When I heard that Disney was introducing its first “exclusively” gay character in its upcoming remake of Beauty and the Beast, my first thought was: Wait, haven’t we already seen an openly gay character? It was the same reaction I had when Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie got married, or I now have when I read a “Trump lied” headline. These are events that are so on par with their subjects that you assume the breaking news is old news.
But when I recollect, I can’t actually pinpoint out any openly gay characters created by Disney. Timon and Pumba in The Lion King? Just friends. Any of the seven dwarves? No, I was projecting. Shrek’s Pinocchio? Oh wait, that was Dreamworks. But the fact that I thought I could means that Disney could have slid LeFou — a Gaston loyalist who is secretly in love with him — into the story line without a huge announcement. And to be honest, it probably would have been better that way. I’m obviously not the only one who feels that way.
Disney effectively just gave all of us a head start to realize all of the ways it got LeFou wrong. Slate wrote an amazing piece about how those faults completely nullify what was supposed to have been a revolutionary moment for the company. My main issue is that LeFou is presented as character whose complexity lies solely in his sexual identity.
The film’s director Bill Condon told Attitude that LeFou is “confused about what he wants. It’s somebody who’s just realising that he has these feelings.” We obviously need to support people who are still figuring out their sexuality. But I think the Disney audiences are ready for a character who isn’t caught in an identity conundrum about whom they’re attracted to. I’m wondering if Disney is actually ready to do the work of imagining a gay character living in that experience, or feel instead that they need to ease audiences into it by framing LeFou as a man with a confusing crush on a masculine, straight guy instead? It doesn't feel like the groundbreaking moment of radical inclusivity that the studio hoped for.
At any rate, whenever someone has to announce their intentions around inclusivity of any kind, it’s awkward. To quote Mean Girls, Disney effectively just proclaimed, “I’m not a regular mom. I’m a gay mom.” But the whole thing would have gone over a lot easier if they wouldn’t have made such a hoopla about it in the first place.