No matter what Emma Watson says, Beauty and the Beast is about a woman who falls victim to Stockholm Syndrome.
No, Beauty and the Beast is not a feminist film. No, most Disney films and fairy tales are not feminist, and it’s better to own up to that than to do the mental gymnastics necessary to deny that Beauty and the Beast’s storyline isn’t just a basic tale about a woman with Stockholm Syndrome.
According to mainstream feminists, though, Emma Watson is a feminist — therefore, her role as Belle is feminist. Unfortunately, that isn’t how it works. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Watson was asked about whether she thought the story was actually about an abusive relationship that includes Stockholm Syndrome. She responded:
“It’s such a good question, and it’s something I really grappled with at the beginning; the kind of Stockholm Syndrome question about this story. That’s where a prisoner will take on the characteristics of, and fall in love with, the captor. Belle actively argues and disagrees with [Beast] constantly. She has none of the characteristics of someone with Stockholm Syndrome, because she keeps her independence, she keeps that freedom of thought.”
Watson followed up with this:
“In fact, she gives as good as she gets. He bangs on the door, she bangs back. There’s this defiance that ‘You think I’m going to come and eat dinner with you and I’m your prisoner — absolutely not.’ I think that’s the other beautiful thing about the love story. They form a friendship first, and that gap in the middle where there is this genuine sharing, the love builds out of that, which in many ways I actually think is more meaningful than a lot of love stories, where it was love at first sight.”
What Watson is describing is, quite literally, Stockholm Syndrome. I understand feeling defensive as a young woman learning about feminism, but sometimes it is better to simply admit that not everything you do is self-aware and feminist.
Sure, I have my non-feminist pleasures. I find it’s healthy for me to admit that not everything I consume is feminist. I enjoy watching shows and movies that would never pass the Bechdel Test. I will be the first to admit what my faults are. It’s healthy and, quite frankly, it is better than lying.
Let’s not forget that this film is primarily aimed at young children and teens. Watson (and Disney) would rather make financial gain from a film that portrays an abusive relationship and a lead character who is just a trope (OMG! A woman who *reads* and is hot!) falling in love with an asshole, controlling beast with a sad backstory who becomes nice because Belle begins to identify with her abuser.
I would give Emma a break if she didn’t make such careless statements on a regular basis. I’ll be thrilled when her press tour dies down. I would truly love to not have to keep calling her out on her white feminisms.