Beauty and the Beast in Cinema: A Challenge to Gender Roles

Faculty Sponsor

Timothy Tomasik


Arts and Sciences


Foreign Languages

Presentation Type

Oral Presentation

Symposium Date

Spring 5-2-2015


La Belle et la bête, better known as Beauty and the Beast, was written in 1756 by a French author, Madame Leprince de Beaumont. Many adaptations have appeared since, but two of significance are by French director Jean Cocteau in 1946 and by American Disney directors Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise in 1991. The protagonist, Belle, challenges gender roles in both these film adaptations and the original. In the 18th century when Leprince wrote the original fairy tale, women were considered inferior to men. As a rare female author, she wanted to teach both genders that women do not need to marry because it is expected of them; they should marry for love. This story thus marks the birth of romantic love. In the WWII era adaptation by Cocteau, men were in charge and women were supposed to obey. However, Cocteau made Belle the head of the household, and the beast was subservient to her. This role reversal represented his own challenge to tradition as a homosexual man. The Disney adaptation came about during the third wave of feminism. Modern women wanted a new type of princess: one who is intelligent, independent, and not concerned with marriage. Leprince, Cocteau, and Disney use literature and film to challenge gender roles in their cultures. Each portrays Belle as the opposite of what society deems as a traditional female, whether she marries for love, disobeys commands, or is intelligent and independent.

Biographical Information about Author(s)

McKenzie Cobban is a senior French and international economics and cultural affairs double major. Studying French and spending a semester in Paris, she has developed a passion for French language and culture. Combined with her love for fairy tales and passion for gender equality, the challenge of gender roles in a French fairy tale was the perfect topic for her French senior seminar paper. Also, working to promote human rights is a possible career path.

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