In an interview with "Attitude" magazine, Bill Condon, the director of Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" dropped a bombshell — the film will feature the studio's first-ever explicitly gay character.
Condon announced that LeFou — Gaston's obsequious sidekick (played in the movie by Josh Gad) — will be portrayed in the live-action remake as pining for his boss, culminating in an "exclusively gay moment" for the character toward the end of the film.
"It's somebody who’s just realizing that he has these feelings. And Josh 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," Condon told "Attitude."
On the one hand, it's great that Disney is finally putting an explicit LGBTQ character on screen, even if it has been a long time coming. It's even cooler to know that this is just one of many ways that Disney has updated the classic "Beauty and the Beast" story for a more modern era — including making Belle the inventor, instead of her father. Featuring an LGBTQ character is totally a step forward, and we certainly hope LeFou won't be the last.
On the other hand, Condon's statement was vague (albeit intentionally so), and we have some concerns about the decision to make LeFou, of all characters, the first.
1. Will LeFou be just another "gay villain"?
The trope of the "deliciously" evil antagonist has been around a long time — as explained incisively by this unsparing stand-up bit from 2011 — and Disney has been a prime perpetrator in advancing it. "The Little Mermaid's" Ursula was explicitly modeled on the famous drag queen Divine; "The Lion King's" Scar is, largely, a bundle of preening, limp-wristed, stereotypes; and "Aladdin's" Jafar certainly sends some mixed signals, to say the least.
LeFou isn't the movie's primary villain, but he's unequivocally, definitely on Team Bad. Thus, the studio's first gay character is someone we're primed to pity, laugh at, and root against.
Not only is LeFou not a great guy, he's essentially a sideshow — the antagonist's funny sidekick. Which also makes one wonder...
2. Will LeFou's apparently sincere feelings for Gaston be played for laughs?
LeFou isn't exactly the most three-dimensional character in the Disney canon. In the original animated feature, his appearances are pretty much limited to heinously sucking up to his boss, getting punched in various directions, and generally making a fool of himself.
Will his crush on Gaston be treated as a joke — an extension of his comic relief role? And if it isn't, will that just be ... kind of weird? What would that even look like?
3. If LeFou is, in fact, bisexual, as the filmmakers suggest he might be, will it be portrayed as weird or deviant?
"LeFou is somebody who on one day wants to be Gaston and on another day wants to kiss Gaston," Condon explained in the interview. It's a quote that suggests LeFou might, in fact, be bisexual or at the very least confused about where he stands.
And that's OK! Representation of people who are bi, queer, or simply sexually fluid are also lacking on screen. But LeFou is a clown. Will his confusion be treated as pathetic and odd? We hope not, but given Hollywood's frequent inability to take bisexuality seriously, it's fair to be concerned.
4. Is Gaston and LeFou's romance doomed, as usual?
At the climax of the original, animated "Beauty and the Beast," after losing his knock-down drag-out brawl with the Beast, Gaston [26-year-old spoiler alert] falls to his death, much to the delight of children everywhere.
Too frequently, romance between gay men on screen isn't allowed to just be. It has to end tragically (cf. "Brokeback Mountain"). Thankfully, that's starting to change (cf. "Moonlight,"), but assuming Disney hasn't reinvented the ending of "Beauty and the Beast," the story of LeFou and Gaston's one-sided romance is going to be the same old tragic gay love story.
5. It's 2017 already. Why did this take so long?
True, he does get to sing the movie’s best song (fight me!), but aside from that, LeFou is a pretty marginal character. His primary purpose is to skitter around after Gaston, making a fool of himself. LeFou's name literally translates to “the fool.”
Openly gay characters have been a fixture on TV and in film for going on two decades now.
It’s not particularly meaningful to slap the “gay” label on a random henchman with a few lines and call it a day, especially one as buffoonish and cartoonish as LeFou. If Disney really wanted to demonstrate its commitment to on-screen equality and not just checking boxes, they’d let an LGBTQ character take the lead for once — perhaps even one of their vaunted princesses (paging Elsa?)
Hopefully the movie addresses these concerns, and if it doesn't, hopefully Disney learns for the future.
It's certainly impossible — and unfair —to judge how the movie handle's LeFou's sexuality before anyone has seen it. But as nuanced, three-dimensional portrayals of LGBTQ people become the norm and not the exception, it's important that Disney — ubiquitous and beloved as its films, TV shows, and characters are with children and parents all over the world — comes along for the ride.
Getting a gay character up on screen, even at this late date, is a good start for the studio. Hopefully it's the start of more frequent and substantial LGBTQ representation to come.