Disney + Gay = Conflicted

(photo courtesy of shopDisney)

Disney is hella gay. You’re laughing but think about it. The LGBTQ+ community and Disney fans have a large amount of overlap. That hypothetical Venn diagram would be close to just one giant circle. (That circle would, of course, be made out of glitter, glow-in-the-dark paint, and recycled Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again posters, because duh.) From personal experience, the world of Disney has been an accepting one. Its stories are ones that I can escape into, away from oppression or the woes of the world. Worried my rights will be taken away by new Supreme Court justices? Might as well take a trip under the sea with my favorite mermaid. Called a ‘faggot’ on social media by cyberbullies? Let me step away from it all and attend the coronation of Genovia’s new queen.

These films, these stories, these characters all let me enter new and fantastical worlds. On top of that, the Disney company has been a welcome one for members of the community for decades. In 2014, Glassdoor.com, a workplace insight website, compiled the Top 25 Companies to work for if a member of the LGBTQ+ community, where Disney ranked at Number 15. The company is welcoming, supportive, and embraces the members of the community.

Recently the Walt Disney World resort held remembrance events for the Pulse nightclub shooting, had panels featuring important LGBTQ+ figures within the company, and always have a large presence in California and Florida pride events. They are great allies to have, especially since theyare consistently vocal about their support of the community with words and their money. . They were the biggest donor to the OneOrlando fund set in place after the Pulse shooting and just donated $50,000 to GLSEN, an organization promoting inclusivity in schools relating to sexuality.

For me, Disney has always been the ultimate safe space. I may see a “Make America Great Again” hat, but I know they aren’t the norm at Happiest Place on Earth. They have their arms open wide and ready to welcome anyone and everyone into their kingdom.

Now, when you look at Disney’s television properties, they’ve done a decent enough job portraying individuals who identify as part of the community. ABC has been a great example of this, thanks to their progressive and openminded mindset for their programming. In 2007, Dirty Sexy Money featured the first transgender actress in recurring role on broadcast television, played by Candis Cayne. Shonda Rhimes’ trio of “Thank God It’s Thursday” shows (Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, How to Get Away with Murder) have all had major LGBTQ+ characters from their inception. Grey’s Anatomy also holds the distinction of having the longest running LGBTQ+ character in television history, with Callie Torres (played by out bisexual actress, Sara Ramirez) starring in over 200 episodes.

Even more recently (and more problematically), Roseanne featured a genderqueer child as part of the Conner family. While the discussions about him on the show weren’t ideal, as they saw their genderqueer family member as “the only good one.” Their views that were mentioned numerous times on the show contradicted their progressive attitude toward their genderqueer family member. While the representation was there, I’m hopeful that with Roseanne’s removal, The Conners can tackle the child’s experience more as a genderqueer character on television, such as the bullying, the idea that other parents have to tell your kid how to act, the idea of toxic masculinity, etc.

Disney Channel also recently broke ground by having their first out LGBTQ+ character on Andi Mack. Played by Joshua Rush, Cyrus revealed that he was attracted to Asher on the show, breaking major ground for a children’s network. No other tween-centric show on Disney Channel or Nickelodeon has ever discussed sexuality in such a frank way, especially when considering a major tween character. The moment was such an emotional one for me (which I discussed here). Seeing someone discussing their confusion with their own sexuality was something I experienced firsthand, and seeing how big its impact could be moved me profoundly. As Cyrus sat next to his friend Buffy and silently nod his head that he was jealous of Andi, since she was with Asher and not him, I felt all those suppressed feelings I had in middle school, crushing on guys but knowing I couldn’t say anything. It was beautifully done and so important.

While all the good we’ve received from the parks and television branches of the company, the film branch has left something less than desired. To be completely frank, they screw up. A lot. It has started to become offensive their lack of awareness on their ignorance of the LGBTQ+ community. There are a few major instances of their ignorance, so let’s break them down individually:

The Beauty and the Beast Lefou Debacle of 2K17: This ordeal was making the definition of over exaggeration from all parties involved. In an interview with director Bill Condon, he stated that LeFou (Gaston’s humorous sidekick) would have an “exclusively gay moment.” Expectations immediately went through the roof from those excited for seeing representation, finally, from a Disney film. Would there be a kiss? A sentence saying that he was dating another man? What would it be?!

