Disney’s New Gay Character – PR Hit or Miss?
It’s not that Disney hasn’t had characters with some gay subtext before. They have; in fact, several of their villains seem to nod to a less than straight life, but LeFou, Gaston’s somewhat prancing and foolish (his name actually means the fool or madman) sidekick is the first character that is openly gay and making his debut in the newest release of Beauty and the Beast.
The show recently aired in Russia and was almost banned because of the character and negative PR associated with the movie. The problem, well, LeFou is not a “full” character but rather a parody with his effeminate ways providing a counterpart to Gaston’s more “masculine” and aggressive character. LGBT commentators said LeFou was pathetic rather than heroic and spends all his time entranced with the villain of the story.
It should be noted that LeFou’s sexual orientation is more of a side note in the story, but it still made enough headlines in Russia that it caused a PR dustup and almost got the show banned there. Though the director, Bill Condon, praised Disney for their bravery in choosing to use a character that represents same-sex attraction, that’s not the story in the news, which declared LeFou more of a homophobic stereotype. Condon is homosexual and took great satisfaction in Disney’s agreement to what he and many others consider a step forward.
At the March 2nd premiere, Josh Gad, the actor who plays LeFou, said: “There was nothing in the script that said ‘LeFou is gay.’ I think [his sexuality] has been a little overstated.” When the reviews came out the next day, the issue was almost non-existent. The Vulture’s critic said the “exclusively gay moment” lasted all of two seconds with LeFou dancing with another man in a crowd scene. Otherwise, it was not apparent.
Still, as low-key as the scene was, one of Russia’s politicians requested that the Minister of Culture ban Beauty and the Beast because it promotes “gay propaganda.” Ultimately, Russia decided not to ban the movie but restricted it to viewers over the age of 16, which may be a problem since that’s not usually Disney’s princess movies’ primary target audience.
The most interesting talk coming out of this in the US seems to center more on the possibilities for other Disney franchises such as LucasFilm (Star Wars) and the Marvel Comics brands. Both of those focus on an older and more trendy audience, so they could easily fit LGBT characters into their upcoming projects.