Disney continues its crusade for inclusivity in the movies with today’s revelation that one of the supporting characters in the live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast, out March 17, is gay. The movie’s director Bill Condon recently told the magazine Attitude that Gaston’s sidekick LeFou, played by Josh Gad, will be 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.“ Though LeFou’s subplot is a classic tale of unrequited love, Condon promises that it pays off in the end, calling his happy ending an “exclusively gay moment.”
While Disney has alluded to gay characters in their movies in the past, the film house has never confirmed any of its characters to be homosexual. In 2013, fans of Frozen speculated that Queen Elsa’s character arc was a metaphor for coming out, and one Twitter user even created the hashtag #GiveElsaAGirlfriend to encourage Disney to make Elsa their first lesbian princess in a sequel. Similar fan fiction surrounded Finding Dory, when many speculated a pair of female aquarium visitors handling one stroller was a lesbian couple, as a tribute to Ellen Degeneres, the voice of Dory. That was disproven, however.
In terms of the remake overall, Condon has pointed to Beauty and the Beast’s original lyricist Howard Ashman’s battle with AIDS as the inspiration. “Specifically for him it was a metaphor for AIDS,” Condon explained. “He was cursed and this curse had brought sorrow on all those people who loved him and maybe there was a chance for a miracle and a way for the curse to be lifted.” Ashman died from complications related to AIDS in 1991, just a few days after the film’s first screening.
LeFou’s presence in the film is a big step toward increased representation in the entertainment industry, where romantic plot lines in mainstream cinema are still almost exclusively between straight people. Indie movie Moonlight’s surprise best picture win at the Oscars was a watershed moment for the gay community, even if it was overshadowed by the night’s envelope gaffe. Combined with Disney now featuring a fairy tale that includes at least one gay person, the industry is tipping more in favor of a movement to include—and celebrate—narratives about LGBTQ characters in all types of films.
Though LeFrou is only a supporting character, normalizing the existence of gay characters can hopefully lead to fantasy films being helmed by them—especially films targeted at Disney’s young audiences, who see few gay love stories in animation and G-rated pictures. A growing presence of LGBT characters in films for young people may even teach children to reject homophobic ideas early on. For kids who may be questioning their sexuality, seeing people like them in the movies is always an empowering symbolic gesture.
Any by the way, that’s not the only political statement the film is making. In an earlier interview, Emma Watson told Entertainment Weekly that Belle invents a machine that does chores for the girls in her village, giving them time to learn how to read, adding a decidedly feminist twist to an already history-making film.