Update: According to the annual report by the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), Hollywood is still not representing the LGBTQ community. In 2016, only 23 of the 125 major films released included a character that identified as LGBTQ. The media advocacy group pointed out that with films like Beauty and the Beast and Power Rangers creating buzz around LGBTQ characters, 2017 looked more promising. Unfortunately, this summer’s film lineup doesn’t look much better when it comes to representation. For the full release, including GLAAD’s recommendations for the film industry, click here.
In Disney’s highly anticipated reboot of Beauty and the Beast, Belle wasn’t the only one searching for her Prince Charming.
Disney revealed that the film, which hit theatres Mar. 17, featured the studio’s first “exclusively gay moment.” While some Twitter users read the headlines and expected to read about a budding romance between Lumière and Cogsworth, director Bill Condon revealed in an interview with British magazine Attitude that it is actually the character of LeFou, Gaston’s sidekick/ultimate fanboy, who will be openly gay in the film.
“LeFou is somebody who on one day wants to be Gaston and on another day wants to kiss Gaston,” Condon told Attitude in its April 2017 issue. “He’s confused about what he wants. It’s somebody who’s just realizing that he has these feelings. And Josh [Gad] makes something really subtle and delicious out of it. And that’s what has its payoff at the end, which I don’t want to give away.”
The revived version of Beauty and the Beast has been heavily promoted for months, but Condon’s latest comments have given many people an entirely new reason to look forward to the movie.
“I think it is fantastic that Disney’s creative team is consciously inserting a gay sub-plot into Beauty and the Beast,” says Andrew Murphy, director of programming for Toronto’s Inside Out film festival. “I feel confident the LGBTQ community can trust him to treat LeFou’s feelings for Gaston with respect, kindness and whimsy, as Disney would with any princess.”
Beyond proud of this https://t.co/5wG1KfKqVZ
— Josh Gad (@joshgad) March 1, 2017
While an openly gay character may be new for the classic film, many argue that the original story was always an allegory for the queer experience. In the Attitude interview, Condon—himself openly gay—talks about Howard Ashman, the gay lyricist who penned the original film’s classic songs, and how he used the story of Beauty and the Beast to represent his struggle with AIDS as well as society’s mob mentality to reject anyone deemed different. (Ashman, who is also credited with “giving the Little Mermaid her voice,” died four days before the original Beauty and the Beast premiered in 1991 due to complications from AIDS.)
Even though LeFou does not get the final rose—as far as we know—Murphy sees this as a significant step forward for the powerhouse film studio.
“For decades, Disney has fallen prey to the Hollywood tropes of the effeminate, accented villain as seen in animated films like The Lion King, The Jungle Book and even the Great Mouse Detective. When not a villain, these character tropes are often one dimensional, inserted for comic relief,” says Murphy. “For Disney to normalize homosexuality in any way—in this case the new Beauty and the Beast—is a huge step for the studio and a significant opportunity for them to be leaders in proper and fair representation of LGBTQ characters in big budget films made for mainstream audiences.”
But some are not so sure, pointing out that in the original film, LeFou is not exactly a traditional “hero” character, and in the original film, definitely could be described as “one-dimensional” and “inserted for comic relief.” Case in point: his name literally translates to “the fool.”
LeFou has a confused, unrequited crush for Gaston, who treats him badly. I’m not sure anyone should be celebrating this as a diversity win.
— Ian Miles Cheong (@stillgray) March 1, 2017
To the movie executives who made Lefou gay: A badly thought out stereotype is just as bad, if not worse, than no gay representation at all.
— Arnar Heiðmar (@ArnarTheWriter) March 1, 2017
But is #LeFou the best choice for first official gay Disney character? He’s terrible. Is bad representation better than no representation?
— Casey Bowen (งಠ_ಠ)ง (@CaseyBowen) March 1, 2017
While Murphy understands the negative response, he says LeFou still has the potential to make a positive impact.
“One is always apprehensive when it comes to film remakes that have previously portrayed a character in such one-dimensional light as LeFou, that they’ll make the same mistake twice. I can only conjecture at this point until having seen it, but perhaps Condon and Disney consciously adding the gay/questioning sub-plot is a way to acknowledge said previous tropes and make right this go round?” he says. “We will see! Gay people can be funny and complicated!”
He adds that this recognition and representation of the LGBTQ community in live-action Disney films is long overdue, particularly since the studio maintains that they represent the epitome of family values. Like many audience members, Murphy remains hopeful that this tale as old as time is finally getting with the times.
“I do hope,” he says, “that LeFou’s feelings for Gaston will help Disney demonstrate that even in fairytales, love is love.”
5 Best Moments From the Beauty and The Beast Trailer
Dan Levy Talks Playing Pansexual on Schitt’s Creek
“How I Came Out”: 5 Canadians Describe Their Experience
Laverne Cox on Orange Is the New Black and Trans Activism