wind of it, the North Korean media stated that the film was a “most blatant act of terrorism and war” and some claimed it was “the most undisguised sponsoring of terrorism,” all because it depicted the death of Kim Jong-un. Then the fear started. Mainly due to pressure from the shopping malls that housed them, many theaters refused to air the film. The thinking was that just the fear that something violent could happen in the theater would keep people away from the malls. President Obama even made a statement encouraging theaters to show the film and not back down because some dictator overseas was imposing censorship from the outside. It was finally released and has since become one of most viewed films online.
2. Birth of a Nation
When D.W. Griffith’s film, Birth of a Nation, was released, riots broke out in several cities, including Boston and Philadelphia. Some people, especially African Americans, human rights activists and historians were incensed that a film so blatantly hateful in its depictions of black Americans and so obvious and unjustified in its promotion of the Ku Klux Klan could ever get made and released. After a long and unsuccessful battle by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to have the film banned, Birth of a Nation came out and openly glorified the KKK as saviors and the upholders of justice and white supremacy in America. The black population, often acted by white actors in blackface, were depicted as violent animals, sexually aggressive and unintelligent. The craziest part is that, despite its horrific and inaccurate portrayals, the Birth of a Nation remains relevant because it is a landmark in film technique.
1. Triumph of Will
Like Birth of a Nation, the German film, Triumph of Will has long been considered as a distinct propaganda film. The director, Leni Riefenstahl, was contracted by Adolf Hitler to make the film, though she denies any wrongdoing on her part, insisting she was naïve to the evil of the Nazis and unfamiliar with their plans of genocide. She also adds that the film is completely and utterly devoid of any anti-Semitism, which may be correct; it’s also the reason why it was so effective as a piece of propaganda. If you’re trying to convince people that your cause is just, you wouldn’t spew off hate and discrimination. Predictably, Hitler loved the film. It was awarded several prizes in both Germany and Paris film festivals. Frank Capra, who directed Why We Fight as an American answer to Triumph of Will said of the film, “[it] fired no gun, dropped no bombs. But as a psychological weapon aimed at destroying the will to resist, it was just as lethal.”