The upcoming live-action Beauty and the Beast remake will be the first Disney movie to feature an openly gay character, according to director Bill Condon—and no, it’s not Lumière or Cogsworth. Condon revealed in an interview with Attitude that Josh Gad’s characer, LeFou (the sidekick to villainous Gaston), will have what he calls an “exclusively gay moment” in the film.
“LeFou is somebody who on one day wants to be Gaston and on another day wants to kiss Gaston. He’s confused about what he wants,” Condon said. “It’s somebody who’s just realizing that he has these feelings. Josh [Gad] makes something really subtle and delicious out of it. And that’s what has its pay-off at the end, which I don’t want to give away. But it is a nice, exclusively gay moment in a Disney movie.”
Attitude’s own editor-in-chief, Matt Cain, seemed to offer more specifics about what, exactly, constitutes an “exclusively gay moment,” while praising the news. “By representing same-sex attraction in this short but explicitly gay scene, the studio is sending out a message that this is normal and natural.”
Even setting aside the obvious contradictions at work here—the scene will be explicitly gay but also “subtle,” somehow—this is not quite the groundbreaking, rah-rah, LGBTQ-inclusive moment Disney seems to believe it is. For starters, unless Beauty and the Beast has undergone a major rewrite, LeFou is still one of the bad guys, and Disney movies already have a long history of queer-coded villains, including The Little Mermaid’s drag queen–inspired Ursula to The Lion King’s suave, effeminate Scar. And if the studio believes gay audiences can’t identify with a character unless that character is explicitly queer, they’ve missed the memo, because, as Akash Nicolas pointed out in a 2014 piece in the Atlantic, between coming-out anthems like “Let It Go,” outsider villains who have been rejected by society, and protagonists who find solace in found families, Disney has been subtly but surely promoting the “gay agenda” for years.
Beauty and the Beast doesn’t necessarily need a gay character, because the animated movie is already a queer story in which the heroes are outsiders who are shunned for their differences. Bookish Belle is “different” from the rest of her quiet village, while her father, the eccentric inventor, is dismissed as “crazy.” And the Beast’s story, of a man who is physically transformed, shunned by an ignorant public, and slowly fading away, became an allegory for the movie’s openly gay lyricist, Howard Ashman, who had just been diagnosed with AIDS when he began working on the movie and died just months before its 1991 release. (If you still doubt the gay parable at play here, just think of the lyrics of the mob’s song in the movie: “We don’t like what we don’t understand/ In fact it scares us/ And this monster is mysterious at least.”)
Condon, who is openly gay himself, seems aware of and sensitive to Beauty and the Beast’s backstory, explaining elsewhere in Attitude that it was Ashman who expanded the Beast’s role, as he sympathized with a character whose curse “had brought sorrow on all those people who loved him and maybe there was a chance for a miracle and a way for the curse to be lifted.” He also seems determined to respect that narrative, which is a good sign.
But since the film has chosen to do that by including a character who is literally gay, it’s worth examining their choice. LeFou is a sidekick and a relatively minor character who spends most of the original film groveling at the feet of Gaston, a living embodiment of toxic masculinity if ever there was one, and receiving only abuse in return. That “falling for a straight boy” narrative is not exactly a shining example of LGBT positivity—though it’s possible, of course, that in Condon’s version, LeFou will finally stand up for himself. (Is that the “payoff” Condon is referring to?)
Even so, despite the hoopla, this is not such a revolutionary moment for Disney, at least not the way it seems to believe it is. Yes, it marks a milestone in queer visibility, but it is a far cry from giving us, say, the first gay Disney Princess, and the Beauty and the Beast gay subplot will almost certainly be minor in the grand scheme of the larger, hetero romance at the center of the movie’s narrative. The only question is whether there’s really “something there” at all or if this is just marketing buzz—and we won’t find out for sure until the movie premieres on March 17.