Beauty and the Beast and Power Rangers Sold Gay Characters - But Didn't Show It
In 2017, Disney released the live-action Beauty and the Beast, which wound up grossing more than $1.2 billion worldwide. Disney's updates to the classic animated film included painting Belle as a radical feminist. Moreso, they touted LeFou (played by Josh Gad) as openly gay and hopelessly in love with the arrogant Gaston (Luke Evans). The reality was a lot more subtle and easily missed by unattentive viewers; a few longing looks and contented sighs before LeFou realized that he was too good for nasty old Gaston and joined in a merry dance during the finale instead. Oh, and he happened to end the dance paired with a man. They smiled at each other.
At no point was the audience made explicitly aware of LeFou's feelings towards Gaston. Which would be fine, were we not continuously reminded of every woman in town's love for Gaston, Gaston's desires towards Belle, and Belle's towards the Beast. It smacked of exclusion or a reducing of non-hetero relationships to a punchline. Once again, we have a creator going to the trouble of explicitly stating a character is gay and eagerly riding the wave of surrounding publicity, then not actually addressing it in the media properly.
Power Rangers had a similar issue. All credit to Dean Israelite for including Billy as a character on the Autistic spectrum, but in the publicity for the movie, a lot of fuss was made over Trini, the yellow ranger, being a lesbian. When the film released, however, we got one throwaway line; when asked if she had boyfriend problems, she didn't answer. She was then asked if it was girlfriend problems, and she replied "something like that, I'm still figuring things out." Now, fair enough, the character is a teenager and so likely still is figuring things out, but why make such a song and dance about Power Rangers being truly progressive and inclusive if Trini can't even mention that she thinks she's gay?
"Bait" LGBT Characters Are All Over Hollywood Tentpoles
The fact is, Hollywood is still nowhere near being as inclusive as it claims to be. LGBT characters are still wildly underrepresented, particularly in movies aimed at family audiences, and these "bait" characters seem to exist to please online discussions in the build-up and deflect from that fact.
If Dumbledore is openly gay, why isn't that acknowledged? If LeFou is dealing with an unrequited love, why can't he just say so? Some of the biggest franchises still don't have a single openly gay character. There was the suggestion of Vice Admiral Holdo being gay in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, but that was completely absent from the film itself. Marvel too keeps dodging the issue on whether any of its MCU characters are gay while still enjoys the speculative publicity that it generates; Tessa Thompson claimed Valkyrie was bisexual in Thor: Ragnarok, but the scene of a woman walking out of her bedroom (which the actress lobbied director Taika Waititi for) was ultimately cut.
The continual baiting adds an extra layer to the already problematic representation problem. When will any studio finally have the courage to show an openly gay or bisexual character that is actually a true reflection of LGBT people in society? It's a widely-accepted part of society, which only makes Hollywood further behind the times, and the constant flirting with the idea hurts the cause.
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