When Disney announced that LeFou, played by Josh Gad, was going to be gay in the new live-action version of Beauty and The Beast, there were many mixed reactions. Some countries went as far as to ban the movie, while others in the LGBTQ community rejoiced. However, some members of the LGBTQ community weren't so happy. They were afraid that homosexual LeFou was going to do a poor job of representing gay characters.
In this post, I am going to discuss the concerns about LeFou representing homosexuality, what his character was like in the movie, and whether his portrayal was positive or negative.
Fears About LeFou Before The Movie
First and foremost, if you weren't aware, LeFou's name translates to "The Fool." Right away this isn't exactly the best representation of a gay character. There is also the fact that LeFou is technically a villain. Again, this isn't exactly painting gay people in a positive image. These two aspects may be subtle and a little picky, but there were bigger concerns as well.
The most obvious fact is that LeFou's love in unrequited. He is presumably in love with a straight man who will never return his affection. To make things worse, Gatson is a bully. The only reason he has LeFou around is to bolster his own self esteem. He constantly belittles and ridicules LeFou. Some LGBTQ fans were also worried that his sexuality was going to be made into a joke by Gatson and the other villagers.
On top of all of this, many assumed that LeFou was going to get a tragic ending, that he would end up being alone and bitter due to his treatment and requited love. Normally, this scenario would portray a sad and stereotypical outcome for a gay character. If the movie had turned out this way, I admit that it would have been an extremely negative image of homosexuality. It would have been especially upsetting considering LeFou is going to be many children's first interaction with a gay character.
However, the movie didn't quite turn out this way. I believe that Disney did a good job of avoiding these pitfalls. Here's why.
LeFou's Character and Representation of Homosexuality (Beware of spoilers!)
Although Disney made it clear that LeFou's character was gay, the movie was pretty subtle about it. LeFou never directly admits that he is homosexual or that he has feelings for Gatson. Instead, there are hints placed throughout the movie. For example, LeFou is clingy when it comes to Gatson. He hangs on his every word, likes to stay physically close to him, and has a tendency to stare at him. He also makes some comments that show he might be interested in Gatson as more than a friend. These clues are probably obvious enough to most adults, but may go over the heads of some children.
In addition to this, The writers in the movie made some changes to LeFou's character that help make him a little more positive. Firstly, he isn't as blatantly evil as in the cartoon. Although he was Gatson's second in the original film, it seemed as though cartoon LeFou took pleasure in his wrongdoings. Conversely, in the live-action film, although he eventually buckles, LeFou is usually hesitant to do some of the malicious actions Gatson partakes in, such as tying Maurice to a tree. He actually questions Gatson about this, and tries to convince him to go back and free Maurice. Unlike in the animation movie, LeFou shows a conscience.
There was another huge difference in LeFou's character that I believe made all of the difference in his representation of homosexuality. By the end of the movie, LeFou realizes that Gatson is treating him terribly. When the villagers and residents of the castle are fighting, LeFou gets pinned under a large object. Instead of helping him, Gatson decides to run off and play the hero. Not long after this, LeFou temporarily pairs up with with Ms. Potts to defeat some of the angry villagers. While they are fighting together, LeFou mentions that him and Gatson are "having some problems." To this, Ms. Potts replies, "You are too good for him anyway." LeFou agrees.
Here LeFou is standing up for himself and realizing that Gatson isn't worth his time or affection. This critical moment saves LeFou's character from all of the concerns mentioned above. Yes, he is still a gay character that has unrequited love for a bully, which is unfortunate. But at the same time, he is showing that he isn't a fool (nor are other homosexual people).
Just like in the original movie, Gatson dies due to his cowardly actions. However, LeFou isn't seen crying or feeling depressed, as some fans feared. Instead, in the ending scene, it shows LeFou happily dancing among the other characters at a banquet. And as the movie ends, we see a man come up to LeFou and start dancing with him. It is possible new love interest, and shows that LeFou was able to move on without Gatson utterly ruining his life.
So, A Good Or Bad Representation?
Was it the best, most positive representation of a gay character? Not exactly.
Some of the negative aspects of LeFou's characters were stil intact, such as his willingness to be Gatson's puppy and do questionable things. At the same time, however, the writers did an excellent job of making sure Lefou didn't succumb to any of the possible tragic outcomes that many fans feared. He stood up for himself, moved on from his abusive relationship, and became a better person.
So it may not be the best representation of homosexuality, but it wasn't a negative portrayal either. Disney was able to take a villainous character and keep some of his bad qualities, but reworked that character to provide a positive message to the audience.
One question people may ask is, "Should they have been more direct about his homosexuality?" This is a complicated question. I believe they could have been, but they were probably worried about the potential backlash. At the same time, though, the fact that Disney, the most influential and popular children's entertainment company in the world, even decided to include a gay character (subtle or unsubtle) is a big step in the right direction. Children need to be exposed to gay characters so that homosexuality can become more normalized.
And perhaps LeFou can the first of many steps on the road to showing the world positive gay characters. The movie also had other positive messages about feminism, interracial couples, and accepting one another for our differences. If you are interested in any of these elements, or are simply a fan of the original, I highly recommend seeing this movie.
If you would like to read more of my writing about LGBTQ issues in pop culture, check out my anime blog and go to the section entitled "Yuri + LGBTQA."