The backlash was fast and from large entities, and no one had even seen “the moment.” China, Russia, and Malaysia all upped their movie ratings to the equivalent of PG-13 so children weren’t exposed to this “exclusively gay moment.” A drive-in theater in Alabama banned the movie from being shown for fear of tainting the residents of the state, I guess? It was all much ado about nothing.

Well, it was next to nothing. In the final dance number, LeFou ends up in the arms of a male French village person. That’s it. That was the moment. This moment led to backlash from countries across the world, boycotts, and gay hysteria. It was underwhelming, boring, and insulting.

What made it worse was Bill’s declaration that it was in honor of Beauty and the Beast musical genius, Howard Ashman. He wrote the lyrics for the show back during the film’s inception but passed away from AIDS in the 1990s. As an out gay man, I can guarantee you that he would’ve been stunned at how stupid and small this “exclusively gay moment” ended up being.

So, not only was the moment not a moment at all, but it was in honor of a pioneer of the LGBTQ+ community. That’s a big ‘ole double whammy.

Mulan and its Anti-Shang Live-Action Remake: The Disney animated film about the titular character dressing as a man and going into war to save her father from possible death has become a favorite amongst the LGBTQ+ community for many reasons. The power that Mulan feels by cross-dressing/the power she had all along has become an allegory of sorts for the coming out process. (On a smaller note, the vaguely homoerotic song “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” has been celebrated as such for years.)

However, the biggest takeaway and internet movement to come from the film is Shang as an accidental bisexual icon. His role in the movie as Mulan’s love interest is more prevalent once Mulan reveals she is actually a woman and not “Ping,” her male persona. However, he is seen as being confused and attracted to Ping throughout the film, before her reveal. He is attracted no matter the gender. The internet took this and ran with it and he has been called Disney’s first bi character, even though it is never said in the film.

Mulan is one of the next films on the docket for a live-action remake, and the controversy around the film has been prevalent since the jump. Many worried that Disney wouldn’t cast actual Chinese actors in key roles (which is a whole other can of worms to open at a different time). Some were concerned that female voices wouldn’t be represented behind the scenes, and even after a female director was hired to helm the film, many were disappointed it wasn’t a woman of Asian descent.

Yet, the biggest controversy was the exclusion of Shang as the love interest in the remake. That’s right, the character who fell into being a bisexual icon has been removed from the film’s newest incarnation.  Shang will be replaced with Chen Honghui, described as “a confident and ambitious recruit who joins Commander Tung’s unit. He becomes Mulan’s most important ally and eventual love interest.” The worry is these bisexual ideas and tendencies will be erased completely.

That is how badly the audience wants an LGBTQ+ in Disney films. That the one that only kind of fits that box being removed is a 5-alarm controversy. Here’s hoping Chen can fill the void of no Shang for the community.

#GiveElsaAGirlfriend: Like mentioned above, the LGBTQ+ community is so hungry for representation, that they will call something gay when it hasn’t been discussed at all. Frozen brought another wave of those discussions with Elsa’s 11 o’clock number, “Let It Go.” The song became, just like “I’ll Make a Man Out of You,” a gay anthem. The song is an accidental allegory for the coming out experience. “Don’t let them in, don’t let them see…Let it go, can’t hold it back anymore.” The lyrics really held true to a lot of individuals coming to terms with their sexuality.

So, from that, came the Twitter campaign. People on the internet decided that Elsa should have a girlfriend in the sequel. It was that simple. #GiveElsaAGirlfriend began and the klout of the hashtag spread like wildfires.

