Why The Gay Character In ‘Beauty And The Beast’ Is Nothing To Celebrate

A sidekick named The Fool isnt exactly progress.

Why The Gay Character In ‘Beauty And The Beast’ Is Nothing To Celebrate

A sidekick named ‘The Fool’ isn’t exactly progress.

If you didn’t get the memo, the character LeFou from “Beauty And The Beast” is gay. Yay for equality, we did it, pack it in, y’all, gay rights are in a Disney movie.

Well, not exactly.

At first, all we knew about this “exclusively gay moment” was that the film’s openly gay director, Bill Condon, said LeFou has a crush on Gaston. Teasing some sort of small scene or moment, Condon said LeFou is just realizing his feelings. “On one day he wants to be Gaston and on another day wants to kiss Gaston,” Condon says.

Later, it seemed like Condon and the actor who will play LeFou, Josh Gad, were walking back this grand declaration of Disney gayness. On premiere red carpets and in press tour interviews after the announcement, Gad stated there was nothing in the script that said LeFou was gay. Condon even said “I think [LeFou’s sexuality] has been a little overstated.”

Did Attitude — the magazine that broke the story — overstate LeFou’s homosexuality because it’s a gay publication? Did everyone else just jump on board to get clicks? Is the cast and crew rolling back the gay because Disney is panicking?

Honestly, I don’t care about the beastly nitty-gritty (pun intended).

Let’s get down to what this really means for LGBT representation.

Here’s what we know:

  1. The film’s villain, Gaston, has a traditional Disney henchman named LeFou. In the original, he’s bumbling, mischievous and mistreated by Gaston at every turn.

2. His name is a play on words to mean “The Fool,” and he’s the literal court jester/fool type character in the animated film. Also, in French, LeFou translates to “the madman” or simply “crazy”.

3. LeFou is a side character getting a single, apparently subtle, moment in a live action reboot. The story isn’t about him, and he’s still a villain.

4. Disney has a troubling history of coding LGBT people as villains. It’s easy to show someone as evil if you prey on existing stereotypes. Cartoons, fairytales and Hollywood in general has a gross history of doing this to Jewish, black, Asian and fat people, too.

5. It seems like LeFou will have an unrequited crush on his straight friend.

6. Associating a “fool” character (and its underlying meaning of crazy or “mad”) has a troubling history. Homosexuality used to be considered a mental illness and people tried to “cure” it in horrible ways. This probably isn’t the best parallel, Disney.

7. Lefou’s straight friend Gaston uses him as a personal assistant and abuses him constantly in the original film.

Source: Disney

8. He’s probably going to be the sassy sidekick character with a flamboyant flair, a common gay trope. Just look at this clip of his main song, “Gaston.”

To the filmmakers’ credit, they’ve acknowledged that LeFou was originally a cartoon stereotype and hope the live action version builds on that to make him human.

9. LeFou is being played by a straight actor, which is already a huge problem in the industry. Funnily enough, an openly gay actor (David Ogden Stiers) voiced Cogsworth in the original animated movie. (Everyone assumed Cogworth was gay and loved Lumiere.)

Ian McKellan, who is also openly gay, will play Cogsworth in the reboot.

Okay, so LeFou is kind of annoying and cliché — but why is that bad if he’s also gay?

YES there are men who — in real life — are in love with macho guys and straight guys. There are gay men who aren’t very good people, and gay men with unrequited crushes. But we’ve seen that already — it’s the gay stereotype every TV show of the early 2000s made popular. If we don’t show gay characters as normal parts of the story, we’ll just reinforce the stereotypes bigoted viewers already have.

When the majority of film and TV characters are straight, every tiny bit of representation counts. I call this the Ghostbusters Reboot Theory. Sci-fi and action reboots are allowed to be mediocre; Hollywood churns them out by the dozen. But just because this one starred mostly women, it was the token female movie and held to a higher standard.

Unfortunately, this is true of every single bit of minority representation. An “exclusively gay moment” doesn’t cut it when straight people get EVERY OTHER MOMENT. This makes every tiny “exclusively gay moment” and character count tenfold, especially when it’s a Disney movie. Disney has a big platform, and therefore a bigger responsibility to do representation right.

Do gay characters have to be likable?

No, in a perfect world they shouldn’t. It’s the burden of the token — of course Rey has to be a badass, because she’s literally one of only four “Star Wars” female protagonists and has to hold down the fort.

Right now, there’s no room for nuance until we have more volume. We need to let the underrepresented characters be capable, magical, wonderful Mary Sues for now. Kids — and our culture as a whole — need them.

Do gay characters always have to be shown in happy situations?

No, but in this case a gay character in an abusive friendship is not a good look for Disney. It’s a sad message to send teens who may be gay or just figuring out adult relationships (even just Platonic ones) for the first time.

“Beauty and the Beast” is about finding love in unexpected places, and about the magic of love. Shouldn’t the gay character get a little piece of that, too, or do we only allow for gay stories when they’re about being sad because you’re gay?

But isn’t this a step in the right direction?

The “baby steps” argument works for a lot of things, but not for a major conglomerate like Disney. They weren’t going to lose money or fame if they’d started with better representation in the past, and this is too little too late. TV shows and networks are at the whim of ratings, but movies and studios experiment all the time.

Big studios like Disney with avid followers and beloved characters have the MOST leeway to experiment with representation. If they can survive the experimental years and still make money out the ass because of “Frozen,” they can do better at representation.

Gay fans deserve better, gay kids deserve better, and straight people that need to see gay as normal deserve better. We all deserve a gay CHARACTER, not a gay MOMENT or a gay PLOT LINE. LGBT people are more than their identity, and our identities are more than just a token cameo.

There’s a silver lining, though.

Disney owns a lot of properties, most notably Star Wars and Marvel. People have been clamoring for better representation in both franchises for a while, but didn’t believe it would happen because of Disney.

Maybe this is Disney testing the waters for future gay characters. If “Beauty and the Beast” makes money, it might give Disney the green light to do better next time.

Hopefully this misguided attempt will lead to Captain America finally kissing Bucky Barnes. Or, even better, Resistance pilot Poe Dameron dating Finn from “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

While I’m wary of gay LeFou, I’m glad people are talking about representation so seriously. We’re finally having the conversations we should have started once upon a time.