Disney has indefinitely postponed the opening of its film Beauty and the Beast in Malaysia after censors in the Muslim-majority nation reportedly cut out a “gay moment” in the movie.
The cuts came after the movie ran into trouble in Russia, which slapped an adults-only rating on the film last week following pressure by an ultra-conservative lawmaker who was pushing for a ban.
The film’s director Bill Condon has revealed that it contains Disney’s “first exclusively gay moment”, although some critics have said the reference is extremely mild and fleeting.
Malaysian Censorship Board (LPF) chairman Abdul Halim Abdul Hamid told The Star newspaper that the film “has been approved… with a minor cut”.
The cut focussed on a “gay moment” in the film, said Abdul Halim, adding that it had been rated PG-13 — which indicates that some material may be inappropriate for pre-teens.
The Malaysian release of the movie, featuring Harry Potter star Emma Watson, was postponed by Disney earlier this week pending “an internal review”, according to theatre chain Golden Screen Cinemas which was set to show the film from Thursday.
Notices posted at the chain’s cinemas in Kuala Lumpur said the film’s release had been “postponed by Disney until further notice”.
Disney’s office in Singapore was not immediately able to confirm the censorship decision or say when the film would be released.
In a departure from previous depictions of the fairy tale, Le Fou, the sycophantic sidekick to antagonist Gaston, is portrayed by comedian Josh Gad as a gay man, making him Disney’s first ever out LGBT character.
The film has also come under fire from religious figures in neighbouring Singapore, with Christian clergy attacking Disney for deviating from “wholesome, mainstream values”.
“Parents are therefore strongly advised to provide guidance to their children about this re-make of Beauty & the Beast,” said Bishop Rennis Ponniah, president of the National Council of Churches of Singapore.
Harussani Zakaria, the senior mufti for Malaysia’s northern Perak state, said the film would “sow the seeds of destruction and negative behaviour in our society”.
“We must guard ourselves from Western behaviour which has gone astray,” he told AFP.
“This movie must be banned in Malaysia.”
The Malaysian Muslim People Coalition NGO also called for a ban, with its president Amsah Hamzah saying the film would “promote negative values”.
“Youngsters can easily become excited by the gay behaviour seen in the movie and could be influenced by it,” Amsah said.
But Malaysia’s minister of tourism and culture, Seri Nazri Aziz, has criticised the controversy over the film, calling it “ridiculous”.
“You don’t ban a film because of a gay character,” he told the Malay Mail Online. “We must allow people to decide for themselves.”
Homosexuality is illegal in Malaysia, where laws criminalising sodomy can result in imprisonment, corporal punishment and fines.