“…Belle was white” …Not Racist Just Ignorant

January 17, 2014 in General, Shoot, Social by William

Recently, I recovered some lost photos of Jazzmin as Belle from Beauty and the Beast.  I was so excited since I thought I had lost the photos in an accident.  I posted several using a more artistic style to the photos while traveling in India.  A comment by Leah, “…Belle was white” was very sad to see.  Obviously sad because of the racist overtones which this world would be much better without, but even more sad given the topic at hand.

Belle steps into the world of the present…no past no future.

Belle steps into the world of the present…no past no future.

If one looked at the “Belle” photos, you might have caught the Buddha and Shiva juxtaposed to Belle herself.   But, I don’t think the author did.  If one had understood the story told in Beauty and the Beast dumbed down to a cliché “don’t judge a book by its cover,” wouldn’t a statement of “…Belle was white” if given as an answer to what you took away from the story get you an “F”?  I hope that’s not all the author took away from a great story.

Her comment did get me to think a bit deeper into the archetypes that make up great characters as Beauty herself.  Belle is not any race in particular. She is a collection of attributes from many stories going back thousands of years. The story of Beauty and the Beast is derived from folktales from Europe, Asia, and Africa. The oldest known is Cupid and Psyche which is based on an oral tradition in the near east. Given that origin, Belle is likely of north african or Persian heritage.  So the “white” thing just doesn’t hold water.

Belle finds a statue of Shiva

Belle finds a statue of Shiva

The story of Beauty and the Beast itself focuses on a strong woman who controls her life and decisions in spite of a male dominated society and oppression, and ultimately wins love on her own terms.  She is “given” away by actions of her father.  The Disney movie portrays the gentlest oppression by using her love for her father to imprison her.  In other renditions of the story, Belle’s father, in his own self-interest, gives her to the Beast to save himself.  In spite of her situation she endures asserting her own rights.  She grows in a deep understanding of people and character.  In the end of the Disney movie she gets the prince everyone else wanted.  In other versions, she is deeply disappointed when the beast turns into the prince, because she came to love the Beast for his character, a true love.  I like this ending.

The facts and intent of story don’t support in any way being racist or tied to any particular race.  Asserting so is just pure ignorance.

It’s not the person that you see that is important, it is what their character embodies.  That is why the story is told.  That is why the movie is made.  That is why we like it.   This character-view embodies most cosplayers.  They look like a character to celebrate the character within.  Story tellers choose those characters for the same reason.  Behind every “white”, “asian”, “black” hero is a story that is raceless, and what I believe drives the character’s popularity.  Even if people aren’t analyzing why they pick a certain character, the underlying strengths are always there.  It’s at the heart of telling stories.

Next time you hear a comment made about race and cosplay, feel sorry for the people who make them for they miss the soul of the character.  They miss the purpose.  They miss the thousands of years, and millions of stories blended into a single entity that crafted the heroin into such a perfect being.  Such race focused individuals are existing in a shell defined by an accident of birth.  They see only themselves.  So lonely an existence.  Next time, I hope to reach out to them and be the hero you so admire.

Hope you enjoy Belle!

  • Model: Jazzmin Jolly
  • Character: Belle from Beauty and the Beast