The new live action version of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast takes center stage in the April issue of Attitude magazine. In the cover story director Bill Condon reveals how the tale of the Beast and his curse can actually be read as an allegory for the AIDS epidemic.
Howard Ashman, the lyricist for classic Disney features like The Little Mermaid and Aladdin, wrote the songs for the 1991 animated version of Beauty and the Beast. Just before production started on the film Ashman was diagnosed with AIDS, and he saw the Beast’s curse as a metaphor for the disease.
“On the heels of The Little Mermaid they showed it to [composer] Alan Menken and Howard Ashman. Ashman had just found out he had AIDS,” reveals Condon. “And it was his idea, not only to make it into a musical but also to make Beast one of the two central characters; until then it had mostly been Belle’s story that they had been telling.”
“He was cursed and this curse had brought sorrow on all those people who loved him and maybe there was a chance for a miracle and a way for the curse to be lifted,” says the filmmaker. “It was a very, very concrete thing that he was doing.”
Sadly, Ashman passed away on March 14, 1991, four days after the first screening of the animated feature that would eventually go on to be the first one nominated for Best Picture. Ashman was never able to see the finished product, but the film would go on to be dedicated to him.
For those of you unfamiliar with Ashman’s life, below is a segment about him from Waking Sleeping Beauty, the excellent documentary on the Disney Animation renaissance that began in the late ’80s.