Disney first: Live-action 'Beauty and the Beast' remake to feature openly gay character

The character's subplot will be a big moment for Disney, which has held off from creating openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) characters in its films for decades. 

Joel Ryan/Invision/AP
Actors (from l.) Luke Evans, Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Stanley Tucci, and Audra McDonald pose for photographers during a photo call for the film 'Beauty And The Beast' in London last week.

The upcoming live-action remake of "Beauty and the Beast" appears set to become the first Disney film to feature an openly gay character, according to director Bill Condon. Reportedly, the film will feature a side-plot with a small but "exclusively gay moment" involving (mild spoiler ahead) the character LeFou.

In the original 1991 film, LeFou is the comic sidekick to iconic hyper-masculine villain Gaston. The live-action version of LeFou will be played by actor Josh Gad, who is most well known for his prior collaboration with Disney as the voice of the snowman Olaf in "Frozen."

"LeFou is somebody who on one day wants to be Gaston and on another day wants to kiss Gaston," Mr. Condon told the British magazine Attitude. "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."

The gay subplot will be a big moment for Disney, which has resisted creating openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) characters in its films for decades. But in recent years, with public opinion on homosexuality shifting in an increasingly positive direction, many fans have been putting pressure on the studio to include non-heterosexual characters. The Christian Science Monitor’s Story Hinckley reported on some of this fan pressure in May 2016:

"Frozen" fans have made #GiveElsaAGirlfriend viral on social media in the past week, asking Disney to make Elsa the first-ever lesbian Disney princess in "Frozen 2."....

Part of the initial success of "Frozen" was its twist on the traditional happily-ever-after ending that pairs a princess with a prince. Instead, the movie elevated the love between two sisters as its redeeming message. The storyline continued a new trend in Disney films that feature strong female protagonists who transcend traditional stereotypes, such as the main character in "Sofia the First," and the feisty Scottish princess Merida in "Brave." 

But to some Disney fans the narrative shift could go even further by giving Elsa a love interest in "Frozen 2" that could provide LGBT youth with a mainstream model of a same-sex relationship.

For now, however, #GiveElsaAGirlfriend fans will have to make do with the Beauty and the Beast subplot.

"It may have been a long time coming but this is a watershed moment for Disney," Attitude's editor-in-chief Matt Cain told the publication. "By representing same-sex attraction in this short but explicitly gay scene, the studio is sending out a message that this is normal and natural – and this is a message that will be heard in every country of the world, even countries where it’s still socially unacceptable or even illegal to be gay."

And while including an openly gay character is likely to stir up some controversy, it is not the only way the upcoming film hopes to push the Disney formula’s traditional social boundaries.

When the original "Beauty and the Beast" came out, the character of the protagonist, Belle, was hailed as one of the most complex characters yet within the "Disney princesses" archetype. But the upcoming film hopes to carry this progressive characterization of a female protagonist even further, providing an even more practical and self-reliant Belle for girls to relate to, according to star Emma Watson.

"We tried to tweak things [from the animated film] to make her more proactive, and a bit less carried along by the story," Ms. Watson told Entertainment Weekly, "and a bit more in charge of – and in control of – her own destiny."

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