Beauty and the Beast is one of Disney’s most beloved classics. The film made movie history when the 1991 animated version was first released and it became the first animated movie to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Following in the studio’s more recent trend, Beauty and the Beast will receive a live-action remake.
Starring Emma Watson and Dan Stevens, the film has generated a great deal of hype, but a recent report will no doubt generate a whole new kind of buzz for the film.
In an exclusive with Attitude, director Bill Condon revealed that the character of LeFou (Josh Gad), the sidekick to primary antagonist Gaston, will have a small subplot focused on his sexuality. “Le Fou is somebody who on one day wants to be Gaston and on another day wants to kiss Gaston,” Condon said in the interview. He continued:
“He’s confused about what he wants. 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 pay-off at the end, which I don’t want to give away. But it is a nice, exclusively gay moment in a Disney movie.”
Condon, as well as stars Watson and Stevens, also talked about the wide appeal that Beauty and the Beast has amongst the LGBT community, particularly gay men. “I think it was really important actually for Dan and I to develop and understand why each of our characters feel like they don’t fit in,” said Watson.“I certainly felt watching the original that I wanted to know more about why Belle feels that she’s different and why she wants to be different and why she’s naturally different.”
This marks a historic moment in Disney history — this is the first time one of the studio’s films has featured a gay major character. In the announcement, Attitude’s editor-in-chief Matt Cain hailed the inclusion as a “watershed moment” for LGBT representation, saying:
“It may have been a long time coming but this is a watershed moment for Disney. By representing same-sex attraction in this short but explicitly gay scene, the studio is sending out a message that this is normal and natural – and this is a message that will be heard in every country of the world, even countries where it’s still socially unacceptable or even illegal to be gay. It’s only a first step towards creating a cinematic world that reflects the one in which many of us are now proud to live. But it’s a step in the right direction and I applaud Disney for being brave enough to make it – and in doing so hopefully helping to change attitudes and bring about real social progress.”
There is no denying that this is a historical moment, especially for a studio known for playing it safe. Disney came under fire from GLAAD last year for not having any major LGBT representation in their films (the sole rep came from a Lady Gaga cameo in Muppets Most Wanted). Fans have taken to Twitter and other social media sites to ask for representation from Disney and the various studios that fall under its umbrella, such as Marvel and Lucasfilm. Condon’s phrasing also implies that LeFou’s sexuality will not be a throwaway joke, but something handled sensitively and with tact.
Of course, no doubt some controversy will stem from the fact that Disney’s first gay character is a villain, especially as the studio has a history of queercoding it’s antagonists. However, Condon’s discussion of why this film appeals to gay men – as well as wanting to pay homage to Howard Ashman, the film’s lyricist who passed away from AIDS before the film was released – points to the subplot being more than a way to make LeFou a joke or seem more villainous. It looks as though Disney has heard fan complaints and is finally opening up their films to LGBT representation.
Regardless, this is an important moment in both the history of the studio and in LGBT representation. We can only hope this means that in the future, Disney will be making more inclusive films and that LeFou is the first gay character, not the only gay character, in Disney’s vast canon.