By now, most of you have most likely heard the controversy over Disney’s latest decision in their live-action film, Beauty and the Beast. Plans of boycott, plans of supporting, people everywhere not really caring… its been an amusing ride to watch, especially considering how small/unnoticeable the apparent segment is in which Gaston’s ever present sidekick, LeFou, reveals his hidden homosexuality.
I feel like there is an entire angle on this that people have been ignoring, however. Not the question of whether director Bill Condon had hidden agendas, or whether there is overreaction from certain communities, but on whether it is actually beneficial to the LGBTQ community to have the representation they are receiving in this movie. You see, there is more to promoting equality than simply featuring a character with certain characteristics. The character should also be on the same level as his/her peers to be truly equal. For instance, while Lando Calrissian was a bit of a token character in Star Wars, he as a character was completely equal to those around him. He was suave, trying to do the best for his company, and even joined the rebel cause as a general.
Similarly, Wonder Woman in the recent Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is not just a strong female character such as Lois Lane, but a true equal to her superhero peers, being able to hold her own in a fight as well. This kind of equality, equality of ability and station, is vitally important to the lasting affect of representation in a movie.
As greater proof, let’s look at an example of equality that did not stand the test of time: Uncle Remus in the Song of the South. Though he was the first male African American to receive an Oscar, James Baskett’s performance–as an uneducated fellow, as well as other complaints, caused many to see the film not as a statement of equality, but of racism. That was probably not the intention of the filmmakers, but to this day its publisher, the very same Disney, will not release the full version of Song of the South to American audiences.
Where does this tie in with Beauty and the Beast, though? Well lets take a look at LeFou, the person in question.
As we see him in the animated film, LeFou is, quite literally, the fool. He fails at what he does. His entire purpose is to contrast Gaston’s sheer ability with his inability. He can only admire Gaston as someone he could never possibly be like, not as any form of peer. While I would not be surprised if Condon’s version of the lovable fool is more competent, it is hard to see how this character (who is still comic relief, from all indications) fits the criteria of equality in ability and/or station. Rather, it seems to indicate homosexuality is a joking point, a stereotype of softness, not a characteristic separate from station. I do not think that is the intent of anyone involved with the film, but just as in Song of the South, actions have unintended consequences.
All in all, we shall see what unfolds from actions taken in this film. Perhaps nothing will come of all this. Or maybe LeFou will be held up as the first gay character in a live-action Disney film. But down the line, it just might be that Disney’s decision here is not viewed as favorably by the LGBTQ community as one might expect.
What are your thoughts? Am I alone in viewing LeFou’s sexual identity this way? Let me know in the comments below!