The team behind Disney’s live-action production of “Beauty and the Beast” revealed on Wednesday, March 1 to The Telegraph that Gaston’s sidekick Lefou, played by Josh Gad, is going to be the first openly gay Disney character. This announcement produced mixed reactions from multiple groups, from those in the LGBTQ community to conservative Christians worried about the influence of homosexuality on their kids. Though it is a small step forward for LGBTQ representation in major media, it’s a start.
I think Disney making an explicit statement about LGBTQ representation is a good thing. We’re past the point of LGBTQ characters being hidden from view and the fact that Disney is drawing attention to this detail and has made an effort to develop the storyline in this way is a positive step forward. How major this representation will be remains to be seen, as the film will not be released until March 17. What’s being heralded as a “watershed moment for Disney” may just be a single scene to act as all the representation they’re willing to give. In light of this, this reveal doesn’t seem as revolutionary as the media is making it out to be.
What makes it all the more ridiculous is that fretting Christian moviegoers are already dismissing the film as something unfit to take their children to, according to The Chicago Tribune. You’re telling me a small subplot about a character that, let’s be real, was gay in the original film as well, is more worrying and against your beliefs than an entire film basically about beastiality? And not only that, but a film about beastiality that originates from a circumstance involving intimidation and kidnapping. Look, I love “Beauty and the Beast” as much as the next kid born in the late ‘90s to early 2000s; I was even in a musical production of it junior year of high school. I can acknowledge its inherent flaws while also relating heavily to Belle and singing my heart out to “Be Our Guest.” If people see this new instance of representation as an additional flaw that they need to come to terms with, they need to realize that in the grand scheme of things, a movie about singing inanimate objects and a girl who loves to read isn’t going to turn their children gay. That’s just not how it works. It might make them realize they’re gay, but that’s a whole other story entirely.
That all being said, in terms of the quality of representation, I daresay Disney could have and still could do better. As I said before, I’m willing to give Disney the benefit of the doubt and I have faith that the scenes including Lefou will be respectful and handled with derogation. But on the off chance that his characterization is the same as the original 1991 film, I’ll have to count myself as disappointed. The impact and meaning of making a character LGBTQ is negated if they’re kept as the fool which, coincidentally, is what Lefou’s name translates to in English. Making LGBTQ characters the brunt of the joke isn’t the representation LGBTQ audiences are looking for and in this day and age, many could see it as an affront if it’s not handled well. There’s already a history in Disney movies of what has been labelled, according to The Daily Dot, “queer coding,” or of effeminate characteristics being given to male villains like Jafar from “Aladdin” or Scar from “The Lion King.” Even the sea witch Ursula from “The Little Mermaid” was reportedly modelled after a drag queen and is portrayed with stereotypes usually attributed to “butch” lesbians. From my perspective, if Disney wanted to be as revolutionary as they’re saying they are, they should try giving the heroes a chance to be LGBTQ too. Lumière and Babette the featherduster don’t have to be a couple; bickering husbands Lumière and Cogsworth would have been just as enjoyable to watch, if not more so.
At the end of the day, though, I’m genuinely excited to see this film and to see what some of my favorite movie stars have done to transform one of my most beloved movies from my childhood. Disney including LGBTQ representation in this endeavor is a bonus, especially if it’s done well and maybe next time they’ll let the hero be the one stirring up all the controversy.