Calls from some conservative groups for Asian cities from Singapore to Hong Kong to boycott Disney's Beauty and the Beast over a "gay moment" in the film have drawn flak from rights activists, as the US studio stands by its decision not to cut the scene ahead of a regional release this weekend.
The episode has cast a spotlight on rising friction between Southeast Asia's tiny but vocal gay rights lobby and influential conservative groups that hold significant political sway.
In Malaysia, Disney rebuffed officials' demands for the censorship of 4.5 minutes of footage deemed to depict homosexuality, putting the film's release in the country in jeopardy. In neighbouring Singapore, the national council of churches said in a statement that some Christian leaders were "deeply concerned about the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and questioning) representation in this new Disney movie".
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"They see this as an attempt to influence young children and socialise them at an early age into thinking that the homosexual lifestyle is normal," the statement said.
It urged parents to be "aware of this strand in the movie and its possible influence on their children".
Rights activists in the region deplored the conservative backlash against what they said was a minor element of the partially animated film staring Emma Watson as the titular character.
In the 130-minute film, the character LeFou – sidekick to the main villain Gaston – expresses affection for his macho boss and also dances with a man at a ball. Director Bill Condon said in an interview earlier this month that the "nice, exclusively gay moment" was a first for a Disney film.