Opinion: Alabama Drive-In Refuses to Show ‘Beauty and the Beast’ Remake Due to Gay Characters

My home county, DeKalb, in rural Alabama is making national headlines again for someone taking a zealous religious stand.

This time it revolves around the live action remake of “Beauty and the Beast” starring Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, and Emma Thompson. The film will hit theaters on March 17.

I respect everyone’s right to believe what they want. I further respect everyone’s right to take principled stands based on what they believe. Business owners should, to a degree, be able to run their companies how they wish.

How blessed we are to live in a country where we are free to do so.

However, I also understand that we are not free to say things that are critical of what others believe without the consequence of backlash.  I am also very much against censorship, which is what we see happening in the tiny town of Henagar (a 10 minute drive from my house).

A staff member for the Henagar Drive-In posted a statement to their Facebook Page on Friday to state:

“For those that do not know, ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is ‘premiering’ their first homosexual character. The producer also says at the end of the movie ‘there will be a surprise for same-sex couples.’ If we can not take our 11 year old grand daughter and 8 year old grandson to see a movie, we have no business watching it.”

The post continued:

“If I can’t sit through a movie with God or Jesus sitting by me then we have no business showing it. I know there will be some that do not agree with this decision. That’s fine. We are first and foremost Christians. We will not compromise on what the Bible teaches. We will continue to show family oriented films so you can feel free to come watch wholesome movies without worrying about sex, nudity, homosexuality, and foul language…”

That doesn’t sound very fun. Or lucrative. But hey, the good folks of DeKalb County will likely step up and support this drive-in for taking a stand for G-rated decency. Of course, their argument would be stronger if they hadn’t just shown the “50 Shades” movie about sadomasochism. Hetero spanking, the way God wants it.

Personally, I could care less whether there are gay characters in a movie, Disney or otherwise, so I will not be giving any more money to this theater. That’s voting with our dollars in the free market ballot box. I have gay friends in “real life”. I’m certainly not shocked if there are homosexual characters in a musical, duh. Especially one where human beings are transformed into objects. This is the stuff of fantasy.

I know what you’re thinking… Steven Stiefel taking a position outside of the mainstream consensus in the Bible Belt? That NEVER happens! ha ha. That’s sarcasm, by the way. You know me. Always playing devil’s advocate, risking the wrath of those who interpret anyone with an alternative view as advocating for the devil. The God I believe in has bigger fish to fry than worrying about our sex lives.

My question, I guess, is why did the Drive-In Theater feel compelled to post these comments to Facebook? The Henagar Drive-In could have simply skipped showing the movie and no one would know the difference. Nope. Some brainiac in that operation felt the need to rub it in the faces of those who believe differently, essentially saying, “We’re better than those of you who tolerate things of this world that we regard as sinful, and you aren’t welcome here if you don’t want to watch Kirk Cameron movies that reinforce our values…”

That’s the same kind of mindful defiance that, say, makes a generic moment of silence unacceptable or causes a respectful, benevolent and general expression like “happy holidays” to be met with scorn because people around these parts know it is Christmas, dammit. Like Jesus is sitting in Heaven fuming because someone did not take the time to let a Jewish guy know he’s second-class in Murica.

My first reaction to the news on my Facebook feed was to joke around:

“What a perverse movie! It’s about beastiality. It’s right in the title!!”

All kidding aside, I’m a little mortified to see DeKalb County in the national news AGAIN for something like this. I was a newspaper reporter when Gary Carlyle made his stand at Sylvania High School and sparked a whole debate about school prayer. I saw with my own eyes how people on the right came in and attempted to stir up the faithful to make a mountain out of a molehill. Once that story died down, so did the outrage. DeKalb County was dragged, kicking and screaming, into the 21st Century.

Dean Young incites outrage among conservatives from DeKalb County at the Alabama Supreme Court.

Then there was the whole controversy over Judge Roy Moore refusing to remove the 10 Commandments from the wall of his courtroom just down the road in Etowah. That little stunt got him propelled into the Chief Justice seat of the state’s Supreme Court, twice, before he was forced out for being a bigot who refused to accept marriage equality. I’ve sat through a couple of his speeches and find the guy a bit terrifying; he truly thinks that his strict religious beliefs should dictate how laws are enforced rather than going along with things that he may personally find immoral.

