To sum up this article in a sentence: LeFou doesn’t count as openly gay representation because he’s not openly gay.
LGBT Disney fans have been pleading for a queer hero for some time now. Prior to the release of the movie, fans thought that their prays might have finally been answered when director Bill Condon took to the media to reveal LeFou as Disney’s first ever openly gay character.
“LeFou is somebody who on one day wants to be Gaston and on another day wants to kiss Gaston,” Condon said. “He’s confused about what he wants. It’s somebody who’s just realizing that he has these feelings.”
“That’s what has its payoff at the end, which I don’t want to give away,” Condon added. “But it is a nice, exclusively gay moment in a Disney movie.”
Reading this, it seems like Condon is not talking about a character who is openly gay, but someone who is questioning their sexuality. That said, I was so ready for this ‘payoff,’ this ‘exclusively gay moment’ that would see LeFou realize who he is and really become a representative character in his own right.
Instead, what we got was a blink and you miss it moment after an entire movie rife with gay stereotypes.
It happens in the final ballroom scene, during one of those old timey dances that sees participants changing partners throughout the dance. In a two to three second cut – I’m not kidding – LeFou twirls his partner away and instead of a woman it’s a man. It’s possible they make eye contact. The scene is too short to be sure, because the camera quickly moves away. And that’s it.
Seriously, that’s it.
What’s more, the man LeFou ends up twirling with is the one who the wardrobe dresses up like a woman during the big battle scene. Instead of panicking and running away to protect his fragile masculinity – like the two guys he was with – this unnamed character smiles at the wardrobe and bats his eyelashes because, I don’t know, he feels right or something. Regardless, this moment was treated like a punchline.
There was so much controversy surrounding this ‘exclusively gay moment’ and so little payoff that several people who worked on the film have come out to blame the media for the conflation of what, precisely, ‘exclusive gay moment’ meant. While no one working on the project ever claimed that LeFou was even kind of open with his sexuality, or even knew what his sexuality was, to tease the first ‘exclusively gay moment’ is any Disney movie ever is to generate a ton of press, and a ton of controversy.
Bill Condon, a veteran of the film industry, had to know how that statement would be received, and he had to know that the payoff wouldn’t nearly begin to live up the expectations that he set.
Many media outlets are, somewhat begrudgingly, calling this a step in the right direction for Disney. I don’t know that I can agree. It’s a step in some direction, but between the thinly veiled transmisogyny and all around poorly handled queer subtext, I can’t say it’s a direction that Disney should be going in.
At the end of the day, this does not feel like an honest attempt by Disney to be inclusive. Rather, it feels like an attempt to generate enough media to see what kind of backlash they’d get if they did, someday, decide to be actually inclusive.
Howard Ashman’s legacy deserved better.