The conversation grew from the LGBTQ+ community on Twitter, to the Twitter audience at large, to news organizations, and eventually, the people involved with the film. Jennifer Lee, the sequel’s writer and director responded to the hashtag movement when asked about it by The Huffington Post by saying “I love everything people are saying [and] people are thinking about with our film―that it’s creating dialogue, that Elsa is this wonderful character that speaks to so many people. It means the world to us that we’re part of these conversations. Where we’re going with it, we have tons of conversations about it, and we’re really conscientious about these things.”

That response showed that Jennifer was at least considering the idea of Elsa having a girlfriend, but it wasn’t a confirmation. In other words, no one should be holding their breath about the possibility of Elsa turning up in the sequel with a new girlfriend in Arendelle.

Idina Menzel was asked about it by Entertainment Tonight, to which she responded with “I think it’s great. Disney’s just gotta contend with that. I’ll let them figure that out.” So, Idina’s on board. Jennifer is on board. Let’s see if Disney follows through with the idea and actually makes it a reality.

Marvel Comics vs. Films: Marvel, now owned by Disney, has had a fraught reputation with LGBTQ+ representation since at least the 1980s. It all stems back to the comics division, aka the root of Marvel’s success. A 1980 issue of Rampaging Hulk featured the first two out-gay characters in a Marvel comic. Yet, they were rapists, luring in Bruce Banner with highly inappropriate and offensive language. Jim Shooter wrote the issue and then became the editor-in-chief of Marvel comics for a large majority of the decade and he was rumored to have instituted a “no gays” policy in all Marvel comics.

The next character to finally make an appearance as gay was Northstar, who was apparently intended to be gay since his premiere in 1979. Shooter had a major role in rejecting an AIDS storyline for Northstar in 1986, further diluting any representation for the LGBTQ+ community. The new editor-in-chief, Joe Quesada, the representation count has been numerous. X-Men have had same sex marriages, Iceman and America have placed identifying members at the forefront of their own stories, etc. It has been great in the comics branch of the company.

And yet, now that the comics have a plentiful array of characters to choose from and highlight in their films, they continue to pass them over. Even more worrisome, they have brought to the screen many characters who are out and proud in the comics, but completely skip over their sexualities when it comes time to feature them on screen.

Black Panther, released this February to great acclaim and box office receipts, cut a scene with two members of the Dora Milaje flirting with each other. One of them, Ayo, has had a queer storyline for her in two various Black Panther based comics, the titular series and World of Wakanda. Writer for the latter, Roxanne Gay, found the cut scene very disappointing, saying “Even when great progress is made, some marginalized groups are told to wait, are told, not yet, are told, let’s do this first and then we will get to you. And we are also told we’re asking too much, that we should be grateful for what progress is being made. But I don’t buy into that. It would have been incredible and so gratifying to see a queer black woman in what will likely be the biggest movie of the year. Alas, not yet.”

Valkryie in Thor: Ragnarok, released last November, has been queer in the comics for years, becoming a key part of her constant storylines in the comics. However, in the blockbuster film, there was no mention or insinuation of her sexuality. In fact, Tessa Thompson, the actress who portrays her, has recently come out as bisexual herself, but her character remains silent.

Jeff Feige was asked, point blank, if future Marvel films would feature an out queer character. He responded by saying multiple ones would be featured, “both ones you’ve seen and ones you haven’t seen.” Many believe that Valkryie is one of the characters that will get an out queer storyline in the future, but we have yet to see or hear and traction.

Feige’s response is the perfect example of the LGBTQ+ representation in films. They say it’s coming. They hint at it being present in upcoming films. Sometimes, they skirt around the question, so people can create these elaborate answers in their head, even though they confirmed absolutely nothing in reality. Disney has been doing this for years and even more so in recent memory. Looking forward into the upcoming slate of films, I’m personally not sure if it will even come to fruition.

Just like mentioned Roxanne Gay’s quote above, the LGBTQ+ community has been told to wait, be patient, and look towards the future for decades now. The community isn’t asking for a lot from Disney, either. They just want an out and proud character to be on screen after that iconic Disney title card plays at the beginning of the film.

