Walt Disney Pictures
It was announced Wednesday that Josh Gad will play Disney’s first gay character in the studio’s upcoming live-action adaptation of its 1991 animated classic Beauty and the Beast.
Director Bill Condon revealed this history-making information to Attitude, describing Gad’s villainous sidekick LeFou as being “confused about what he wants” and “somebody who on one day wants to be Gaston and on another day wants to kiss Gaston,” who’s played by Luke Evans. He also explained that the character decision is a dedication to the late Howard Ashman, the lyricist of the original film who died of AIDS-related complications before the animated movie was finished. Ashman apparently saw the Beast’s ostracism and his curse as a metaphor for AIDS.
Most fans, myself included, reacted to the news with enthusiasm and excitement. After all, fans’ #GiveElsaAGirlfriend campaign, lobbying Disney to reveal Elsa as a queer princess in the Frozen sequel, shows how Disney aficionados are ready for more LGBTQ characters on the big screen. The unconfirmed possibility of Frozen‘s Oaken being gay and having a family, as well as the very minor gay married couples in Zootopia (Judy’s neighbors, Bucky Oryx-Antlerson and Pronk Oryx-Antlerson) and Finding Dory, are not nearly enough. It’s time for Disney to start having diverse sexuality in their narratives.
However, some fans have expressed concerns about LeFou’s characterization as gay. Given the character’s personality in the animated film and the Broadway musical (LeFou is goofy and fawns over Gaston), some fans worry this will not be a positive representation for the LGBTQ community, and that it might border on caricature instead. Of course, there’s no way to know until the movie is released, but that begs another question: Will it be explicit that LeFou is gay, or simply implied? In the fight for representation and diversity, it is extremely important that characters are more than just their sexuality, but also that their sexuality is unashamedly clear and evident.
In a description of Gad’s performance as “really subtle and delicious,” Condon revealed there is a “payoff at the end” which he didn’t want to spoil, and that makes me think there will be at least one scene that make LeFou’s sexuality not open to interpretation. There’s also the fact that he claimed it’s a “nice, exclusively gay moment” and while I’m not sure “exclusively gay” is the most graceful phrasing, it does it make it pretty clear.
In general, Disney has been pushing the boundaries more and more of late, and not just with their animated fare. 2014’s Maleficent, one of the studio’s first live-action remakes, told the story of Sleeping Beauty from the point of the view of the original villain. That film was, in essence, a rape-revenge story wherein Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) is drugged and assaulted by the king and then exacts her revenge on him.
They have also started to explore LGBTQ romances in live-action with shows like ABC’s Once Upon a Time. Granted, they’ve only explicitly done so with female characters not in their iconic Princess lineup, as shown by the romance between Little Red Riding Hood and Dorothy, though we all wanted Mulan and Aurora to get together. Still, two badass female characters having certified True Love? That’s progress.
The fact that Disney is making this move with one of their most celebrated and beloved animated classics is another interesting consideration. In some ways, it’s perhaps risky because it’s so beloved and held up on a pedestal. On the other hand, because LeFou is a supporting character and there’s already a built-in fandom for Beauty and the Beast, this could also be an easier and perhaps safer decision as well.
In reality, the real test will be what comes next. It’s one thing to have an established supporting character be identified as LGBTQ; it’s a completely different thing to have an original lead character identify as gay, bisexual, queer, or otherwise. Ultimately, this is an exciting move on Disney’s part and that should be celebrated. However, everything hinges on what the studio does next for LGBTQ representation.
We’ve seen the impact of characters like Tiana and Moana, as Disney’s first black and Polynesian princesses, respectively; or Riley from Inside Out who grapples with depression; or even Hiro in Big Hero 6, a protagonist of color who has to confront feelings of grief and guilt. These are all original characters who fans have been able to see themselves in and identify with, and as anyone who knows media is aware, that goes a long way. It’s time for a young gay or queer or gender binary or trans kid to see themselves as a Disney character, and hopefully LeFou is only the start of this important journey.
Anya Crittenton | Associate Editor