How to Fix That ‘Exclusively Gay Moment’ in ‘Beauty and the Beast’
Ah, remember just three weeks ago when we all thought Disney was about to introduce the studio’s first openly gay character? Director Bill Condon said his live-action Beauty and the Beast remake would feature a character having an “exclusively gay moment,” and described Josh Gad‘s LeFou as someone who both wants to be Gaston (Luke Evans), and kiss Gaston. Then critics saw the movie and found no openly gay character in sight. The investigation continues into what exactly an “exclusively gay moment” is – if anyone has figured it out, please let me know – but it’s certainly not whatever happened at the end of Beauty and the Beast.
At the end of the film – spoiler alert, I guess? – Audra McDonald’s wardrobe stops three men from the village and dresses them up in pouffy gowns, wigs, and makeup. Two of them react in horror, but one lets out a smile. A few scenes later, when Belle (Emma Watson) is reunited with her Beast (Dan Stevens) in human form, everyone in the castle celebrates with a dance. That’s when this big ol’ gay moment happens: Gad’s LeFou shares a dance with that villager from the wardrobe scene. Last time I checked, two men dancing for a whopping three seconds isn’t an exclusively homosexual act. (Also last time I checked, a man wearing feminine clothing has nothing to do with his sexual preferences.)
It was a disappointment, albeit one that had as much to do with Condon’s comments as the film itself. (The director told me his quotes had been “overblown,” but more on that later.) But I’ve got a solution to Disney’s totally-not-gay gay moment. If the studio really wanted to be progressive and introduce the first openly gay character into the canon, this is what that ending should have revealed: LeFou and Gaston used to be a couple. Allow me to explain.
At the end of Beauty and the Beast we learn that the witch who cursed the young Prince also cursed Belle’s quiet village. When the Beast and his servants became enchanted, the town lost their memories of them. Mrs. Potts’ husband (and Chip’s father) Mr. Potts, for example, had completely forgotten his family existed. It was only once Belle broke the spell that the townsfolk finally woke up and remembered their old lives. So what if Gaston also forgot about his former lover?
It’s no surprise that LeFou has a giant crush on his studly pal. Gad plays into the character’s queerness by continually fawning over Gaston, rubbing his shoulders and massaging his ears, and winking at him while praising his good looks during the “Gaston” number. Gaston’s flattered by LeFou’s flirtation, but he also rejects LeFou to turn his sights on the girls drooling over him, although he admits he’s bored by them. When LeFou is sweet towards him, Gaston becomes aggressively masculine in response – this is a guy who defines his manliness by how much protein he consumes and how far he can spit. So why keep LeFou, an effeminate man who clearly has a thing for Gaston, around when he could instead acquire a posse of equally cocky, hyper-masculine bros? Because Gaston and LeFou are in love, of course.
Here’s the theory I worked out in my head while watching Beauty and the Beast. Gaston has always had feelings for LeFou, and maybe the two had a romantic relationship in the past. But being the egomaniac he is, he’s long been afraid of what people will think and if the other guys will accept him. So he represses his sexuality and overcompensates by spewing toxic masculinity. It’s the age-old story of the closeted homophobe. Eventually when the witch casts her spell, Gaston completely forgets his love for LeFou, which is why LeFou tries to remind him with subtle flirtatious winks and back rubs.
Think about it. The witch enchanted the village to teach the Beast a lesson about loving people for who they are on the inside. That makes Gaston a perfect target for the witch’s moral mission, and would be great way to turn this story about heterosexual romance into one about the repressions and stigmas surrounding homosexuality. This isn’t entirely new to Beauty and the Beast either. The original 1991 story was also about outcasts and being demonized for their difference. It’s long been rumored that original lyricist Howard Ashman wrote the music as a metaphor for the AIDS crisis, and Condon told me his version also speaks to the experience of being treated like an outsider. Instead of throwing the queer community a bone by overselling a sorta-queer-curious sidekick, Disney could have used the metaphor of the original to say something bold about minorities and queer identity.
I’ll admit, there are some issues with this theory. Writing a gay character as a villain has long been a problematic and lazy trope in Hollywood, and it wouldn’t be a great look for Disney to make their first openly gay character a bad guy. Another issue is that the witch’s curse technically only makes the villagers forget the people who lived and worked inside the castle. The theory would make more sense with a few more lines explaining how the curse could also affect others, or if Gaston was in love with one of the male servants in the castle (or maybe even the Beast - if their relationship ended badly, that might explain why he’s so angry about this Beast guy he’s never met). Of course, Gaston also dies at the end of Beauty and the Beast – but hey, maybe the curse lifts before he crashes to the ground and realizes that yes, true love is worth living for.
But in all honesty, making LeFou and Gaston lovers isn’t the ideal solution to fixing Beauty and the Beast’s “exclusively gay moment.” The solution is writing explicitly LGBTQ characters. The fact that I came up with this wild theory is proof of just how far queer audiences have to go to find themselves on screen. LGBTQ audiences have long had to peel past layers and decipher queer-coding to find ourselves reflected in movies. So often I’ve watched studio movies and come up with theories for maybe how this or that character could be read as queer.
Watching Beauty and the Beast felt a lot like watching Star Trek Beyond last summer, where it was also revealed ahead of time that the film would feature a gay character. I watched that movie like a queer Sherlock Holmes, digging over each scene with a magnifying glass for some hint of Sulu’s sexuality. (For the record, it’s only suggested in one scene where Sulu reunites with his husband and daughter, though his husband is never introduced as such.)
When studios do finally decide to write queer characters, their sexuality and gender identity shouldn’t be dependent on a director or actor clarifying it in an interview, it should speak for itself. It would’ve been a nice little surprise to see an actual gay character or couple in Beauty and the Beast. Till then I’ll just be over here wearing my queer detective goggles, waiting to scrutinize the next “exclusively gay moment.”