My worry is that we’ll be waiting for a while. With the current administration in office and the “political aura” surrounding this country, representation has become a weapon. Will saying someone’s gay, or highlighting a narrative from a person of color, or having a woman lead a major storyline cause half of our Trump voting public to boycott the film?

These worries should not be present. Disney should know their own strengths and pursue highlighting these marginalized voices of the LGBTQ+ community in films, especially considering that they are one of the largest media conglomerates on earth and, simultaneously, one of the strongest LGBTQ+ allies in the world. Disney is “hella gay,” yes, but embracing that feeling of compassion, representation, and lifting up one another through LGBTQ+ storylines in their films would make Disney even gayer and would make me, as a queer Disney fan, even prouder. Here’s to the future of multiple sexualities in Disney films and multiple individuals around the world feeling safer knowing that Disney supports their truth.

“Love, Simon” and My Ferris Wheel of Emotions

Before anything, with the Disney-Fox merger purchase becoming closer to official everyday, I am including this post about the Fox 2000 film, Love, Simon, on the BOP. Some spoilers for the film are below. Proceed with caution.

There is a moment in Love, Simon where the titular character writes to Blue (as his alter ego, Jacques) and discusses his feelings about coming out so late in his public school career. I’m paraphrasing, but he wonders if it’s even worth the trouble. He’s held in his biggest secret, arguably the biggest a person can have, for so long, what is another school year?

I’m not a crier in movies, so this idea didn’t affect me in the moment. I did fully tear up when Simon’s dad confronted his son with his own realizations and apologies, but that was the extent. However, I left the film with a lot of emotions. I’d never felt like this before, weighed down by what a film had said during its runtime. I had this odd sensation for the 2 hours after viewing that I could breakdown and cry at any point.

Trying to figure out why exactly I felt this way led me back to that specific email Simon sends to the elusive Blue. I resonated. I knew I was gay. The entire world knew I was gay. It was as obvious as the color of the White House. And yet, something held me back my senior year. I felt, deep down, like the time was arising. All these emotions had bubbled up inside me. Many late-night thinking sessions when I was trying to sleep kept telling me to just say those two words: I’m gay. Then, Simon’s thoughts (before I knew they were his) seeped in. Why ruin senior year? The word brings so much hatred your way, do you want to ruin the normalcy of your high school career? Why would you do this.

What Simon had to deal with once his emails were leaked was my worry, and probably remains the worry of every other closeted high school student in the world. Will the bickering get worse? Will the “faggot” comments ever stop? It’s a stressful time.

When his core group of friends get mad at him for creating tension in their friend group, I didn’t understand it. He messed things up, and that was horrible, but do they have no sympathy for his experience, too? Leah, his best friend, says he could have handled him being gay, but not a liar. Imagine being blackmailed about something you can’t explain to your friends without breaking down. They couldn’t even kind of understand where Simon is coming from?

That seems to be a large issue involved in the coming out process, and this movie brings up a lot of interesting points. The Coming Out process of an individual is not one for others to decide upon. No one should be “outed,” no matter the reasoning. On top of that, individuals should realize that when someone is ready to come out, they will. So blaming someone on the grounds of “you should have just told me” is weird and a bit uncalled for.

I, like many other gay teens, felt the same way. Anytime someone even mentioned the word in regards to my sexuality, I went on the defensive. I got angry at friends for bringing it up. People made fun of me on social media and in person and all I could do was “uh huh” and walk away. Someone once handed me a picture of a penis in the hallway at school and said “I know you like those,” and I couldn’t react without a fear of being seen as a faggot for issuing a rebuttal. So, the idea of being outed is a devastating one, especially in this case.

Blue’s first entry to announce his sexuality to the world, anonymously of course, really spoke to this experience. “Sometimes I feel like I’m stuck on a ferris wheel. One minute I’m on top of the world, then the next I’m rock bottom.”

It’s an idea that stays consistent throughout the entire film and really hits home about the high school experience of being in the closet. You forget in the craziness of senior year what you’re hiding, but then you get a moment alone and it all seeps back in.

