With the new live-action version of Disney’s 1991 animated classic Beauty and the Beast hitting screens on March 23rd, feminist actress Emma Watson has refuted claims over whether her character Belle is trapped in an abusive relationship.
While the heroine of the tale is a spirited and headstrong village girl, in a bid to balance the sexes, Emma, after wondering: “What is she doing with her time?” insisted that her latest character should have a job, taking on the role as the inventor this time like her father in the original.
However, a common critique levied against the central narrative is that it merrily acts out a perfect Stockholm syndrome case study, that is, the psychological condition that causes hostages to develop feelings of trust and affection for their kidnappers.
Wrapped in a Disney bow, a tale about Stockholm syndrome unfolds after Belle is locked up and forbidden to leave the castle by the Beast. However, with help from the castle’s enchanted staff, she eventually finds herself falling in love with her captor, empathizing with him and seemingly forgiving him for taking her prisoner.
Although our judgement may be clouded by nostalgia for the ‘90s animated classic, as well as the highly acclaimed feminist twist of the father-daughter role reversal set for the new version, we can’t ignore that the film is still premised on Belle sacrificing herself after the Beast captures her father.
Yet, surprising Emma Watson, a UN ambassador for women, while also using her celebrity platform to speak out for equal rights, doesn’t see the age-old tale’s gender politics that way.
“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,” said Watson.
“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.”
Linda Woolverton, writer of the original animated film’s screenplay agrees, saying in a 2016 interview with IGN, ‘There’s been a lot of talk about Stockholm syndrome, that [Belle] fell in love with her captor But I disagree! She was captured, but she transformed him.
‘She didn’t become, you know, an object. She didn’t turn into a beast! She transformed him. So it was certainly the transformative power of love and what it can do,’ she explained.