Disney baits the bigots with ‘Beauty and the Beast’
When Bill Condon, the (gay) director of the live-action version of Beauty and the Beast, announced that Le Fou, the comic relief character played by (straight) actor Josh Gad would enjoy the first “exclusively gay moment” in a Disney film, the right wing alternative news underbelly clutched their pearls in disgust. This would be, they said, the first gay character in what should be a family-friendly musical meant for Jesus and grandkids. Boycott! Never before has Disney trawled the underbelly of the homosexual agenda!
Only, of course, that’s total horseshit.
Gad’s character — a holdover from the 1991 animated version, which most of the fundamentalist film critics probably own on VHS, DVD and Blu-ray — was always a bumbling sidekick who sycophantically praises the vain, brawny bad guy Gaston, which is about as emasculating and asexualizing as you can get. (Le Fou, by the way, means “the fool” in French — a classic role in theater.)
The live-action version, which opens wide next week, is overall darker and more textured than the sunny cartoon (it’s also 45 minutes longer). This is mature Disney. Maturity is supposed to be a plus. Not for some folks.
But it’s especially frustrating because Disney hardly has a clean slate when it comes to gay characters. Jafar? Jiminy Cricket? Ursula?!?! These are queer icons of long-standing. Why get all nose-bent now? Especially with this film, where the gay content is (as it has always been in mainstream culture) largely suggested. You need to be smart to pick up on it — something I am not overly worried about with those who are boycotting.
This Beauty and the Beast was already one of the gayest productions ever from big-ticket Hollywood, and it has little to do with Le Fou. As mentioned already, the director is gay, but it hardly stops there. The songs were co-written by the late Howard Ashman (gay). The hyper-masculine hetero Gaston is played by actor Luke Evans (gay). Ian McKellen (gay) voices the clock Cogsworth… taking over from David Ogden Stiers, who voiced the role in 1991. (Stiers: also gay.) The screenplay was co-written by YA novelist Stephen Chbosky, who has written several books that contain gay teens.
And worst of all is just how glancingly gay Le Fou actually is. This isn’t Shortbus — there is no sex scene, not even any kissing. There is only Le Fou gazing longingly at Gaston, some obtuse conversation about “what I’m looking for in a mate” and then, near the very end, Le Fou shown dancing with another man. That lasts for less than a second.
That’s it. There are shampoo commercials that air on ABC Family that have more explicit gay content.
But don’t tell the homophobes that. Once they’re told something is gay, they can’t unring that Tinkerbell.
Of course, Disney knew exactly what it was doing.
The film was always going to be a hit, just as their live action redos of animated hits — Maleficent (Sleeping Beauty) Snow White and the Huntsman, Cinderella and 101 Dalmatians — have always been. But it’s also the most daring and moody of those remakes. It’s moody and serious and could be a harder sell than something colorful and light. So why not leak a story that this movie is “Disney for adults” (or, at a minimum, Disney for folks who didn’t progress emotionally since the Spanish Inquisition), and let the bigots foot the bill for the publicity push? Bring in the curiosity-seekers. Most will spend two hours and 11 minutes waiting for the evidence. And when it comes, they will say, “Oh, that’s it? I’ve seen more inappropriate sexual behavior at a seventh-grad prom.”
I don’t really care what gets folks into paying seats. Gay or not, this Beauty and the Beast is a great movie — gorgeous, smart, emotional. And who doesn’t love a story about bestiality?
Oh, yeah — BATB has always been about that. That never seemed to bother the bigots protesting now — they must have left their bibles at home on that one.
Nothing like a spoonful of hypocrisy to make the box office receipts go down.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition MARCH 10, 2017.