Photo via comingsoon.net.
As a young girl, I watched fairytale “happily ever after” endings, and I wondered why none of the princesses fell in love with another princess. I wanted to ask, “When will it be my turn to see someone like me in these movies, two girls who hold hands like Ariel and Eric do?” But I was raised in a polite Southern household. My teachers had taught me that I should remain quiet while waiting my turn in line.
While the Disney intro scene shows a shooting star instead of a rainbow, it seems as if LGBTQ+ moviegoers may finally be rewarded for their patience. The first acknowledged gay Disney character will be LeFou in the live-action Beauty and the Beast film.
The first gay Disney character comes to us not with a bang, nor with a whisper, but with a disappointed sigh. The announcement from movie director Bill Condon that “LeFou is somebody who on one day wants to be Gaston and on another day wants to kiss Gaston” whisked away my childhood imaginings of a strong, witty protagonist who would save the world with her girlfriend. Condon plays into stereotypes of weak, insecure gay men when he describes LeFou wanting to be a popular, attractive, strong man. LeFou reminds me of the social narrative that says gay people are just confused; he is torn between being attracted to and idealizing Gaston. Disney’s choice to portray LeFou as its first queer character plays into stereotypes of the ancillary flamboyant gay man who is controlled by the protagonist or antagonist. LeFou perpetuates the trope of the gay man providing entertainment, a jester for the audience and for other characters.
LeFou is a sidekick and a relatively ineffective one, at that. He builds his relationship with Gaston by consistently praising the villain’s physique rather than by shaping plots. In the original 1991 Beauty and the Beast, LeFou’s only opportunity to speak or sing alone, in his own voice, is spent blazoning his hero in a song fittingly called “Gaston.” While it is possible that the 2017 remake of the movie may endow LeFou with a more prominent voice, Disney is working against its own precedent. Fans of Beauty and the Beast will not quickly forget that LeFou is defined by his own clumsy idiocy and his affirmation of Gaston’s ego. It is not LeFou’s status as a secondary character that prevents him from having deeper insights and a sense of control in the plot of his movie. After all, Disney has granted animal characters the autonomy to shape their own stories, as in Aladdin when Iago the parrot assists Jafar in planning a coup to overthrow the Sultan.
While many people are encouraged by the inclusion of any new LGBTQ+ character in the Disney princess films, should our community have to compete with talking parrots to find roles in children’s movies that represent us as we are in real life, as diverse people with the capacity to be our own heroes or villains? Jesse Tyler Ferguson, an American actor who portrays a gay husband and father in the sitcom Modern Family, said, “the more we can saturate television with any gay character … I think that’s a really great thing. We’re kind of getting past the fact that they’re the punchline or that they’re the novelty.” Disney has embarked on something new by featuring its first gay character, but, unfortunately, the audience will receive the same old stereotypes of gay men as it watches LeFou sing and dance for Gaston.
As for me, I will continue to wait for Disney to produce an innovative LGBTQ+ character. The line is long as people of different races, heritages, and languages all queue up to see a snippet of their own identities projected in popular children’s films. If we hope to see representations of diverse populations, we cannot keep quiet and expect that film companies will create inclusive characters without our letters, phone calls, and e-mails. Despite what my teachers told me, the line at my school only moved quicker when the students began to shove.
Laken Brooks is a Literature student who is interested in teaching, gender, and sexuality. She lives in Appalachia and hopes to make higher education and literature more accessible to people of diverse backgrounds.