You should see Beauty and the Beast this weekend. Even if you're a homophobe.
The film, finally released Friday, is still the same tale as old as time—refreshingly so, if you're a purist of the animated feature; questionably so, if that makes you wonder why Disney bothered with a live adaptation at all.
But there is, as you no doubt have heard, something there that wasn't there before: HOMOSEXUALITY!
No doubt the biggest controversy in the film world these past few weeks has surrounded a so-called "exclusively gay moment" that director Bill Condon has included in this feature. It would mark the first time there was an obviously gay character in a family Disney film.
The sidekick character LeFou, played by Josh Gad, would be struggling with his feelings for his strapping Alpha hero, Luke Evans's Gaston.
“LeFou is somebody who on one day wants to be Gaston and on another day wants to kiss Gaston," Condon said, in an interview with Attitude magazine.
“He's confused about what he wants,” he continued. “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.”
(We will give it away. SPOILERS below.)
The reveal made instant headlines.
Some cheered the progress toward inclusivity and representation. Some questioned the optics of making LeFou, a buffoonish, flamboyant, and nefarious joke character, the choice for the landmark moment. But the loudest, most ridiculous headlines detailed the backlash: boycotts, bans, and, most recently, Disney's refusal to edit out the moment in order to appease Malaysian censors.
It’s all insane.
Truth be told, the most exclusively gay moment in this new Beauty and the Beast is my dramatic eye roll after seeing the actual thing.
After all of the hullaballoo, you might expect LeFou to make his entrance in a codpiece while lip-synching to a Barbra Streisand show tune. Instead, you end up scrutinizing each scene like Tim Gunn inspecting a seam on Project Runway. And you breathe your Gunn-ian exasperated sigh after more and more time passes with nothing particularly gay happening.
Sure, LeFou offers a lingering gaze or two at Gaston, at one point even asking his strapping bud why he isn't happy with just the two of them palling around. At another point, he gets carried away in song and nuzzles himself into the crook of Gaston's neck, but the moment is too swept up in the musical comedy sequence to register as "gay."
You begin to get annoyed, wondering if that's it—if a slightly homophobic joke about Gaston being uncomfortable with LeFou hugging him is the “moment.” With so many red herrings by that point, you're not going to be satisfied until you see LeFou deep-throating a candlestick. Certainly you won't be satisfied with the actual moment when it arrives.
It comes during the grand finale, in the ballroom dance at the end of the film when everyone is human again.
It's one of those old-timey dances, where the men twirl the women and they change partners. In a roughly three-second cut, LeFou twirls his partner, but instead of another woman twirling into his personal space, it's a man. And they look at each other. And then the camera moves away.
If you had hopes and dreams about finally seeing gay inclusivity in a Disney film, you're furious.
If you had hopes and dreams of blaming Disney and its pro-gay agenda for the destruction of family and family entertainment, well, you're furious, too. Can you really hang a pitchfork campaign on a moment so slight that, were it not for weeks of press leading up to it, you probably wouldn't have even noticed?
Things like this are often called “nontroversies”—scandals that erupt over nothing—but this is more than that.
It exposes the giddy gusto with which the media will create a news vacuum, and suck us all into its void of hot takes and think pieces and talking-head arguments. Even after the film screened for critics and the gay emperor was exposed without his clothes, we still reported and debated that now-naked gay emperor.
Condon gave a statement regretting that so much ado had been made about the "exclusively gay moment." Actor Dan Stevens, who plays the Beast, decried to The Daily Beast that, “I presume somebody somewhere thought it would drive a lot of traffic to their site, that’s usually how these things start.” For the love of god, even the voice actor who voiced LeFou in the animated film weighed in on the sexuality.
A second wave of press began mocking anyone who found the "gay moment" controversial. One comedy website's headline, in particular—”Outrage at Inclusion of Gay Character in Film About Woman-Buffalo Romance”—went viral.
We became a goddamn singing candelabra, making a spectacle out of these non-news moments, parading them across the zeitgeist like dancing dishes and vaudeville teapots, inviting anti-gay and family-fretting critics to be our guest and feast on them.
And they are, happily. It's proof of a fallacy in terms of how much progress we think we've made in terms of LGBT acceptance and normalization and, more, an essential stop to making an effort like this again any time soon. (And, for the love of Lumiere, this was the smallest of small efforts.)
One character, who isn’t a romantic lead in any way shape or form (and in fact might actually contribute to negative gay stereotypes), is given a hint of sexuality that reflects the real world—not to mention, the real world of many Disney fans—and it is treated with a hysteria akin to a terrorist bombing on the House of Mouse.
We’re living in a time where the mere gesture of giving Cinderella or Belle a modicum of agency or feminist energy in these live-action updates is fretted over as if the decision may change the world as we know it. Given the backlash to LeFou’s groundbreaking three seconds of a man twirling into his general vicinity, it’s unlikely that any major studio will attempt something like this with a family film again.
Remember when there was a campaign to make Elsa a lesbian in the planned Frozen sequel? Well you can—wait for it—let that one go. (Ba-da-ching.)
It’s a shame, too, because Disney should by this point correct, or at least clarify, its alternately progressive and problematic history with gay themes.
For a LGBT, and especially questioning, community whose childhoods are so often defined by being “a funny girl…different from the rest of us” and wondering “when will my reflection show who I am inside,” the messaging, the whimsical escape, and, for the love of Minnie, the camp of it all made the Disney vault a safe space.
For most of us, our first drag show was watching Ursula in The Little Mermaid. The Lion King’s Scar, Hercules’s Hades, Pocahontas’s Ratcliffe, Aladdin’s Jafar: these are all characters who are “coded gay,” meaning that they exhibit traits that are clues to their homosexuality, but not explicitly acknowledged. Elsa’s “Let It Go” in Frozen is considered a gay anthem.
But for all the erstwhile gayness of these animated musicals, they’re equally problematic. Gay panic, stereotypes, closeting, and equating homosexuality with perversion are as present in these films as any celebration of otherness or flamboyance.
For the oversell of the LeFou moment, maybe at least it was going to be a step forward for Disney.
LGBT rights groups like GLAAD have taken to speaking up against anti-Beauty and the Beast bans, saying, “Film is one of America’s biggest exports, which is why LGBTQ representation in all-ages programming is incredibly important. These portrayals both help real LGBTQ youth to recognize they are not alone and know their identity is valid when they see someone they can recognize themselves in on-screen, especially in countries where being LGBTQ is criminalized.”
That’s certainly true and valid, but mostly we still feel annoyed that this moment doesn’t even seem worth the fuss of supporting. If Disney was going to take a step like this, make it one that deserves championing.
For all the strides we keep hearing are being made in terms of LGBTQ characters and portrayals in mainstream entertainment, this “moment” and the controversy surrounding it is a stark reminder of how dire the situation still is.
Even when ABC, for example, goes to the effort of airing the When We Rise miniseries about the gay civil rights movement in the U.S., its ratings are horrendous, hinting that an audience isn’t willing to watch. Oh, and by the way, there still has not been an out gay actor whom Hollywood can unequivocally see as a leading man, in the classic sense.
For now, we can take comfort in knowing that this is hardly the gayest thing to happen to Beauty and the Beast. I present you to Disney World’s dancing Gaston:
By the way, if homosexuality is all it takes to ruin your Disney entertainment experience, then I suggest you steer clear of Disney World in general, where Peter Pan is dating Prince Charming but cheating on him with Buzz Lightyear.
But don’t worry. LeFou, apparently, is still single.