When I asked my go-to Disney-movie-marathon buddy if she would go see the new live action “Beauty and the Beast” with me, she said, “No.”
Now, this girl and I did an end-of-term project based entirely around classic Disney princess movies. We’re English majors. We can get away with nonsense like that. Our first slumber party involved watching, “The Little Mermaid,” “Cinderella,” “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and, of course, the original “Beauty and the Beast,” all in one pizza and nostalgia-filled night.
I was baffled why she wouldn’t come with me — it’s Hermione as a Disney princess! What on earth would stop her?
“It has the first openly gay Disney character,” she said.
If I was confused before, now I was absolutely clueless.
This friend of mine is a lesbian. She is not my only LGBTQ friend by any stretch of the imagination, but she is the only person I know who shares my obsessions with classic fairy tales and human rights.
Isn’t this a step forward? Isn’t this good? Normalizing non-traditional couples in a children’s movie is, well, stupidly rare for starters, but a big step for Disney nonetheless.
My friend told me something that I, in my hetero-normative privilege, would never have thought of on my own, even with my English degree. The character presented as gay is LeFou. She reminded me that, classically, gay, lesbian, poor, overweight, foreign or mentally handicapped persons were portrayed as “the fool” or the comic relief, and that’s what LeFou (notice how that sounds like “fool,” now?) is in the animated film. He’s a bumbling sidekick, often humiliated or belittled, and this is who Disney “outed” first.
I understood her concern, and frankly I was concerned, too. Soon I found Facebook was telling me that theaters were editing the movie or refusing to play it, and that angry homophobic parents were boycotting. I knew I wanted to see the movie to form my own opinion, so I avoided spoilers and waited to read past headlines until Monday.
I saw the movie. I saw the “gay” scenes. They were cute. They were sweet. They lasted less than 10 seconds total. I was not offended — not as a straight person who loves classic Disney, and not as a proponent of equal representation in media, and not as an ally to the LGBTQ community.
Here come some spoilers:
LeFou was a character, not a caricature.
Yes, he was the villain’s sidekick, and he still sings a song about how great Gaston is in the beginning of the movie, and he makes a questionable moral judgement based on his affections. But by the end, he rejects Gaston and stands on his own as a friend to the castle inhabitants and to Bell.
If you take sexuality out of the equation, LeFou’s decisions throughout the movie are not based on amorous love for Gaston, but rather loyal devotion to his friend and an inhibition to vocalize his thoughts. He supports his best friend and wants to see him succeed in all things, even though it is an abusive, one-sided relationship. Even then, LeFou acts as a voice of reason, questioning Gaston at every turn, proving not only his intelligence but his moral fiber.
LeFou was understated as gay in comparison to the other character tropes in the movie. Gaston is so overtly “dumb strong alpha male” it hurts, and the three girls vying for his affections are almost literally throwing themselves at him. Uneducated country folk? Grumpy, posh British butler? Romantic, theatrical French man? The list goes on.
So what about what people are calling the “gay scene at the end?” There is a moment when the wardrobe, Madame Garderobe, attacks some male townspeople with silks and dresses them in ball gowns and powdered wigs. One of the men seems to like being in the dress and smiles.
In the final ballroom scene where everyone is dancing and switching partners, LeFou and the previously gown-clad man join for a moment and smile at each other.
That’s it. That’s the big gay scene.
If I hadn’t been looking for it, I wouldn’t have thought twice. It was appropriate for the characters and the scene. It didn’t stand out. It wasn’t ostentatious. It was a perfectly tame, quasi-romantic moment between two men.
Ignore the gender of the gowned man, and imagine, that instead of the audience connecting him and LeFou as gay characters, they are connected as two characters who share a common interest, like obscure music. What if they are the only two people in a small town who both happen to like a Swedish punk band and bump into each other? That’s cute.
The movie is about love conquering fear — about people’s value beyond their exterior, and about relationships of every kind. I mean, seriously? You have a problem with the gay couple, but not with the girl who wants to be with a wildebeest? In a movie with interspecies, interracial and interobject relationships, a sweet, understated moment between two men shouldn’t be this big of a deal.