I should have known the live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast was going to be a big deal when Emma Watson was cast as Belle over two years ahead of its release and the entire internet freaked out. Or by last May, when Disney released that 90-second “teaser” that was just vignettes of castle architecture and it trended for like a million years. I certainly knew by last November, when the official trailer dropped and 127.6 million people watched it in the first 24 hours, thus breaking a world record.
People give a serious fuck about this movie!!! According to a Fandango survey, it’s the number three most-anticipated film of 2017. Which is why it’s not surprising that the announcement that Beauty and the Beast will feature Disney’s first gay character has people freaking out (in every sense of the expression).
“Played by US actor Josh Gad, the character of LeFou serves as the sidekick to the film’s primary antagonist Gaston (Luke Evans), and is set to feature in a small but significant subplot of his own when it comes to his sexuality,” reports Attitude. Or as director Bill Condon puts it: “LeFou is somebody who on one day wants to be Gaston and on another day wants to kiss Gaston.”
It’s exciting to see a new type of representation in a children’s movie, a space that’s so often failed to deliver where diversity is concerned (although the wins are trickling in). The choice is also particularly interesting given the history of the movie. According to Condon, the 1991 original was largely inspired by lyricist Howard Ashman, who saw the plot as a metaphor for AIDS and had a large hand in shaping the narrative to reflect that. Ashman was diagnosed early in the development process and died just four days after the first screening of the film.
“Ashman had just found out he had AIDs,” Condon told Attitude, “And it was his idea, not only to make it into a musical but also to make Beast one of the two central characters; until then it had mostly been Belle’s story that they had been telling.” He goes on to explain that Ashman connected with the plight of the Beast, in that in some ways he tragically experienced his diagnosis as a curse that brought sorrow on those he loved.
LeFou, as Gaston’s forthcoming sidekick, is a small role. But the response has been overwhelming, with some people vowing to boycott Disney and many more lauding them for the decision. Clearly, it’s touched a chord and it’s refreshing to see Disney strike this note. I hope they continue to honor representation, especially where the imaginations of children are involved.
Photo via Walt Disney Studios.