by Blaine Payer `18
Emma Watson is one of the most well-recognized champions of feminism and gender equality in the world. Since it was announced early last year that she would be playing Belle in the upcoming live-action remake of the Disney classic Beauty and the Beast, Watson has been no stranger to the headlines. Initially, her millions of adoring fans shouted praise and approval for the casting decision, but recently all of the attention has been directed towards the feminist changes she has made to both the script as well as the character of Belle. Most of the reactions to the changes have been positive, but others remain skeptical about her “agenda pushing.”
Watson’s post-Harry Potter career has taken many surprise twists and turns, seeing her star in notable films such as Sofia Coppola’s Bling Ring (2012) and Darren Aronofsky’s Bible epic Noah (2013), among other smaller projects on the side like Colonia (2015) and Regression (2015).
In 2014, Watson became the youngest Women Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations, which saw the beginning of her campaign “He-for-She,” a feminist organization that calls for worldwide gender equality. She was also pictured marching in Washington D.C. to support the nation-wide Women’s March that took place last week.
In a recent Entertainment Weekly piece, Watson described the process of sitting down with director Bill Condon and altering the script to make Belle a more complex and independent woman. “My Belle is very practical,” Watson brightly declared, “if you’re going to ride your horse and tend your garden and fix machinery, then you need to be in proper boots.” Watson explains that in the retelling of the story, Belle is the inventor, not her father, and she has traded in her corset and ballet shoes for trousers and work boots. Even Belle’s iconic gold dress is less Victorian and more practical for an active, modern princess.
In the original film, Belle is considered strange because she refuses to marry Gaston and enjoys reading books, which can be translated as having self-respect and being educated. Watson was quick to come to Belle’s defense, herself being a Brown-educated History and English double major. The new film will see a much more independent Belle, but not to the point of her being unrecognizable.
Watson recently revealed that she was originally offered the role of Cinderella in the 2015 live-action remake, but turned down the role because she felt as though she did not resonate with the character. She wanted to play a character that would be a feminist role model for young girls, but Cinderella is the classic tale of a handmaiden who is given a better life by a prince who loves her for no other reason than the fact that she looks good in a dress. In a Huffington Post interview, Watson commented on the character of Belle, saying, “In a strange way, she challenges the status quo of the place she lives in, and I found that really inspiring.”
Of course, there are those that not only question the adequacy of Watson’s acting and whether or not she is up for the challenge, but also those who accuse her of being a “fake feminist.” Vogue ran an article claiming that giving Belle a new pair of shoes does not make her a feminist hero, since she is still a damsel in distress at the end of the day.
What they fail to recognize is that fact that any serious changes would transform the entire film, making it wholly unrecognizable. Watson and Condon wanted to make Belle a more independent character without making dramatic changes to the source material.
Watson has proven herself to be a talented actress and above-average singer, and all trailers for the film have been more-than promising. Although her attempt to make Belle into a more feminist character can be attacked for simply being Watson trying to force her agenda down the audience’s throat, so far it seems as though all she has done is given young girls a more positive role model to look up to. Maybe next Halloween, instead of seeing Cinderella in her baby blue gown, we will see a few more Belles running around in workboots and trousers.