Honestly, I was kind of excited to see the new live action Beauty and the Beast. Like some people my age, I grew up on Disney and Dreamworks films. I knew many of the popular songs by heart and The Lion King was one of the first movies I remember watching. I would daydream of going to Disneyland or Disneyworld and while I don’t think she’s perfect, I love the idea of Emma Watson as Belle.
But there’s a part of the movie that I feel conflicted about: LeFou being gay. Because of this tiny subplot, there’s an Alabama theater not showing the film, Russia has banned those under 16 from seeing it, and Malaysian censors requesting that the tiny scene showing him dancing with another man, all of which makes me want to see it just to spite them. And from what I hear, this subplot is one of the tiniest points in the entire film.
In reality though, Disney doing the bare minimum to include LGBTQ characters and having the one gay character be one of the film’s villains only adds to Hollywood’s longstanding problem of queercoding. From 1930 to 1968, the film industry within the United States followed a set of moral guidelines called the Motion Picture Production Code. This code, often referred to as the Hayes Code because of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America President Will H. Hayes, sets out what was acceptable and unacceptable for films to produce for audiences. A part of this involved how homosexuality was portrayed because during this time in history, being gay was not only socially unacceptable in the highest way but it was also illegal.
During that time in Hollywood though, queer folks of all identities were literally criminalized and were then portrayed as villains within movies. Stories and films involving gay characters were the bad characters; their stories often associated homosexuality with insanity and their sexual orientation was often the subtle reason why they were villains.
And Disney is one of the many production companies that went along with this code and trend, even long after the codes were formally abandoned by the industry. Characters like Hades in Hercules, Scar in The Lion King, Governor Ratcliffe in Pocahontas, and Ursula in The Little Mermaid all have characteristics often associated with queer and LGBTQ folks. Of course, not all their characters with “queer” characteristics are bad (Timon and Pumbaa in The Lion King for example) but Disney has long been involved in associating the good and bad ways to be gay.
So to have yet another gay character be a villain isn’t new, neither is having these same characters pushed into the background. It’s not revolutionary nor is it progress. We have long been a part of Hollywood and to be an openly gay villain isn’t much better than being a closeted one because we’re still the bad guy.
One last note before I go: many have been arguing that people are upset over a gay character in a movie that essentially normalizes bestiality. But one person on Twitter brought up the point of associating the beast with physical disfigurement and asked others to look deeper into the idea of the beast outside just being an animal. This was something I had never considered and I definitely recommend reading through the thread that you read through @guysmiley22’s thread on the issue.
I’m sure there’s so much more to say about the film, like how for some, the original cartoon movie was actually a metaphor for AIDS. The lyricist for the film, Howard Ashman, had found out that he had AIDS right around the time that he was working on the film and saw himself reflected in some part in the beast and his curse. For me though, I’m not sure if LeFou’s small gay moment of the film is really something to be celebrated or concerned over. It doesn’t seem like a revolutionary move for Disney and instead, a rather easy way for them to get kudos for diversity without actually having a LGBTQ main character or putting the effort into changing their stories.