No One’s Problematic Like Gaston

Why Disney’s “exclusively gay moment” may not be all that great.

Tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme…. Disney Queer-coding villians. From Ursula of The Little Mermaid being based on the drag queen Divine, to Pocahontas’ Governor Ratcliff’s little purple hair bows and effeminate man-servant; Disney has made a habit of creating villains who fall outside of the strict gender and sexual binary, using this as a point to either demonise them, or paint them as comic relief. And now finally, Disney has decided to make history by no longer merely implying their bad guy is gay, but actually confirming it.

For the Beauty and the Beast live-action remake, director Bill Condon has stated in an interview for LGBT magazine Attitude that there will be an ‘exclusively gay moment’ in the film, featuring the secondary antagonist LeFou. LeFou, played by Josh Gad, is the comic relief side-kick who fawns over the villain Gaston. His name literally means ‘The Fool’ in French, and in the original film he spends a lot of time mindless following Gaston, being involved in slapstick, and unquestioningly being part of the mob sent down to kill the Beast. This was the character Disney chose to be their first gay character.

This is just the continuation of a worrying pattern where gay people are relegated to bit characters, who exist only in relation to heterosexual people. Especially when in this case, Gaston is the paradigm of toxic masculinity and heterosexuality, and so having the gay character – who ‘on one day wants to be Gaston and on another day wants to kiss Gaston’ feels cheap. On its own it wouldn’t be that bad, but as the first explicitly gay character in the Disney canon? It feels very disappointing.

Disney has immense power and influence, and LeFou will probably be the first gay character many children see. With LGBT people often seen as ‘inappropriate’ for children this is a great first step, but instead of having a kind, loving character; children will see a pathetic, buffoonish side-kick to the evil straight man. This is not good representation for both LGBT and cisgender heterosexual children: when LGBT have been demonised so much by Disney before, they should be trying to make amends, not continue the stigma. They could have chosen any number of characters from The Beauty and the Beast to make gay – Belle’s father, Lumière or Cogsworth to name a few. It shows what Disney’s attitude to LGBT representation is when their first gay character is the villian’s side-kick.

Beauty and the Beast is a Disney film with a lot of LGBT subtext, and this is partly due to the songwriter, Howard Ashmore, being a gay man who was dying of AIDs during the film’s production. Belle and the Beast both face discrimination and hate from being different, and there’s even the mob song towards the end of the film that contains the lyrics ‘We don’t like/ What we don’t understand/ In fact it scares us’. It could have been powerful to make these lyrics more explicit and change the heterosexual couple into a same-sex one. Although this may have been far too radical for Disney, so we’re left with LeFou.

It’s at best a baby-step on the way for good representation but it’s 2017, and I’m tired of baby-steps. Disney would not lose a vast amount of money by including an LGBT character so why not take a risk! If anyone is in the position to do so, Disney is. Why not make Lumière and Cogsworth husbands or even radically alter the story itself and make Belle and the Beast a same-sex couple? I’m not going to hold my breath for this adaption, but I think Disney could do a lot better, and touting this as ‘progressive’ and ‘revolutionary’ is a mistake. LeFou being gay follows an already existing trend with Disney of coding their bad-guys and comic relief characters as queer, so this is not a radical move at all.  Instead, it’s a reluctant shuffle in the right direction, and is a move that has been vastly blown out of proportion.

[Jo Reid]

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