If you saw previews for the live-action Beauty and the Beast and feared that it would be a shot-by-shot remake of the original, animated original, fret not. There will be at least one major difference, and it comes in the characterization of LeFou.
“LeFou is somebody who on one day wants to be Gaston and on another day wants to kiss Gaston,” revealed the film’s director Bill Condon in an interview with Attitude magazine that was released last week. “He’s confused about what he wants. It’s somebody who’s just realizing that he has these feelings. And Josh makes something really subtle and delicious out of it. And that’s what has its payoff at the end, which I don’t want to give away. But it is a nice, exclusively gay moment in a Disney movie.”
Cue the controversy.
For those of you not up on the Beauty and the Beast characters, LeFou is the bumbling, sycophantic sidekick of the film’s main villain, Gaston. In the animated film, he was clumsy yet cunning, with an almost pathological respect and admiration for Gaston. If the character was gay in the original, it was buried deeply in the subtext.
Gay advocacy groups have been pressuring Disney for years to show LGBTQ representation in its films but now that it has one, some find it lacking. This attitude is summed up in an op-ed piece by Ryan Houlihan over at TeenVogue:
It’s nice to hear the words “gay” and “Disney” used in a sentence by the director of one of the company’s films — and especially regarding the massive remake of one of their most universally adored projects, no less — but this fails in some basic ways. They made the gay character a villain, relegated him to being a sidekick, gave this explicitly queer role to a straight actor, and then muddled the issue by making him sexually “confused” – just to hedge their bets.
I’ll take it one further. One of the more tragic behind the scenes stories from the original film was that lyricist Howard Ashman was dying of AIDS while he was writing the songs with Alan Menken for the film. Beauty and the Beast was his second-to-last film before he died in 1991 (his last was Aladdin, a film he wrote the story treatment for with a number of songs from the treatment making it into the final film. He died before production began and was replaced by Tim Rice).
As such, the song “Kill the Beast” from the film is seen as an allegory for persecution Ashman was feeling as a HIV-positive gay man:
We don’t like what we don’t understand / in fact it scares us / and this monster is mysterious at least / Bring your guns / bring your knives / save your children and your wives / we’ll save our village and our lives
In the original film, these lines were sung by Gaston who was trying to incite the townspeople to join him in his attack on the beast. He was egged on the whole time by LeFou. If this scene carries over to the live action film, and it looks like it will, we’ll have an openly gay LeFou essentially engaging in the allegorical persecution people of his same sexual persuasion experienced in real life. That’s a mixed message that I’m sure Disney did not intend to send.
While making the relatively minor character of LeFou Disney’s first gay character was disappointing to some, the studio was probably trying to hedge its bets, hoping to perhaps minimize the obligatory criticism from the religious right. if that’s the case, their hopes weren’t answered.
That’s Billy Graham’s son, Franklin, calling for a boycott of Disney. His Facebook page is a treat. When he isn’t attacking the “sinful” LGBT community, he’s throwing praise at Donald Trump. So, in this Christian’s eyes, a habitual liar who treats the sanctity of marriage the way most people treat a snot-filled Kleenex and who openly bragged about grabbing women in their genitalia and walking through dressing rooms as they undressed is okay, but two men kissing on film will ruin our children. Sure.
Regardless, the Henagar Drive-In Theater in Northern Alabama was more than ready to take up Graham on his offer of a boycott:
As of December 16th the Henagar Drive-In is under new ownership. Movies scheduled prior to that date and four weeks after this date were not scheduled by the new owners. That being said…It is with great sorrow that I have to tell our customers that we will not be showing Beauty and the Beast at the Henagar Drive-In when it comes out. When companies continually force their views on us we need to take a stand. We all make choices and I am making mine. For those that do not know Beauty and the Beast is “premiering” their first homosexual character. The producer also says at the end of the movie “there will be a surprise for same-sex couples”. If we can not take our 11 year old grand daughter and 8 year old grandson to see a movie we have no business watching it. If I can’t sit through a movie with God or Jesus sitting by me then we have no business showing it. I know there will be some that do not agree with this decision. That’s fine. We are first and foremost Christians. We will not compromise on what the Bible teaches. We will continue to show family oriented films so you can feel free to come watch wholesome movies without worrying about sex, nudity, homosexuality and foul language. Thank you for your support!
That was taken from a post on the company’s Facebook page. But the post and the page itself has been removed. I imagine the owners didn’t appreciate the fact that freedom of speech works both ways. Well, at least they have one supporter out there:
Yes, there are starving people going unfed, naked people going unclothed, homeless people going unsheltered and sick people going untreated, but the Christian right choose a film where two men might possibly kiss (and the film is rated PG, that will probably be the farthest they will go) as where they draw the line in the sand. Even on evangelist Graham’s page, which features a cover photo of him on one of his missionary trips, you have to go 20 posts in, way back to February 24th, to find him talking about the charity work he’s done, and then it’s just to ask for donation.
As a parent, I find it obnoxious that these people feel the need to protect my kid from the “gay agenda.” I want my kid exposed to the gay agenda. Because do you know what the gay agenda is? Do you really want to know? It’s not to recruit new members of the LGBTQ community. It’s that gay people are human beings deserving of respect. That they are not freaks or perverts. And that what two consenting adults do in the privacy of their own home is nobody’s business but theirs.
We as a country should have grown out of this. Disney shouldn’t have had to wait until 2017 to introduce its first openly gay character nor have it be the villain’s sidekick. And the Christian Right should be spending more energy focusing on the other sections of the Bible dealing with helping the poor and needy instead of the one vague, archaic law from a section full of vague and archaic laws. The best art imitates life. The LBGTQ community is part of life as we know it. Not having it reflect in art, even in a movie about a woman who falls in love with a beast in provincial France, cheapens the art.