Disclaimer: Some mild spoilers for the Beauty and the Beast remake. Yes I do take Disney movies too seriously, no I’m not sorry for it. These are my own thoughts, views and opinions etc. – in no way am I presuming to speak for the LGBT+ community and I apologise in advance if I come across that way at any point in this discussion, it’s not my intention.
As Disney goes through its remake phase, just like it went through its sequel phase, it was only a matter of time before 1991’s Beauty and the Beast was given a fresh lick of live action paint.
News stories started asking if the fairy tale promotes bestiality or Stockholm syndrome as though this were the first time those questions had been asked – seriously, do they not realise how often fairy tales have been studied over the years? This isn’t a shock revelation – until it was revealed that LeFou, played by Josh Gad of Frozen fame, was going to be reimagined and portrayed as an LGBT+ character. Naturally, that was all the press could focus on and, in some ways, I can’t really blame them. LeFou’s hardly the hero of Beauty and the Beast, but that Disney were actually going to acknowledge someone as openly gay in one of their movies was a big deal – especially to the LGBT+ community who have been waiting for this kind of representation for years.
Now that I’ve seen the film (and I won’t talk about my thoughts on it here, because this blog post would turn into a book) I can say that, yes, I certainly got the impression that LeFou is a member of the LGBT+ community, but at no point did he use the all important sentence: I’m gay (or however else he might choose to identify himself). This is a real shame considering the director of the remake, Bill Condon, is an openly gay man himself. If LeFou being gay was the director’s intention then why not just come out and say it? Would including a piece of dialogue like that take too much attention away from the main storyline?
Well, it shouldn’t. We need to start getting to a point where it’s not a shock for someone to reveal they aren’t heterosexual, if they’re comfortable enough to discuss their sexuality. If attention can be taken away from the main storyline by something like that then that’s the fault of the creators and of the audience, because people talking openly and safely about their sexuality in the media, whatever their sexuality is, isn’t going to seem normal until we make it normal, and we need more creators who are willing to take that risk – especially with media that is largely consumed by children. What better way to make children realise, from a young age, that people are deserving of respect regardless of who they choose to take to bed (or choose not to, in some cases).
So, should Disney be praised for their decision to make LeFou an LGBT+ character?
Honestly, I don’t think so. We don’t really know for certain that he is gay because he never tells us that he is. Sure, at the end of the movie there’s about two seconds of screen time when we see him dancing with another man and we’re led to believe his adoration of Gaston is more along the lines of wanting to be with him than like him, but this feels a little like the Dumbledore fiasco all over again. When Rowling revealed Dumbledore was gay there was an outcry from the LGBT+ community because it wasn’t blatantly said outright. At the time I wasn’t sure what people were expecting – was Dumbledore’s sexuality really revelant to Harry’s story? – but I don’t think we can ignore so many voices, from the very community Dumbledore is supposed to be a part of, telling us they weren’t satisfied with the years of only hinting at non-heterosexuality.
Whenever we watch a film or read a book, we’re programmed to automatically assume that everyone is heterosexual, and that’s why it’s important for creators to just come out and say when someone is gay or bisexual or pansexual or demisexual or asexual – sexuality is fluid and all members of every sexuality deserve to see themselves reflected in the stories they immerse themselves in. That’s why it was so important for LeFou to come out and say: ‘I’m gay.’
I can already hear people’s counter-arguments: ‘The story’s set in 18th century France, LeFou would have been executed for sodomy if he’d come out as gay’. Hm. Yeah, but I don’t remember many stories of 18th century French villages having their own royal families who they’ve forgotten about because an enchantress has turned their prince into a beast. It’s a bit like saying the sexual violence in Game of Thrones is historically accurate even though Westeros is entirely fictional and its own rules could apply. There are dragons in Game of Thrones, too, but no one argues that they’re historically inaccurate. This is exactly the same for our nameless French village; there’s no reason why this one village, with its own royal family they clearly decided not to send to the guillotine, couldn’t be a far more liberal place than the rest of the country.
Also, LeFou doesn’t necessarily have to come out to the people who could potentially cause him harm. Belle is portrayed as forward-thinking and you can guarantee the Beast knew someone in his circle of aristocratic friends who wasn’t straight, what’s important is that LeFou comes out to people who accept him in front of the audience. What’s important is that children see him not being used as comic relief, but as someone who questions the constraints of traditional masculinity and is rewarded for it.
On the one hand, I want to praise Disney for taking another step closer to one day having openly non-heterosexual protagonists, to encourage them to take further steps like this one, but on the other I find it difficult to praise a movie for having Disney’s first ‘openly gay character’ when we don’t know for certain that he is gay, and it’s certainly not openly if he is, and when we remember that Disney was founded in 1923. This is far too long a wait for representation that has come in the form of a side character who still isn’t really given the kind of voice that the LGBT+ community deserves.