In an interview with “Attitude,” a British magazine focused on LGBTQ+ issues, the director of the new live action “Beauty and the Beast” announced that the character LeFou would be the first openly gay Disney character. The director went on to say that LeFou can’t figure out his feelings for his best friend Gaston and will openly struggle with his sexuality. The director also stated that there would be a “gay scene” in the movie, but didn’t give any details on what that meant.
The announcement was framed as a groundbreaking, historical moment for Disney. But is it really? Let’s just say that people have a lot of feelings.
As soon as the announcement was made critiques of the decision flooded the Internet. The common reaction seems to be that LeFou is not the gay representation people want. The character in the Disney cartoon is the buffoonish, simpering sidekick of the villain, Gaston. His name, LeFou, literally translates to “the fool.” Disney choosing to make the caricature of a sidekick gay, reduces the impact of the character and the story line and almost makes his gayness part of the joke.
Critics are also upset that the gay character is a villain. Disney has a habit of making subtle hints at villains being gay. The most obvious example is Ursula, who was based on Divine, a popular queer drag queen. In the 80’s and 90’s Disney often portrayed its male villains effeminate outsiders: think Scar, Jafar, and Hades, who could be interpreted as older ‘predatory gays,’ preying on the young, straight male heroes in these movies.
These effeminate outsider villains are always ostracized from their communities, much the same way that gay men were in the 80’s and 90’s, and they are always without a romantic counterpart. The subtle message given by coding these villains as gay is that being gay is synonymous with being evil. Having the first acknowledged gay character in a Disney movie be a villain reinforces the ties between gayness and villainy.
People are also pretty upset about the ‘gay guy falls in love with his straight best friend’ angle. There’s a false perception that every gay guy is secretly crushing on their straight best friend, and that they’re on a mission to ‘turn them gay’ because they’re in love with them. Having LeFou be in love with his best friend Gaston, who is not only clearly straight but also the definition of toxic masculinity, perpetuates this false perception.
Speaking of toxic masculinity, it’s also kind of troubling that the first openly gay character in a Disney film falls in love with someone who is constantly emotionally abusing him. Unless their friendship has been totally reworked for the movie, Gaston spends most of the time insulting LeFou and making him carry his guns. In the original movie Gaston doesn’t give LeFou an ounce of respect, even though LeFou would literally do anything for him. This kind of unhealthy relationship is not exactly #relationshipgoals for the first openly gay Disney character.
So, a lot of people aren’t happy about the choice for the first openly gay Disney character, and for good reason. There are a lot of negative implications right now. However, there is hope that this story line could be handled in an interesting and intelligent way.
It’s really in vogue right now for villains to have backstories that explain their villainy. A current example of this trend has been playing out on the last few seasons of ‘Once Upon a Time.’ The show has taken well known villains such as The Evil Queen, Maleficent, and Cruella DeVil and woven tales of woe and betrayal that turned them evil. These characters are then given a story line that allows them to redeem themselves and leave behind their villainous ways.
So, imagine this for a minute. LeFou is a shy, overweight, outsider who has never really been interested in girls the way he thought he should be. No one has ever been nice to him and he doesn’t have any friends. For some reason, unbeknownst to him, or anyone else, Gaston has decided to give him the time of day. LeFou is so happy to have a friend that he doesn’t care that his friend treats him poorly. He’s finally included. He was never really a villain, he just went along with Gaston to make him happy and to remain included.
As he spends more time with Gaston, he begins to wish he was confident, brash, and suave like Gaston and his admiration turns in to feelings he doesn’t quite understand. He loves Gaston. He pines for Gaston for a ridiculous amount of time before finally confessing his feelings to Gaston, who rejects him. Instead of being crushed, LeFou finally realizes that he doesn’t want to be the kind of person Gaston has made him and decides that he deserves better than toxic, unrequited love. He leaves Gaston and joins Belle and the Beast.
I mean, I made that all up. I have no idea if that story line is what will show up in the movie, but it’s one story line that would redeem the first openly gay character who just happens to be a buffoonish, villainous, sidekick.
Triumph or epic fail? We’ll have to wait and see how the story line is handled when the movie comes out on March 17th. I really hope that there’s some sort of redeeming story line for LeFou because it would suck to have the first openly gay Disney character wasted.