The movie ends on a glorious note. We see Simon finally unite with Blue. We see a beautiful kiss at the top of the ferris wheel. My audience cheered loudly. I smiled and ruminated. Simon got what he deserved. A boyfriend, a group of friends that love him, and a kiss that he can cherish for the rest of his life.

I came out in college, as I couldn’t stand the thought of what would happen if I officially said something in high school. I didn’t get the high school boyfriend. I didn’t get the driving around the suburbs late at night with iced coffee talking and jamming. I didn’t get the ferris wheel moment, and yet, I still left the movie feeling hopeful.

After coming out, I felt trapped between being stereotyped and my need to stay in hiding, even though I was finally being true to myself. However, like Jennifer Garner says, you leave with the ability to exhale. You’ve dealt with sadness and secrets for your whole life, and now, you can finally enjoy and be present.

I left Love, Simon ready to head to the top of the ferris wheel,  and to search for my own iced coffee person, my own Blue.

So, thanks to everyone involved with Love, Simon for making the movie that I wish I had when I was younger, but also the movie I am glad I have now.

Andi Mack’s LGBTQ Storyline Is Revealed

Thursday the news broke that Andi Mack would be receiving the first coming-out storyline in the history of Disney Channel (or any live-action American kids show, for that matter). I saw the headline and knew that it had to be Cyrus.

If you’ve watched the show at all (which you really must, as it’s fantastic), you probably guessed Cyrus would be receiving the storyline as well. I was hoping it would happen as I watched Season 1, as all signs pointed to it. Joshua Rush, the actor who plays Cyrus, was adding quirks here and there that I absolutely related to every time I caught them. The excitement of having a girlfriend, even when you knew it wasn’t in a attraction way. Feeling super awkward around the cute popular guys. Never understand “bro” stuff. Feeling super self-conscious being called girly. He played every one of those situations with great finesse, but also with an underlying understanding that there was more to Cyrus than what was being said aloud.

Friday night Andi Mack returned for a 2nd season with an hour-long premiere. The moment occurred about 20 minutes in and once Buffy sat across from Cyrus at The Spoon, I knew it was coming. The music stopped. The emotions were high. Take a look:

I didn’t expect to cry, but I did. A lot. I don’t think a tear has rolled down my cheek in at least 3 years. It was a combination of so many things. It was knowing that so many kids will watch this and it will help them realize something about themselves. It was being proud that Disney was the one to break this ground for a children’s program. It was relating to that moment. It was seeing that strong support system from Buffy (the fab Sofia Wylie) was in place. It was hearing “You’re No Different.”

The cast of the show has been using social media to express support for the storyline and understand the weight of this monumental scene. They’ve been using #YoureNoDifferent and that is such a strong message within this context for the network.

I was stunned at how much weight the moment had within the episode and how it was handled. Joshua’s answer to “Do you like Andi?” was so powerful that it hit me like a brick wall. It had so much behind it. That feeling of knowing that the truth is about to come out, and the reaction from the person could go very wrong very fast, but not being able to say anything in response. It was fantastic. He couldn’t even get the word “no” out of his mouth, as he didn’t want to say anything that could insinuate anything to Buffy.

Buffy’s comforting, yet forceful “You’ll be okay. I promise,” made the tears flow even faster. He has a strong support system in place which will make this personal journey for him so much easier.

Later in the episode, they touched on some topics that excite me for the rest of the season. They touched on competing for the same boy (in a light hearted way). Cyrus brought up having a “cover-up” girlfriend, or rather, just getting a girlfriend when he’s coming to terms with his own sexuality. Buffy realized, very quickly, that the coming out process isn’t a one-and-done situation and he’ll have to be patient with Cyrus as he comes to terms with himself more and more. It was all superbly done.

I know that if I saw this as a tween, I don’t think I would’ve been as combative. I wouldn’t have felt the need to suppress the word for years, even though I knew, deep down, it was true. I would’ve found my own Buffy, gone to her, and helped be my true self.

