Coverage of Disney’s live action reboot of Beauty and the Beast has shed light on an interesting fact about the original 1991 cartoon: the film was actually an elaborate metaphor for AIDS.
During a sit-down with Attitude magazine, Bill Condon — who directed the remake — discussed how the animated feature’s lyricist, Howard Ashman, had HIV, and saw himself reflected in the film’s material.
Presented with the initial story ideas, which mostly centered around spirited bibliophile Belle and her plight, Ashman allegedly pushed for the story take a more sympathetic look at her romantic interest, the titular Beast.
“Ashman had just found out he had AIDS, and it was his idea, not only to make it into a musical but also to make Beast one of the two central characters,” Condon said. “Until then it had mostly been Belle’s story that they had been telling.”
“Specifically for him it was a metaphor for AIDS,” he continued. “He was cursed and this curse had brought sorrow on all those people who loved him and maybe there was a chance for a miracle and a way for the curse to be lifted. It was a very concrete thing that he was doing.”
Ashman died from complications related to AIDS on March 14, 1991, just four days after the film’s first screening. He was remembered as one of the first openly gay men in show business. But while Disney’s track record on representing gay men — the population that accounts for most HIV diagnoses — has been far from perfect, small indicators of progress can be found if you look hard enough.
In the same Attitude interview, Condon announced that LeFou — the sidekick of Beauty and the Beast’s villain Gaston — will be gay in the live action film, a first for Disney. The news also comes the same week that Disney XD aired its first same-sex kiss on an episode of its cartoon, Star vs. the Forces of Evil.