Disney's Beauty and the Beast opened to a huge $350 million at the worldwide box office over the weekend. But it was conspicuously absent on movie screens in Malaysia.
Last Thursday, it emerged that Malaysia's censorship board - known as the LPF - had demanded that material be cut from the film, including a brief, three-second "gay moment."
Disney responded by saying the film "has not been and will not be cut for Malaysia." The studio postponed the movie's release by one week, in case the Malaysians decided to reconsider their demand for cuts.
In a lengthy interview with the New Sunday Times published Sunday, Malaysia censorship board chairman Abdul Halim suggested that his organization's hand had been forced by director Bill Condon's recent remarks clarifying the fact that Josh Gad's character in the film (Gaston's sidekick LeFou) is gay.
"Maybe if Condon had not mentioned the 'gay element,' people wouldn't be so curious and we could let it go with a potentially minor cut," Halim said in the NST interview. "And this whole thing may not have been an issue. We at LPF want to preserve films as much as how they are intended by the director, but the moment the 'gay element' is thrown into the mix, we had to protect ourselves."
"Malaysia does not recognize the LGBT ideology," he added. "So we have to be extra cautious in our work. We have our responsibilities to the country, the people and our constitution. If we let these scenes pass, people will wonder if Malaysia recognizes LGBT."
Malaysia has strict laws against homosexuality. Sex between men is illegal in the country and gay characters are allowed to be depicted on screen only if they show repentance or are portrayed in a negative light.
Halim said the censorship board deemed "three parts" of the film in need of elision: the first "during the performance of a song where a male character (LeFou) hugs the other (Gaston) from behind. Secondly is the suggestive song lyrics with sexual innuendos and the third is a scene that takes place at the end of the movie."
Some chance remains that Beauty and the Beast will yet screen in Malaysia. The country's Film Appeals Committee, which has the power to reverse the censorship board's ruling, is scheduled to meet Tuesday to screen the film.