A few days ago, Disney announced that LeFou in the live-action Beauty and the Beast is the first openly gay character in the company’s film history. Though I will not go so far as to say I have an issue with it- I’ll have to see the film first- I will say that this decision and announcement leaves something to be desired.
I’ll start with the announcement. Disney seemed to imply that they had planned this all along, but Josh Gad, the actor who plays LeFou, recently stated that the script never said ‘LeFou is gay’ (SOURCE). Perhaps I am reading into this too much, but this seems like Disney is distancing themselves from committing to representing the LGBTQ community. From a business standpoint, this probably makes sense. There will no doubt be a lot of opposition from traditionalists. However, why announce it at all if the company would prefer to leave Josh Gad with the “blame”? It’s an almost two-faced approach to the idea of a gay character- they announce it just enough to gain acceptance and notoriety from the LGBTQ community, but leave the actual creation of such a character to the actor, rather than the company. My issue with this type of announcement lies in the non-committal standpoint on the part of Disney. Either represent LGBTQ people in your films, or don’t. Pick a stance and commit to it. Perhaps my frustration stems from the fact that whenever I decide on a belief, I am more than willing to sacrifice anything for it. Businesses aren’t like that. The bottom line is the bottom line, and I doubt that will ever change. This situation has caused me to realize my frustration with greed more acutely than usual.
However, my frustration with greed does not come close to comparing with the frustrations I feel towards thoughtless writing.
I can think of three scenarios for how LeFou’s sexuality can be incorporated into Beauty and the Beast, and only one of them is positive.
Scenario 1: LeFou is openly gay for the entirety of the film, and is in a relationship/ wants to be in a relationship with a character that is NOT Gaston. His sexuality is of little note or mention within the film- it is, apparently, commonplace within the context of the film.
If homosexuality is accepted within the world of the film, it completely contradicts one of the driving forces of conflict within Beauty and the Beast. The “poor, provincial town” in which the first part of the story takes place thrives on enforcing traditional gender roles- Belle is ostracized and mocked for being intelligent, showing no interest in marriage, and in being assertive while Gaston is lauded for being extremely masculine, brutish, and domineering. If the town’s people can’t handle seeing a woman with a book, how much less so a man with a man!
Problems with this scenario: Sloppy world-building, halfhearted pandering to the LGBTQ community, and inserting sexuality/romance when it does not benefit the plot.
Scenario 2: LeFou is secretly gay for the entirety of the film. He is in love with Gaston.
This scenario would, frankly, just be insulting. LeFou, at least in the animated film, is habitually mocked, abused, and hurt by Gaston (In the same article I cited above, Josh Gad implies that his abuse at the hands of Gaston is significantly lessened. However, “lessened” does not mean the same thing as “removed”, so my point will still stand). Yet, LeFou continues to cower and obey upon Gaston’s every word and deed. In the animated film, the audience attributed this to LeFou’s stupidity, desire to be like Gaston, and just general cowardice. If the live-action film implies that LeFou has feelings for Gaston, then this quivering and submission will be attributed to LeFou’s sexuality. Since LGBTQ characters are so rare, audiences often misinterpret an LGBTQ character as being a representation of ALL LGBTQ people. This is an unfortunate reality, but it is a reality, and one Disney ought to be well aware of. Audiences will illogically assume that gay people are willing to put up with anything, even abuse, because they are slaves to their desire. Not only is that assertion completely and utterly false, but it’s also dehumanizing.
Also, the verbal abuse directed at LeFou from Gaston was, in the animated film, often perceived as comedic. If LeFou is gay, audiences may interpret the abuse as “acceptable” and “funny” when directed towards a gay character, rather than the actual meaning of “villains verbally abuse people”.
Speaking of villains, do I really need to explore the implications of the first openly Disney character being a villain? Do I? Because it seems fairly obvious to me.
Not only would this scenario dehumanize the LGBTQ community, but it would also affirm a common, and illogical, argument often made by traditionalists in opposition to LGBTQ marriage: homosexual marriage will ruin heterosexual marriage. Towards the end of the film, Gaston and LeFou attempt to blackmail Belle into marrying Gaston, which would by extension, effectively ruin Belle’s relationship with Beast. If LeFou is gay and the live-action plot progresses comparatively to the animated film, then a gay man will be attempting to destroy a heterosexual relationship to satisfy his own goals (gaining Gaston’s approval).
Also, this scenario would add nothing to the plot.
Problems with this scenario: It dehumanizes the LGBTQ community, implies that abuse directed towards gay people is acceptable, vilifies gay people, affirms illogical traditionalist arguments, halfhearted pandering to LGBTQ community, and inserting sexuality/romance when it does not benefit the plot.
Scenario 3: Scenario 3 is the same as scenario 2, BUT there is a scene in the film where LeFou expresses his turmoil to a sympathetic/good character- ideally Belle, who gives guidance on the right course of action.
This is the only scenario that would redeem the problems I listed for scenario 2. If, towards the end of the film, LeFou explains the attraction he feels towards Gaston, his hurt upon being abused, and his fear of the town’s people to Belle, or perhaps to Beast or Maurice, and also apologizes for the role he played in hurting them, it would solve all of the problems I listed above, and then some.
Instead of dehumanizing the LGBTQ community, it would humanize them. It would show the struggles that some people may face, and the internal conflict that comes with it. It will put an extremely sobering twist on all the abusive “jokes” at LeFou’s expense, causing the audience to feel bad for laughing and to rethink the gay “jokes” they might tell on a regular basis. LeFou would have a redemption arc, effectively making him an anti-hero rather than villain. The traditionalist argument would be turned on its head because, after this scene, LeFou would essentially be turning against Gaston and seeking to help Belle and Beast. This would no longer be halfhearted pandering, but instead, would add a final, poignant twist to the theme of grace, diversity, and acceptance that is so sweetly demonstrated in Beauty and the Beast.
I hope this is the route Disney takes. I hope this is the “openly gay scene” they have hinted at. However, I am not optimistic. For this scene to exist, Disney would have had to have planned LeFou’s sexuality. It would have been scripted, but Josh Gad has said that LeFou was not intended to be gay. It could have been added later though, so there is still hope.
There are probably other scenarios that I have not thought of, but these three seem the most plausible to me, with scenario 2 being the most likely, especially since Josh Gad has confirmed that LeFou has feelings for Gaston and the fact that Disney did not write LeFou as gay.
With all of that said, what do you think about the reveal that LeFou is gay? Are you excited about Beauty and the Beast? I know I am!
Note: I plan to do a follow-up post explaining my stance, as a Christian, on representation for the LGBTQ community within fiction. I know I made no mention of it in this post, but that’s because I did not want to bore you with even more of my opinionated verbosity! If you have any questions that you want answered now, I am more than happy to discuss it with you in the comment section.
Note Number 2: Here’s an interesting article on LeFou’s sexuality from TeenVogue. Surprisingly, considering it’s source, it is one of the more thoughtful articles I have read on the subject. Disney Making LeFou Gay Isn’t The Representation I Need