LeFou has had one hell of a 2017. From being a simply enjoyable sidekick to the face of the LGBTQ community (but like, not really at all). Bill Condon’s interview stating that LeFou will have an “exclusively gay moment” threw the world for a loop and now that we’ve been able to see the film and let the moment itself sink in, we need to dissect the situation. (Side note: “exclusively gay moment” is such a weirdly worded phrase. It’s the new “conscious uncoupling.”)
The moment we were promised was certainly less than to be desired. If you have yet to see the live-action Beauty and the Beast, that’s crazy and why are you reading this in the first place, but also spoilers ahead.
During the big fight scene, Audra McBoudoir (not her actual character name, but I will call her that from here on out) throws a variety of fabrics and accoutrement at three revolting townsfolk until they are in dresses and their faces are powdered. Two are horrified that anyone would ever see them not adhering to masculine societal norms, while one is okay with it and smiles back at Audra McBoudoir. The moment is played for a laugh, which bothered me a bit, but the underlying meaning behind it I appreciated. Be your true self, nameless character! Audition for RuPaul’s Drag Race! Live your best life! *confetti*
This is key to remember as in the finale of the film, as everyone is dancing in the newly bright ballroom (They Loved It and didn’t List it.), LeFou is dancing with a woman and then spins around to find himself dancing with the nameless townsperson. I have read other reports where they say their faces light up in a way to signify that they are happier, but that is a little much. I have seen the film four times now (don’t @ me) and there is nothing to suggest that. However, that’s the moment. That is what was hyped out the wazoo. It was a disappointment, to say the least.
It was even more of a disappointment considering that they built it up as a tribute to Howard Ashman. For those unfamiliar, the producer and songwriter for the key films during the Disney Renaissance was a gay man who died due to AIDS months before the release of Beauty and the Beast. Roy Disney has said he was another Walt, which is a huge title to be bestowed on someone. He revolutionized Disney Animation Studios, arguably saved the animation department from death single-handedly, and changed the company forever. His presence is truly missed, but the work he did for the company in that short amount of time has left a lasting impression on the Disney brand and entertainment world as a whole.
Thinking about this, a tribute to Ashman through a “gay moment” is very cool and heartwarming. This man died from a disease that was ignored by many because of its ties to the gay community (as a “baby gay,” I highly suggest you check out ABC’s When We Rise, where I learned so much about the community during that tumultuous time.) and blatantly stating a character is gay in his honor is a great tribute in my eyes. Yet, the moment wasn’t that at all. It was so overhyped that what we received what such a big pile of nothing compared to where everyone’s expectations were set.
Now, LeFou throughout the film had many more instances that were smaller, but more telling in my eyes compared to the final dance. During the “Gaston” sequence, he had subtle feminine tendencies that I immediately caught onto and appreciated. It wasn’t in an offensive way or a stereotype, just relatable. When he sits on the bar and tries to get the three nameless townsfolk to join in, I picked on every nuance, for lack of a better word. The placement of his shoulders, the flipping of the hair, etc. It was the stuff most LGBTQ+ kids have to adamantly avoid doing in school, even if it’s how they naturally carry themselves, to avoid bullying (take it from one who has been there and back). Later during the fight, LeFou’s face when Mrs. Potts says that he’s too good for Gaston is great, as well. He’s realizing things about himself and you can see it in his eyes. I loved being able to tell when LeFou realized he shouldn’t stick with a guy who doesn’t love him back.
I feel that if Bill Condon did the interview after the release saying that LeFou was meant to be seen as gay and these moments were a small tribute to Mr. Ashman, the collective feeling would have been more positive from the community (not a huge difference, but it would’ve swayed positive), but the build-up was so great that it would never be able to compete unless LeFou straight up made-out with his dance partner on the lips.
Now, the backlash was strong for these small moments and I do give incredible amounts of credit to Disney for calling bluffs when they saw them. Malaysia, Russia, and China’s big ratings uptick for these miniscule moments were hefty, but Disney didn’t care. They stuck to their guns and wouldn’t allow any edits to the film whatsoever, which is a not only a powerful statement, but also incredibly moving. It’s so great to see how far the community has come in just the last decade, and especially the allies the community has gained in that amount of time. (Just look at the amount of large companies who made mention of Pride in any way, shape, or form last month.) That one Alabama drive-in that banned the movie had no effect on Disney or the box office. The mom who said she would cancel her trip because of these small moments was abhorrent, but Disney didn’t bat an eyelash. You can go take your kids somewhere else, the Magic Kingdom is a place for acceptance. Sorry, lady. Disney is filled with pride.
It was underwhelming compared to the build-up, but it was a step. Hopefully, that step leads into bigger representation down the line. In live-action reboots, in original films, in animated properties, etc. I hope this creates a snowball of LGBTQ+ representation in Disney product, and diverse LGBTQ+ representation at that. So, Disney, I give you a single clap for this, but I’m looking forward to the day when I can give you a standing ovation.