Former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore speaking at a church in Sylvania, Alabama in the early 2000s.

The problem is that people here want it both ways: They want to condemn countries in the Middle East for forcing Islamic codes and Sharia Law on their people, yet they want to pass judgment on anyone here in America as wicked if our beliefs and actions go beyond the boundaries of their narrow moral codes.

There’s a name for people who want to keep things as they’ve traditionally been and shun the ways of the modern world: Amish.

Yes, America is a wonderful country because we don’t all have to believe the same things. We can disagree without someone from the government coming to our door and taking us to a concentration camp for having different opinions (at least that is the case this week, but everything seems to be changing on a week-to-week basis under the Trump Administration). To be fair, it’s fine for a community to set a standard for what’s acceptable, but that censorship thing really bothers me at the same time.

Everything in its place.

I can subscribe to premium channels if I actually want to watch movies where Samuel L. Jackson says the F word two dozen times or some glamorous actress bares her breasts. Frankly, all of that is one of the few perks of being a grown-up. Right up there with being able to go to the store and buy a beer once we turn 21. No one is forcing YOU to go buy a beer, but I’ve heard these folks lament the fact that their children must endure the sight of beer company logos glowing in neon at convenience stores.

Gimme a break.

As a parent, I’ve shielded my daughter from things I did not feel she was ready to see as she was growing up, but now that she’s in high school, it is ridiculous for me to still be acting as if the larger imperfect world does not exist. I’ve always tried to put things in context for her so she understands rather than simply repeating words she hears but doesn’t know what they mean (which happened to me one time at church). If anything, it’s time to toughen her up so she can survive in the modern world and not get all bent out of shape anytime something happens that her daddy would not approve of her watching or overhearing or, Lord Forbid, instigating.

It’s all about VALUES. I want to instill positive values in my daughter — and not just the ones I was taught in Sunday School. Things like seeing diversity as a positive, being tolerant of others, treating others the way she would want them to treat her. I want her to want to make me proud because of the way she carries herself and gets along with others. I have to say I’m very proud that she forms her own opinions and actually thinks things through on her own. Bless her sweet heart, at 15 she still asks for permission before telling me about how someone at her school used the F word in an outburst. I’ve taught her that words only have meaning by virtue of what we assign to them. She knows that there is a time and a place for foul language, just like there’s a time and a place to keep your mouth shut and be respectful of others who might get offended. I don’t expect a TV show or a movie to teach her values, but they might just shape her understanding of the world outside our home.

Movies capture the human experience. Sometimes that experience is wholesome and uplifting. But sometimes it is Martin Scorsese dark, David Lynch dark. Sometimes some of us enjoy a little more nuance to our entertainment, sometimes we enjoy gratuitous spoonfuls of outrageousness and outright provocative storytelling. My editorial images of beautiful women are no doubt influenced by my teen years watching Phoebe Cates emerge from the pool in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”, Rebecca De Mornay ride a train in “Risky Business” and Kelly Preston raising “Mischief”. It seems like movies today have gotten less gratuitous than they used to be, probably because studios all want to make superhero movies that are mostly action-oriented.

I enjoy art that makes me examine the world, challenging my perceptions. For someone to tell me that I’m not entitled to that choice or that enlightenment as a consumer, that my experience purchased on my free time with my hard-earned discretionary dollars has to be an extension of their church service… well, you make whatever business decisions you think are right while I take my dollars elsewhere, thank you.

The filmmakers and producers of “Beauty and the Beast” no doubt appreciate the pre-release publicity. It will drive ticket sales, just as the band KISS got kids wanting to go to their concerts in the 70s because their scary makeup and Satanic motif horrified their mothers.

Anyway, I am rambling. To the righteous folks who agree with the Henagar Drive-In management, enjoy the family entertainment, sanitized for your protection. I’ll be sitting at home watching an R-rated movie on HBO.