American evangelist Franklin Graham was in Vancouver last week, where tens of thousands of people heard the son of famed Rev. Billy explain how Jesus was the only way. Fair enough I suppose, but Graham's rather exclusive and harsh interpretation of the Christian message comes with a few strings attached: Islam is evil, Barack Obama is a friend of the anti-Christ, Donald Trump is divinely destined, Vladimir Putin is a fine fellow and, naturally, gays and lesbians should be banned from churches because "Satan wants to devour your homes."
And now, Graham has identified and asked his legions of followers to help him oppose the new great enemy: the Disney movie Beauty and the Beast.
I can hardly imagine that these sorts of people are Disney-viewers in the first place, but the premise for this concerted attack is fascinating, and it's already led to theatres banning the soon-to-be-released feature starring Emma Watson. Watson, mind you, came to fame as Hermione in the Harry Potter movies, which — according to fundamentalist Christians — was devil-inspired down to its wand.
As with so much that provokes the Christian right, it initially looks like this is a parody. How could a delightful movie about seeing authentic beauty in ostensible ugliness be un-Christian? How could a musical score that celebrates grace, dignity, female empowerment and selfless love be offensive to God?
The answer is that the filmmakers remarked that there was a gay theme to the remake. In fact, it's less a theme than a blink, because if you look down at your popcorn for more than a moment you'll miss the bloody thing.
The most obvious change is that LeFou, the servant of bumptious swaggerer Gaston, is apparently gay. Director Bill Condon said it's a tribute to Howard Ashman, writer of the original film's lyrics, who died of complications from AIDS. Rather exquisite and touching one would have thought.
But if you're expecting LeFou — a figure of fun, remember — to protest about equal marriage or Russian homophobia, you're out of luck. His sexuality is vague and oblique to the extreme. The most obvious illustration is at the end when he dances with a male character who, as part of a comedy routine, is dressed in a woman's clothes. It's all about as sexual as a Don Cherry rant.
But the manic homophobia surrounding Beauty and the Beast is not a joke. It informs and infects what goes on within much of the Christian right in the U.S. and, to a lesser extent, in Canada: the opposition to so-called bathroom bills; teens being forced into conversion therapy; attempted and completed suicides; bullying and beatings. Because it also comes from Christians – albeit those on the ultra-conservative fringe – it also disgraces a faith that many of us hold to be sacred.
There's background and context here. The boycotters are the same people who urged people to see Mel Gibson's The Passion, even though it was absurdly sadistic and presented the suffering of Jesus in a manner that was humanly impossible. It was little more than Biblical Braveheart, with some of Mel's Jew-hatred and self-loathing thrown in.
There were also some on the Christian right who initiated a similar boycott against The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, written by C.S. Lewis, arguably the greatest popular communicator of the Christian message in more than a century. Why? The title, silly. There's a witch in it, and the Bible is not overly enthusiastic about the species.
The movies that many right-wing Christians do enjoy are the Left Behind series, where the good people are suddenly assumed unto heaven and the rest of us, including children, stay behind in confusion. There are three films, and the scripts and acting are a lot like a Kellie Leitch video.
Then there is God's Not Dead and its sequel, where nasty liberals want to bully Christian kids and remove any reference to Jesus from the school system. These wretched things do well financially because they play into false fears and paranoia. And if you wonder where that sort of pathology leads, look no further than the election of Donald Trump.