The country of Malaysia and a theater in Alabama may have boycotted Beauty and the Beast due to its "gay moment" — but they were in the vast minority.
Audience members flocked to Disney's live-action remake of the 1991 classic in record numbers. The film raked in in $174.8 million domestically and $182.3 internationally on its opening weekend, for a total of $357.1 million, Deadline reports.
This is the largest opening weekend ever for a PG-rated film and for a Disney live-action film, surpassing Maleficent, The Jungle Book, and Cinderella. Experts predict that,at this rate, Beauty and the Beast may break $1 billion in ticket sales.
GLAAD, an LGBT media organization, was elated by the box-office success. "Inclusive storytelling pays," tweeted CEO Sarah Kate Ellis.
"This will help send a message to LGBTQ kids that they're important," the group declared on social media, along with the hashtag #TeamLeFou, a show of solidarity with Disney's first clearly gay character.
LeFou — the henchman of the villain Gaston — became the unlikely center of a culture war. While promoting the film, Beauty and the Beast's director, Bill Condon, told Attitude magazine that LeFou had feelings for his handsome friend.
In addition, Condon promised an "exclusively gay moment" in the film, which dominated headlines and sparked an international controversy. Malaysia, after unsuccessfully trying to persuade Disney to cut the scene, pulled the movie from theaters. Russia imposed a 16+ age limit. A theater in Alabama boycotted it.
But antigay voices didn't deter audiences, who were driven by nostalgia as well as star power. Emma Watson, starring as Belle, appealed to the Harry Potter generation. The diverse cast also included Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Josh Gad, Emma Thompson, Audra McDonald, and out actor Ian McKellen.
Beauty and the Beast's success may encourage Disney to incorporate more LGBT visibility in its family films. While many characters (especially villains) have been interpreted as gay in past films, LeFou is the first to receive queer confirmation from his portrayer (Gad) and director.