In this Highsnobiety op-ed, Maxwell Barna explores the recent controversy of Disney including a gay moment in their live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast, and explains why it's great it's happening, and why there's no reason to kick up a fuss.
With Disney's live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast hitting theaters just last week, it still seems the only thing people want to talk about is that the movie’s director, Bill Condon, dropped the news a few weeks back that there’d be an "exclusively gay moment" in the film, where LeFou (played by Josh Gad) realizes he may have romantic feelings for Gaston (Luke Evans). Apparently, this is a big first for the folks at Disney.
It's great news that Disney – one of the leading family-oriented film studios – is diving into this territory, but the fact that it's making so many headlines and catching so much ire is just…disappointing?
Focusing On The Important Issues
I mean, let’s not even bother commenting on the film’s incredible screen writing or beautiful cinematography. Why bother with the things that matter, like the star-studded cast that includes the likes of Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Ewan McGregor, Kevin Kline and a plethora of others? Who gives a shit that we’re continuing to see a wonderful upswing in strong, talented, and beautiful women in leading protagonist roles?
Oh, and for the conservative ethicists out there who morally oppose the movie because of Condon’s announcement, let’s just completely ignore the fact that this classic fairytale has now received not one, but two remakes from Disney without even the slightest hint of disapproval for the fact that the story’s protagonist, a human, essentially develops and carries on a romantic relationship with what is basically an animal.
None of that matters, because at some point or another in the film, two men ended up doing something deemed gay, which was enough for theaters to announce their boycott of the film.
The movie itself is peppered with innuendo surrounding LeFou and Gaston. For instance, at one point, Mrs. Potts (the female-gendered teakettle who acts as head housekeeper at Beast’s castle) apparently tells LeFou that he deserves better than Gaston, while at another point, Gaston asks LeFou why he hasn’t settled down with a woman, and LeFou jokes that he’s too clingy.
But the “exclusively gay” scene occurs when LeFou and one of Gaston's henchmen share a very, very brief dance.
As a cisgendered male who won’t pretend I have a right to be offended by this, I’m going to go ahead and say I’m damn offended by the idea that people have made a big deal about two men sharing a dance scene in a movie, and that it’s even being considered a historic and exclusively gay moment.
Honestly, are they kidding? That was the best they could do? That is why we should be excited or upset? Pardon my lack of enthusiasm, but even for Disney, that’s weak.
#BoycottDisney and the Aftermath
Where I stand, this scene isn’t a very big deal. I’m sorry, and I do understand that in the grand scheme of Disney’s films, this might be a momentous occasion (sort of, but I’ll get to that later), but two men dancing with each other for a split second at the very end of a movie isn’t that crazy. Y’all ever seen Brokeback Mountain? Because I did. All two hours and 15 minutes of it.
As one would expect, the backlash from the conservative right-wing Disney community (because that has to be a thing, right?) has been pretty far-reaching. The social media vitriol poured in following the announcement, and it’s…well, you can read some of it for yourself:
As of writing this piece, the film’s release has been postponed in Malaysia by the country’s censorship board because being gay is still illegal in the majority Muslim country, and the scene might not pass its cultural standards tests. To Disney's credit, they're refusing to recut the film for release there, despite a request from censors.
It’s faced similar criticism in Russia. Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky told the BBC that the film would receive a screening prior to release to make sure it doesn’t constitute “gay propaganda,” which is evidently still a thing in Russia. Since making his statement, the film did receive approval for showing in Russia, but children 16 and under are prohibited from viewing it.
The scene is even getting grief from some critics in the LGBT community. In his weekly column for Out, Michael Musto asked if the scene was actually a step backward, noting that LeFou’s passive, if not closeted feelings toward Gaston, a hunky “hetero stud,” does nothing more than to play up an age old stereotype about gay men that harkens back to the “self-loathing days.”
To say the reviews of the scene have been “mixed” is putting it lightly.
So, Why Did They Do It?
Critics and fans alike are questioning Disney’s intentions with the scene. Are they trying to push that gosh darn liberal agenda we all keep hearing so much about from the right? Or, perhaps they’re trying to exploit the circumstances for some added media coverage in the lead up to the film’s release?
It didn’t take long at all for reactionaries on both ends of the LGBT divide to form their own hypotheses. That’s exactly why, here and now, I’d like to proffer my own:
Perhaps the small plot line dedicated to LeFou and Gaston’s potential same-sex romance was put there for no other reason at all than to demonstrate that people who are gay are just as human and common as straight people; that they are no more ordinary or extraordinary than anyone else. Inadvertently however we’ve all proven a point to Condon that even when we say LGBT people are treated with and worthy of the same respect, it’s not actually true. All it's taken is a passive statement saying there might be a somewhat gay scene in a movie for everyone to start freaking out, as we are apparently likely to do even in this day and age.
A Long Time Coming for Disney
For such a classically American brand with fans across the political spectrum, the Walt Disney Company is showing its progressiveness when it comes to gay rights and giving the LGBT community a voice on its platform.
Fans praised the company last year when it was discovered that they supposedly featured a lesbian couple in the film Finding Dory. However, critics gave the company flack when they refused to acknowledge the couple. Instead, co-director Andrew Stanton told USA Today in an interview, “They can be whatever you want them to be. There’s no right or wrong answer.”
Disney gained more credibility with the LGBT community just a couple short weeks ago when, not one but two animated same-sex couples kissed during an episode of one of its animated series, Star vs. The Forces of Evil.
But even then, they’re only cartoons. The “gay moment” that took place between Gaston and LeFou is the first time the company has openly broadcast same-sex relationships on such a massive stage. As far as I’m concerned, in 2017, it’s way, way overdue.
Of course, it’s receiving plenty of love and support from the LGBT community and its allies, too. Condon, himself a gay man, told Variety the scene was “a lovely little sprinkling,” and that he was excited about. “I don’t want to give too much away because I think it’s part of a whole celebration of love, but Disney’s been great about it,” he said. “That’s the thing; the whole ethic of that company is inclusion."
Josh Gad told Variety that he was proud to be an integral figure in this historic Disney moment, stating “as subtle as it is, I do think it’s going to be effective and I do think it’s important.”
Since the reveal, however, Condon has gone on the record saying his statements about the scene have been way, way overblown, and that he hopes audiences don’t make too big a deal of it. You'll just have to head to the theaters yourself and see it.