Culture Vulture: Representation Matters

Graphic by Casey Linenberg '19

Graphic by Casey Linenberg '19

BY DEMETRIA OSEI-TUTU '17 

“Beauty and the Beast,” Disney’s live-action remake of the classic animated film, came out two weeks ago and has dominated the box office since. But even before the release, the movie generated controversy around a purportedly groundbreaking element. (Warning: The rest of this article contains spoilers.)

After director Bill Condon revealed that Gaston’s sidekick LeFou, played by Josh Gad, is gay, Malaysia banned the film, a theater in Alabama boycotted it and Russia raised the film’s rating to 16+. In an interview with Attitude magazine, Condon said: “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.”

What exactly is an exclusively gay moment? Does LeFou kiss a dude? Or maybe get into a relationship with one? As it turns out, the “exclusively gay moment” is LeFou dancing with a man for three seconds in the final ballroom scene. These three seconds make up the scene Condon was talking about and Attitude magazine said would make history for Disney. In all, I’m tired of entertainment and media companies patting themselves on the back for doing the bare minimum.

Even though it is technically a historic move because LeFou is the first confirmed gay Disney character, there was nothing groundbreaking about his portrayal in the film. While the two men dancing is an “explicitly gay” moment at its core, it is so fleeting that if you blink you might miss it. It makes the people protesting “Beauty and the Beast” look ridiculous — if they didn’t already with their obvious, gross homophobia. Still, many boycotted and banned the film for a moment so small and insignificant that they might not have noticed it in the first place.

Disney and Condon act as if they’ve done something monumental, but LeFou does not contribute genuine or positive queer representation to the film. Call me when you make a Disney movie with an actual queer protagonist falling in love. When this halfhearted attempt is the final product, it’s hard not to think that Disney just wants to claim the title of being progressive without really backing it up.

And if Disney really was going to drag their feet on this, why not make a character like Lumière or Cogsworth gay? It would not be a stretch: Lumière and Cogsworth definitely have the chemistry and are much more likeable characters. Representation to a degree means nothing if it is only negative representation. Why make the first openly gay character the villain’s sidekick? Why choose LeFou, whose name literally translates to “the fool”? “Beauty and the Beast” just adds to the negative stereotypes that queer people already face.

What message is the company sending out to its own queer employees and the queer people who find solace in Disney and deserve to be reflected? Sooner or later, Disney will have to deliver with positive and substantial representation.

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