‘Beauty and the Beast’; a story about sexism, stereotypes and education was first written in 1740, a time at when women were considered inferior to their male counterparts. Gabrielle-Suzanne de Villeneuve a French writer, separated from her husband and was left with ‘no family fortune’. At the time her circumstance was typical for a woman as men-owned everything, so perhaps this was the reason she wrote the book: to raise issues about equality.

'Beauty and the Beast' certainly raises important issues. During the 1740s, and for several centuries after women were not given much ‘freedom’. The fact that in the book Belle’s adventure takes place in a ‘castle’ (where she is also held captive) perhaps parallels society’s view that women are not able to confront the world on their own terms. Women are, in effect, the passive participant, waiting for the ‘Beast’ to free them. Equally alarming is the category the book falls under: fairy tales. This would influence any girl to believe that all she can do is stay at home, restricting her imagination and the possibilities of which she is capable. Also, the book also questions the importance of education for young girls.

In 1992 Disney animated the book and not long after, in 2017, created a modern adaptation. Perhaps the artistic intention behind this remake was, to bring to light how relevant inequality is today. However, beauty is also represented as being well-educated rather than being submissive and naïve. Despite the mother still being written out of the narrative, the remake of the film says a lot about the way society still sees women. Perhaps it is because of this that Burntwood Academy, a girl’s school, decided to stage the Broadway version of the novel. As a girl’s school, the students were more able to see the tensions between the men and women as power struggles. Questions like: “why does Gaston feel he has access to any woman?” and “why can’t Belle be educated and have an opinion of her own?” arose during the rehearsal process. Yet, as the director asks  “why are these issues still relevant today?”. Perhaps, in the future, we could see a black actor playing ‘Belle’ and perhaps Belle’s mother will be present in the narrative.

By Emilia Edgington, Burntwood School