‘Beauty and the Beast’ features Disney’s first openly gay character, but not everyone is pleased

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 March, 2017, 8:01am
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 March, 2017, 9:29pm

There will be some marked changes to the forthcoming live-action Beauty and the Beast. According to the director, the movie will break ground as Disney features an openly gay character.

Gaston’s sidekick LeFou, played by Josh Gad, will have a small subplot relating to his sexuality, Attitude magazine reported.

“LeFou is somebody who on one day wants to be Gaston and on another day wants to kiss Gaston,” director Bill Condon told the magazine. “He’s confused about what he wants. It’s somebody who’s just realising that he has these feelings. And Josh makes something really subtle and delicious out of it. And that’s what has its pay-off at the end, which I don’t want to give away. But it is a nice, exclusively gay moment in a Disney movie.”

It’s a step in the right direction and I applaud Disney for being brave enough to make it
Attitude editor-in-chief Matt Cain

Attitude’s editor-in-chief Matt Cain called the LeFou plot-line “a watershed moment for Disney.”

“It’s only a first step towards creating a cinematic world that reflects the one in which many of us are now proud to live,” he said, according to Attitude. “But it’s a step in the right direction and I applaud Disney for being brave enough to make it - and in doing so hopefully helping to change attitudes and bring about real social progress.”

But social media reaction was mixed. While some people welcomed Disney’s move to be more inclusive, many were disappointed with the choice of Disney’s first gay character.

Twitter user Ian Miles Cheong (@stillgray) wrote: “Disney’s making its first gay character with LeFou and he’s a clownish sidekick who exists to prop up his straight best friend. Great job.”

User Jessica‏ (@xwithmywoes) wrote: “In regards to LeFou being Disney’s first openly LGBTQ character, it is bittersweet.”

In recent years, Disney has increased the racial and ethnic diversity in its stories, and has made strides to reimagine female characters as fully formed protagonists rather than simply damsels in distress.

But there have been calls among some for children’s entertainment to portray same-sex relationships as well. Last year, a Twitter campaign asked Disney to make Elsa from Frozen a lesbian character in the movie’s sequel, inspiring the hashtag #GiveElsaAGirlfriend.

A few Disney movies have left viewers wondering about the orientation of characters, with allusions to same-sex relationships. Zootopia featured Bucky and Pronk, two male antelopes who live together, bicker like a couple and share a common last name. An episode of the Disney Channel show Good Luck Charlie included a character who had two moms.

But the live-action Beauty and the Beast will bring an overt depiction of a gay man to the big screen.

Gad, the actor playing LeFou, has also spoken out about the nature of the role. In response to a local TV host who tweeted that “this would mean a lot to me, and gay kids everywhere. Can you confirm?,” the actor wrote that he was “beyond proud of this.”

Disney’s making its first gay character with LeFou and he’s a clownish sidekick who exists to prop up his straight best friend
Twitter user Ian Miles Cheong

As The Washington Post’s Jessica Contrera has previously written, some Disney fans have argued it would have been hugely helpful to see gay characters in such movies when they were young, and studies suggest positive depictions of gay characters in entertainment can help decrease prejudice.

“There is no doubt that kids seeing positively portrayed gay characters could have a significant effect that would contribute to such children’s learning about the world and who is in it,” said Edward Schiappa, a professor of comparative media studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“But doing so is a risk for children’s entertainment companies, who have a financial incentive to make movies as widely accessible – and therefore as non-controversial – as possible.

“It can be any little thing that will set off a firestorm,” said Lori Pearson, lead critic for Kids-In-Mind, a non-partisan, non-religious group that warns parents of potentially unsavoury content in movies. Pearson points to a time in the mid-1990s when a rumour spread that in The Little Mermaid, there was a suggestive bulge in the pants of the man officiating the wedding of Princess Ariel. Conservative groups called on parents to boycott not just the 1989 classic but all Disney products. The bulge, of course, was nothing more than the cartoon character’s knee.

“Now, especially with the advent of Twitter and places where information can travel quickly, if a certain group decides something in the content is unacceptable, it will spread, and people will decide based on that information not to go see the movie,” Pearson said. “And that will ultimately affect the box office.”

Additional reporting by Reuters