Rewriting History

by Danielle Drawhorn

History is an important part of shaping culture. It affects attitudes and beliefs whether society thinks it does or not. So, what happens if society decides that it doesn’t like its own history anymore? It doesn’t sound possible. History is the past and there is nothing that can change it. However, the American population is consistently proving that erasing history can be done by using popular forms of entertainment, especially movies and television shows. 

Lately, many movie companies have decided to remake and release some of their most popular movies. They aren’t just re-filming the original script though. The companies impose modern agendas and ideas over their old films to make the past more politically correct. 

One of the most obvious examples of this is in Disney’s 2017 remake of Beauty and the Beast starring Emma Watson and Dan Stevens. While the movie never explicitly states the time period, it seems to be placed somewhere around 1740. This can be determined by the fact that Belle’s mother was killed by the plague and the last outbreak in France occurred in 1720. Giving Belle time to age to an adult places the movie about twenty years later. 

Societal attitudes towards women were very different in that time period. Feminism in France has its roots in the French Revolution, which occurred in 1789, and women did not gain many rights until the latter half of the twentieth century. This is not compatible with the lifestyle Belle has that is portrayed in the Disney movie. Belle is depicted as a free spirit and often goes against the norms of her society, which is encouraged by her father. This is seen when Belle often tucks her skirt up into her apron. In an interview, the producers said they did this to give the impression that Belle could just take off either running or leap on a horse at a moment’s notice. However, by doing this, the audience can see Belle’s undergarments. Granted, by today’s standard there is nothing revealing or inappropriate about them, but it is comparable to a woman consistently and purposefully hiking up her skirt in today’s society. Yet, this is exactly what Disney has Belle do. They have changed how people would have reacted to show that girls, or princesses, are more than their appearance. While this is true, it is a modern idea that would not have been prevalent in the 1740s.

Disney also attempts to rewrite history in having LeFou, Gaston’s adoring sidekick, be gay and clearly in love with Gaston. Homosexuality for much of history has been taboo and even illegal. In England, homosexuality was a criminal offense and, if caught, the defendants could be imprisoned, or worse. This continued until the late 1960s. In France, things were much different and homosexuality between consenting adults was decriminalized in the Penal Code of 1791. France was the first Western nation to do so. However, if the movie is set in 1740, then LeFou would have taken more strict measures to hide his affections for Gaston that way no one could even accuse him of being gay since it was still illegal. 

However, Disney received high praise for LeFou’s character from many audience members. He was one of the first, if not the first, gay character to appear in a Disney movie, and social activists have applauded Disney’s inclusion of a minority that Western history has mistreated and forgotten. Gay rights have been a large topic in America, especially since the Supreme Court made same-sex marriage legal across the nation in 2015. While being openly gay in modern society still has obstacles and hardships, it has become accepted by much of the population. Disney wants to reflect the values of its consumers in its movies, but by doing so they have glossed over history. While the history of homosexual persecution is not pretty, and not entirely appropriate for a children’s movie, it has influenced modern culture. Many people are still against gay rights, however understanding why homosexuals still live in fear is a step forward towards a more empathetic and understanding community. 

There have been several occasions where a TV show or movie has been remade but placed in the year it was scheduled to come out and not the year it was originally set in. For instance, Roswell, New Mexico came out in 2019 and was set in 2018, even though the original series of the same name was placed in 1999. Changing the year allowed the producers to add in an extra layer of conflict, the fact that the main character is an illegal alien. This would have been out of context if they had kept the show in 1999 because illegal immigration from Central American countries has not become a large concern until very recently, President Trump has increased this debate among American people by trying to build a border wall to keep these immigrants out. Having the main character, Liz Ortecho, be an illegal alien is a major plot point to the show, because it puts her and her father in a precarious situation, one that the other characters in the show take advantage of. In the first episode, an anti-immigration character shoots into the diner that Liz’s father owns and wounds Liz. 

Liz and her father have done nothing personally against anyone in town. They are good and caring members of the community. When fans go back and watch this show, they will see immigrants in a favorable light. This will essentially rewrite history as it happens, by placing those who fight against immigration as harsh and intolerant. When people think of illegal immigrants, they will think of Liz and her father who try to do what is right. Liz is also a scientist who conducts research to help cure diseases, and yet her lab was shut down by the president to open funding for the border wall; a wall that should apply to her. In the show, Liz is very talented at creating medicines that could cure rare diseases. Every person, immigrant, or citizen, has the capacity to change the world and advance their field of study. Those against immigration point to the few examples of serious criminals who have also been illegal immigrants. However, any one can commit a crime. People who watch shows like Roswell, New Mexico will begin to think of all the good that could come out of allowing immigrants in. 

Since the invention of the television, movies, and TV shows have become extremely important to the American population. Fans often follow and track their favorite series like a religion. Very few people read history textbooks outside of a required class in high school, and sometimes not even then, meaning that what is portrayed in film can be very influential. Large companies have begun to realize this and have altered history to reflect the values that many modern Americans have. However, if movies blot out the true history of large and important concepts such as feminism, gay rights, and illegal immigration, which are still hotly debated, then American society will not be able to understand another person’s point of view.

Danielle Drawhorn is a Sophomore Writing Major at HBU. She enjoys knitting in crazy colors and daydreaming about books.

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