I want to start by saying I am just as excited as everyone else about the new "Beauty and the Beast" reboot. I loved the original movie, the music, the design and the brainy heroine. I think Emma Watson (who I love and may or may not have a giant crush on) is perfect as Belle, the production design looks gorgeous, and the new updates are a breath of fresh air. (You actually know what happens to the mom! Belles an inventor! Interracial relationships and more diverse casting!) One thing, though, that is being touted as the “most progressive” and “biggest update” is the “first gay moment in a Disney film," because Lefou has the hots for Gaston.
I am calling the director's bluff on this one. This is neither “the first” nor “progressive." In fact, gay characters appear all through the Disney canon. Here is the thing though: Just like Lefou, they are always villains.
At this point, I am sure some of you fair readers are saying, 'wait a minute, I would have remembered that!' Before you sound off in the comment section, consider two of Disney’s most deliciously evil villains.
Ursula is based on Drag Queen, Divine, and Ratcliff has a campy dance number about glitter (I mean *gold.* God, I hate that movie). They're overweight, they're mean, and the audience is supposed to know that they are queer -- that’s the danger part -- but we are supposed to laugh at them, too.
So campy and flamboyant are inherently bad? Of course not! Camp is a major part of queer history and identity and should be celebrated. The problem is that when the only representation you see of campy and flamboyant are of villains, queer identity and characteristics are deemed bad, as well. Queer should not be equated with danger or villainy, and if you think I am reading too much into this, consider the very real queer history in the united states. very real queer history in the United States.
I am not saying you can’t have diverse queer representation. Ideally there would be queer characters as villains and heroes. But, when you have queer characters as only villains, you villainize queer people. Villains don’t get happy endings so then queer people do not either. These are incredibly damaging portrayals.
So Lefou, literally named “the fool," is the henchman to the villain, and in all likelihood will not get a happy ending. So yeah, this is not new or progressive.
The director has already backed off of his statement, calling it “over-blown,” but that’s not really the point. Representation matters, especially to kids. Having diverse childrens' entertainment doesn’t just mean that queer kids get to have characters to identify with, but heterosexual kids can empathize with their peers who are different.
It would have meant the world to me if I saw a queer princess, or two knights falling in love. Let’s make the world better and kinder by having the media we consume reflect the experiences of our diverse society. To do that, we have to call out when we are given media that is “progressive,” but really is just more of the same. We don’t need anymore gay Disney villains. We need queer heroes.
So if anyone wants to tweet out #GiveElsaAGirlfriend, the time is now.