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PR stunt: There’s no ‘openly gay’ character in Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast

I’m annoyed. Instead of telling you how outstanding the live-action “Beauty and the Beast” remake is (and yes, it’s outstanding and the best movie I’ve seen so far this year), I’m warning you not to buy into the publicity stunt that claims the film includes Disney’s first openly gay character. This is disingenuous at best; it’s exploitative and offensive at worst.

Last week, Variety touted the news, including an excerpt from the film’s director, Bill Condon.

“LeFou [played by Josh Gad] is somebody who, on one day, wants to be Gaston and on another day wants to kiss Gaston,” Condon told Attitude magazine. “He’s confused about what he wants. It’s somebody who’s just realizing that he has these feelings. And Josh makes something really subtle and delicious out of it. And that’s what has its payoff at the end, which I don’t want to give away. But it is a nice, exclusively gay moment in a Disney movie.”

Consequently, a silly drive-in theater in Alabama said they won’t be showing the show, out of respect to the owner’s religious values (a view that apparently isn’t offended by a woman falling in love with an animal).

That prompted Josh Gad, who plays LeFou, to defend the movie’s “inclusiveness.” He called the film’s “gay moment” as “subtle but incredibly effective.” It sure is subtle.

When he says gay moment, he means it. Gad is “openly gay” for about one second, if that, in a scene at the very end. He was never really “openly gay” – in fact, if this is an example of an openly gay character, then it should be deemed offensive.

Gad’s LeFou plays up every gay stereotype you can think of: comically (and lazily) effeminate, with a huge crush and pre-occupation with a “jock” straight guy. He’s not even the only gay character. There is one other who ends up dressed as a woman; that gives the character a big smile.

It all works as a goof, and I found Gad effective, but if this is supposed to be an example of Disney’s treatment of a gay character, then their view is offensive. His gayness (and the other side character’s transgender-ness) is used for comic relief, not to be seen as accepting, per se.

I can’t figure out why anyone would try to turn such throw-away scenes as some advancement for LGBTQ representation in a Disney film, unless it’s to encourage gay audiences to come to the film in droves. If true, that calculation is disturbing and misleading. “Moonlight” this isn’t.

“Beauty and the Beast” is a fun and effective remake of a classic Disney film. It should be seen and judged for that, not by some contrived PR-stunt.

Jason and Burns on KIRO Radio 97.3 FM

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