Case Study: Beauty & the Beast (2017)

Beauty and the Beast was recently re-made as a live action movie by the Disney corporation. About a week before the movie opened, news ran through the Internet claiming that there was going to be a a gay character in this live adaptation. Initially, the Internet and I cheered! Hooray! Finally, a canon, purposely-created gay character by a big mainstream company like Disney. This news came from an interview where Director Bill Condon said that LeFou “is somebody who on one day wants to be Gaston and on another day wants to kiss Gaston.” While the general Buzzfeed-like sources made celebratory videos about this representation, others took a more critical lens. Another gay character that pines for a straight person? Cue iconic (and sarcastic) Devil Wears Prada line: Groundbreaking. Also, the first gay Disney character? That couple in Frozen didn’t count, I guess. Plus, his name means the fool. Thanks for that one, Disney. I’m sure the queer community feels great about that. Overall, this seemed like it would just be another ridicule role for the LGBT+ community. So, I decided to take a look and decide for myself. Warning: spoilers ahead.

Monday night, I saw Beauty and the Beast. The movie was wonderful. The Beast was more human, their relationship was more developed, the addition of original and the musical’s songs added so much depth, and the CGI was great. However, I spent the entire movie searching for the “gayness.” There were small looks or comments that seemed gay if you read into them. LeFou was obviously enamored with Gaston, but nothing that other shows and movies haven’t explained away as subtext before. And then it happened. For a fleeting second, LeFou is dancing at the ending celebration ball and pairs up with another man. As quickly as it happens, the scene cuts away to the full ballroom and the male partners are nowhere to be found. As the credits rolled, I realized that that was it. I adored this movie, but I was totally disappointed in and angry with Disney, Bill Condon, and the Internet for latching onto this movie and this character as gay representation. It is a sorry and embarrassing excuse, especially in an era where gay marriage is legal in the entire country and many other countries.

The movie had other wonderful representation angles to consider. There were a handful of people of color in the film considering its past renditions and its historically white-washed setting. The Beast and Belle’s relationship was more established and healthier despite it still being Stockholm Syndrome. The film combined the animated film, old fairytale, and the musical elegantly. There were some moments that I though were more queer that were good and well placed, too. The Beast was less evil and Gaston was somehow more evil. I enjoyed the new backstories and depth to all the characters.

Nonetheless, I’m confused. Did something get edited out? Did the Internet and Bill Condon overhype the role? I do think that Disney didn’t intend for him to be a gay icon. But, I’m sure they appreciated the free PR. The “boycott” that was started in response to the news did not make a dent in their opening box office weekend.

Overall, it was just another premature celebration over being tossed scraps. Even if something bigger was edited out, that means it wasn’t vital to the plot or character. I’m not saying a queer identity has to be central to the plot for it to be important, but it would be nice if the world didn’t have to hide parts of people to make others more comfortable.

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