The big news to hit the internet in the past couple weeks was news about Disney crossing boundaries into uncharted territory. But will the actuality meet the hype?
Sometime during post-production, Emma Watson (Belle), Dan Stevens (Beast), and director Bill Condon were interviewed by Attitude, the British magazine directed toward a gay audience. Just before the magazine hit store shelves, or became available digitally, Attitude‘s website began doling out online articles based on the interview. When the first one came out, the internet erupted with the news that LeFou would be a gay character and Condon had said Gaston’s sidekick would have an “exclusively gay moment.”
Many have expressed outrage that Disney has now “gone too far,” with one Alabama theater now refusing to show the film. On the other hand, some conservative Christians have responded to the calls for boycotting the film with pleas for restraint. Amy Green blogs about the need for those who post on social media against the film to carefully explain why. She struggles “with the fact that many people view Christians only as ‘people who are against stuff.’ If they don’t understand why this is an issue for you, you’re just one more tally mark in the ‘easily offended for no good reason’ category.” (She has no illusions this approach will satisfy everyone.)
Green reminds us that the story, whether told by Disney or in its other iterations through the years, is a “subversion of our normal fairytale plot.” It does not follow the normal “good and evil” storyline as the antagonist in the end becomes the hero. She reminds us what G. K. Chesterton said about the story in the chapter “The Ethics of Elfland” in his book Orthodoxy: “There is the great lesson of Beauty and the Beast, that a thing must be loved before it is lovable.” She concludes:
Fairy tales done well, the ones that last and resonate, are based on very simple, very deep truths. A side character portrayed as struggling in his sexual identity may not be appropriate for a kids’ movie, but it’s not going to take away from that.
Not quite satisfied with her first post about the controversy, Amy has followed it with another. In Part Two, she encourages those who are uncomfortable with the gay lifestyle (including herself) to seek to empathize with those who are gay, and what it actually means that we should love them. How do conservative Christians “speak the truth in love”? She muses:
Know that for some people, even a comedic sidekick represents a character who they can identify with for the first time, and much more than that, a sign that they can be accepted and live normal, happy lives. That’s what LeFou looks like to them.
Think about that. And think about what the Christian response must look like to them as well, especially when it isn’t defined or explained in any way except “I protest this.”
Whether or not you think homosexuality should be normalized, these are real people you are afraid of. These are real people who you might have offended with your general anti-gay post about the movie because, no matter what your actual beliefs are, they are hearing that you wish people like them did not exist, or at least that you wish they’d exist silent and unseen.
We love to be outraged, but we often direct that outrage at anything but our own sin, where the outrage would do the most good. We love to examine Hollywood, but not our own hearts.
My challenge is this: use LeFouGate to do both.
Virtually lost in the eruptions in the media (mainstream, social, and otherwise) is the fact that Bill Condon (who is gay himself) talked not only about a character who will have a “subtle” gay moment in the film, but how the animated version already was considered to have gay themes. Belle and Beast are both, in different ways, outcasts—something those in the gay community readily relate with. Disney lyricist Howard Ashman, who died of AIDS just before the 1991 version came out, viewed the Beast’s curse as a metaphor for his own disease. (See HOW ONE GAY MAN’S BATTLE WITH AIDS SHAPED DISNEY’S ‘BEAUTY AND THE BEAST’.) So, the story already had a strong gay influence, which is part of the reason it has been so well received in the gay community. One might say Condon is just now “outing” it.
But will the “gay moment” in the film live up to its hype? For those of us who have to wait to see the movie, we really don’t know. However, in the actual Attitude print article (I purchased the digital version.), Condon admits the “moment” only lasted five seconds. He has also come out later with a statement that the the “gay moment” has been “overblown.” He doesn’t want people to “make a big deal of it.”
And it it doesn’t appear it is a big deal. Disney decided to allow reviews of the movie to be published early, so we can at least get a hint from published reports on the film. I spent well over an hour last Saturday (March 4) morning reading through the articles which had appeared so far. The majority of them do not even mention the “gay moment,” and it is obvious that those which do were influenced by the widespread reports from earlier in the week. The following quotes seem to indicate this gay character will have much less significance than the hype indicates.
Owen Gleiberman, Variety: “Josh Gad, incidentally, plays Gaston’s worshipful stooge Le Fou as maximally silly and fawning, but I must have missed the memo where that spells ‘gay.'”
Tim Robey, The Telegraph: “Much has been made of Disney’s first ‘overtly gay’ gesture in the ballroom-dance finale, but this lasts a fraction of a second – hardly enough to redeem the non-progressive, smirked-at stereotype we otherwise get throughout.”
Dan Callahan, The Wrap: “Most problematic in this version is an attempt to make Gaston’s sidekick Le Fou (Josh Gad) into a gay character who is in love with his friend. This isn’t a bad idea on the face of it, but it seems like Condon and scriptwriters… are trying to hedge their bets on this issue, and the result is coy and unconvincing.”
Mike Ryan, Uproxx: “A lot has been made about Josh Gad’s Lefou being gay. Now that I’ve seen the film, I kind of wish this hadn’t leaked out because it’s a small part of the film and the stories make it seem like it’s a huge story point. I could see people reading about that plot point, then being disappointed that it’s not a larger part of the plot, because the stories that came out sure make it seem like it is. To the point that I kept waiting for when this would be addressed – and I waited a very long time.”
There was only one writer that seemed very convinced at all, but even he makes it appear this isn’t a big deal.
Britt Hayes, ScreenCrush: “When Condon confirmed this week that Beauty and the Beast has Disney’s first openly gay character, he may have undersold it by referring to Josh Gad’s LeFou as ‘subtle.’ Although there is a bit of complexity in his personal feelings toward Gaston (played to perfection by Luke Evans), LeFou himself is rather flamboyant.”
I leave you with the clip of LeFou that Disney released this past week.