I didn’t expect to feel so proud of a character or so emotional. I am not one to cry over things, but I’ve cried three times over the scene. THREE.

I hate saying the word proud in these cases, as I have no relation to these cast members or “ownership” of the show, however I can’t find a better word to describe my feelings. I am so proud of the cast and crew of Andi Mack for tackling this storyline. I’m proud of Terri Minsky for making sure this aired on Disney Channel. I’m proud of Disney for airing it and bringing in GLAAD and other LGBTQ representation groups to work on getting the plot just right. I’m proud of Joshua Rush and Sofia Wylie for being at the forefront of this storyline and being incredible at revealing all the emotions surrounding it time and time again. I’m just proud.

I’m looking forward to the conversations this will bring up. I’m looking forward to see how this plotline continues. I’m looking forward to crying more.

 

 

 

 

The Importance of Ellen’s Energy Adventure (Yeah, I know)

Ellen’s Energy Adventure will be closing on August 13th to make way for a new Guardians of the Galaxy thrill ride. This is a lose-lose situation for me as I don’t like Guardians (I can hear you yelling already. I’ve tried and I can’t get into a franchise where a planet is a villain. Sorry ’bout it.) and Ellen’s Energy Adventure is my favorite attraction.

You heard me. Ellen’s Energy Adventure is my favorite ride.

The ride system is incredible and never ceases to blow my mind. A theater that spins 180 degrees, then moves in tandem into dinosaur show scenes, breaks apart into individual cars through the diorama, then joins together again. There’s nothing else like it in the world and it’s spectacular.

Now, I understand Universe of Energy is more beloved, but I adore the script and humor of Ellen’s Energy Adventure. Yes, the film is incredibly outdated (Stop yelling at me, I can hear you!). I mean, she uses a cell phone with an antenna. It’s rough. Yet, the humor never gets old for me. I always laugh at “Stupid Judy” or “The Piggy Bank? The Ding Dang?” or when she goes to punch Bill Nye after he continues to speak after drenching her. It has some truly hilarious moments. “Sorry Ellen, we were looking for something more than just an embellishment of what I had already said.” It’s just so good!

Besides my love for the attraction itself and the humor and how it’s the greatest pre-show in the history of Disney World don’t @ me, it has the importance of representation, as well.

Ellen’s Energy Adventure opened on June 14th, 1996, at the height of her titular sitcom’s success on ABC. In April 1997, however, was the infamous Puppy Episode. Just hitting it’s 20-year milestone 4 months ago, the episode featured Ellen’s big coming out moment, instantly becoming an iconic TV moment and a huge ratings success. Immediately after the success, however, Ellen’s career took a hard nose dive. Her revealing her sexuality caused her to not get work for months, even years, after the episode aired. She didn’t get back to her earlier success until her daytime talk show premiered in 2003.

Think about it (“You’re in your car, you’re driving and I just pop up behind you and go HEY!” Oh, sorry, that’s more quotes. Continue.), during her downfall being shunned by all media for her sexuality, Ellen’s Energy Adventure remained open. The ride hadn’t even been open for a year before her coming out, and yet, Disney kept it open, despite the backlash it’s star was facing.

For the past 21 years, the lead in an attraction at a Disney theme park has been and out and proud lesbian. That is pretty remarkable. Looking at current “Celebrities in Disney Rides,” Rosie O’Donnell still leads up the Boudin Bakery Tour, but now in a smaller role and not with the same impact a ride has had. Unless I am mistaken, everyone else is straight. Having that representation at the Most Magical Place on Earth is comforting. It shows many that being gay is not a disease or an illness, but something that is normal, something to be proud of, and something that allows you to hang out with Bill Nye on a trip to the Big Bang.

Ellen’s Energy Adventure, I will always love you. I will see you on August 12th to pay my respects, take photos against your beautiful tile mural, and leave a high efficiency light bulb on your reflection pool. Stupid Judy, Ellen. *wipes tear away*. Stupid Judy.

 

Looking Back at LeFou’s Coming Out Craziness

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.