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Whore Next Door: All Men Are Beasts - By siouxsie-q - March 29, 2017 - SF Weekly
SF Weekly

Whore Next Door: All Men Are Beasts

(Photograph by Isabel Dresler/Isabeldresler.com)

To be honest, Belle was never my favorite princess.

By the time Disney’s triumphant, Oscar-winning, feature-length fairy tale hit the screen in 1991, I had already sworn allegiance to a mermaid who had come ashore two years earlier. But I, too, was a bookworm brunette who didn’t fit in, and although Beauty and the Beast is not my top pick within the genre, Belle’s headstrong, defiant, and curious nature was not lost on me as a little girl.

I remember being proud that I’d perfected the art of walking and reading simultaneously, and I paraded up and down my block “with a dreamy, far-off look,” and my “nose stuck in a book.” Belle showed an entire generation of young women that reading, thinking for yourself, rejecting the advances of over-eager suitors, and making sacrifices for your family were the true qualities of heroic princesshood.

This month, Disney released its latest installment of nostalgia-driven, live-action revisitations of award-winning animated classics. Starring the budding white-feminist icon Emma Watson — of Hermione Granger fame — this retelling of the Disney classic reads, to me, as a more of a whore parable than a glorification of Stockholm syndrome.  

Watson may be eye-roll-worthy in many respects, but her epic earnestness and commitment to feminism can’t be ignored. Leading up to her post-Hogwarts debut, she gave several interviews about how much Belle’s modern-princess archetype had meant to her while growing up, and how honored she felt to take on that mantle and carry the torch for the next generation of girls who crave adventure in the great wide somewhere. Watson’s belief in what Belle stands for carries the film, despite its occasional hiccups — specifically, the pervasive undercurrent of horror that comes with witnessing furniture come to life and coerce a young girl to engage in bestiality with her captor.

Despite the jaunty music and lyrics of Alan Menken and Tim Rice, this tale is dark. And when Belle is more than just a cartoon, we see how truly limited her options are.

“Do you know what they do to spinsters in this town after their fathers die, Belle?” asks Gaston, the villain, after she once again rejects his advances. Though the movie takes place in an imagined storybook land, the very real threat of institutionalization that women have faced for centuries looms over our heroine. We are reminded that women who are too smart often face suspicion and scrutiny.

When she makes the choice to take her father’s place as the Beast’s captive, Belle does what many women with limited options have done for centuries: leverage their bodies in order to provide for their families. When women “take their father’s place” and become breadwinners, they embark on a hero’s journey to tame the beasts of patriarchy in order to rise above and succeed.

Women who think outside the box have historically faced persecution. Falling in love with one’s captor in order to gain access to wealth, power, and knowledge was — and continues to be — a dark, but practical parable for feminine survival. This telling of the fairy tale is a reminder that our world makes men into beasts — be they rapey dude-bros like Gaston, or hyper-privileged yet misunderstood neckbeards like the Prince.

If we can tame and conquer the beasts of this world through our cleverness and feminine magic, if we can be brave enough to replace our fathers in the cage of capitalism, and if we can grow to love those who have been deemed un-loveable by society, we might be able to make all of our dreams come true. We can live in castles, we can become royalty, and, most importantly, we can be the heroes of our stories.

Watson’s fiercely personal performance brought me to tears within the first 10 minutes of the film. Her big brown eyes on the IMAX screen reminded me that ambitious, adventurous girlhood is still alive and kicking in this world. Moreover, this retelling of Beauty and the Beast has successfully merged the modern day archetypes of “ambitious witch” and “headstrong, salt-of-the-earth princess.” Fairy tales may never be the same.