by Gracie Bucklew
Author’s Note: I am aware Walt Disney is dead, I am not speaking to him. I am also aware not every Disney employee or director or writer is at fault here. I am using “Disney” as a general term for the people who made decisions around this topic in this specific film.
I heard you finally decided to include an openly gay character in one of your movies, so naturally, I went to experience this landmark at the theater. I saw Beauty and the Beast at Ark Lodge Cinemas in Columbia City with my family a couple of weeks ago.
We suited up with a large popcorn and Milk Duds and patiently waited in our seats, dripping with excitement.
Once it started, I paid close attention to Le Fou; I took note of his every move, trying to decipher how you “made him gay” — I was really hoping you wouldn’t screw up too badly.
I watched for that “nice, exclusively gay moment” in the end I was promised by director Bill Condon.
Here’s the thing: you chose for the first openly gay character in Disney to be a joke character. His name, Le Fou, literally translates to The Fool. He is meant to be laughed at.
He is the bumbling sidekick of the villain Gaston and he is not meant to be taken seriously.
“He’s confused about what he wants,” in the words of Condon. Don’t get me wrong, being a confused gay is not a bad thing! (I was a confused gay too!) But Le Fou was pathetically lost and in love with his straight best friend, Gaston.
You’ve effectively painted gay men (and queer people in general) as hopeless and clingy. You’ve made us look like we don’t know what we want.
This also continues on with your history of queer-coding villains. From Jafar in Aladdin, to Scar in The Lion King, you’ve taught children to associate queerness with evil. That is simply unacceptable!
In addition, Le Fou got no real redemption in his search for love except for that “nice, exclusively gay moment” at the end. And it really was only a moment.
A man entered his arms and immediately it was off the screen. If I would have blinked I would not have seen it. My sister actually didn’t see it! I didn’t even see them in the last frame showing the whole ballroom.
It would seem that the briefness of this moment is not inclusive, but rather quite the opposite. It is feeding into our society’s discomfort with seeing queer affection. It is legitimizing the double standard with PDA — we’re okay with exposing our children to straight love but, heavens no, not gay love!
Condon said, “Josh makes something really subtle and delicious out of it.” Well, it’s definitely subtle. But I don’t know about delicious.
He went on to claim “that’s what has its payoff at the end.” If that’s your idea of a payoff, I am seriously concerned.
The least you could have done is keep Le Fou and his man on the screen for more than one second. Five seconds. Just let us bask in this crappy representation for five seconds. For five seconds, let the uptight conservatives squirm in their seats.
Look at Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network. They have learned to let the criticism of including queer characters in their shows roll off their back. I am sure you could too if you tried.
One of my favorite shows is Cartoon Network’s, Steven Universe, partly because it is chock-full of lesbian relationships. And they don’t make a big deal about it either!
I think you could learn from media like this which is teaching kids that it’s completely normal to be queer.
I can see you want to include the LGBTQIA+ community, but just aren’t willing to commit yet. So, Disney, thanks, but no thanks. I hope to see more of me in your films in the future, which will probably lead to you seeing more of me in the theater.
Sincerely, a disappointed lesbian
Gracie Bucklew is a musician, artist, Unitarian Universalist, intersectional feminist, and activist and contributes a regular local pop-culture column to the Emerald. She is currently a student at The Center School. She lives on Beacon Hill with one of her moms, and is a lifelong resident of Rainier Beach with her other mom. She loves her friends, cats, and ice cream.
Featured image is cc licensed photo attributed to traveljunction.com/via Flickr