Okay so I know there has been a lot of buzz around the internet about the subject of LaFou, sexuality, and queer representation lately and now that I’ve seen the movie, I want to put in my two cents.
If you’ve been living under a rock for the last few weeks, many people have been talking about LeFou being gay and getting a “gay moment” at the end of the film. Vanity Fair put out an article calling the character “ a touching tribute” to Howard Ashman” Many of us LGBT+ folks are obviously not happy with this character, who is literally “the fool” being a bone that’s thrown to us. Many, including myself, where infuriated by the article because not only was Ashman the man who saved Disney from bankruptcy with hits like The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the beast and the formula he created is still successfully used by Disney today, he was a gay man who died of AIDS. So you can see why many of us think calling a villainous side character a “touching tribute” is a gross cop out on Disney’s part. On the flip side, some christian parenting groups are made because our existence is acknowledged in anyway, even if the representation is bad. A theater in Alabama even refused to carry the film. Needless to say, many people had lots of opinions.
All that being said, I’m not here to preach to the choir, nor am I here to argue with anyone about whether of not LGBT+ people are are “appropriate” for a disney movie( hint hint we are) I really want to talk straight people who don’t get why LGBT+ people are upset. I need to share my personal experience with the movie to maybe help some people understand. I know I can only speak for myself, but here it is.
I’ll start off by saying, overall, I enjoyed the shit out of this movie. Beauty and the Beast was one of my favorite films as a child. I knew all the songs, I was Belle for multiple halloweens. I loved the over the top, Rogers -and -Hammerstien esque feel of the remake, i liked the bright colors, the songs and grumpy clock Ian McKellan. I want to get lost in how much I loved it. But every time LaFou came on screen, he was like a fly in the ointment, the irritating itch that kept me from enjoying this ridiculous spectacle for exactly what it was, because every LaFou scene was a gay joke.His mannerisms were carefully an explicitly coded to be recognized as those of a gay man, which are not a bad thing on their own but they were played for laughs and combined with a comic, pining-induced subservience to Gaston. He’s hangs on Gaston’s every word, he tells the girls no to waste their breath, he soothes Gaston’s temper. He’s a joke, one we have seen many times before, a weasely ,queer-coded villain. It’s supposed to be funny to us because we know this silly gay man is NEVER going to have his affections returned and all his work if for not.( ie he’s making a fool of himself, so he’s aptly named) It’s something you get used to when you’re queer and grow up watching Disney films though, so for the most part, I rolled my eyes and tried to enjoy the scenery.
Until Gaston’s song started.
Now let me start by saying, that has ALWAYS been my favorite song in the film. I have a very naturally loud voice that carries and as a kid I loved to belt the shit out of it when it came on our Disney’s greatest hits CD. It drove my sister crazy on car trips. It’s so silly and it’s poking fun at this hyper masculine douche bag you’re not supposed to like. Luke Evans had been killing it up to that point and I was so jazzed about it.
And then, we get LaFou, lounging on Gaston’s chair, gazing at him longingly. Gaston looks at him and asks why the girls to love him and LaFou sighs dramatically, like the comedic stereotype they have set him up to be, and says he hears he’s been clingy.
And everyone in the theater laughs.
Everyone but me.
Because in that moment, everything snaps into alarming clarity. I am no longer immersed in the nostalgic euphoria of an actor I love about to preform a cherished piece of my childhood.
I am a joke and everyone it laughing at me.
Because that’s what it feels like, when you see someone like you splashed on the screen and their feelings being the thing that makes them laughable. When there mannerism that are directly coded to read GAY PEOPLE are the joke. You see the thing about sterotypes is, some of use have those traits. I am clingy as hell, a joke often made about wlw, which I am. I know effeminate gay men. I know people who have fallen in love with straight people. None of those things are inherently bad or make you a bad or shallow person but somewhere along the way, straight people decided they made us wrong and decided to use those things against us and turn it into a joke. People in the theater were laughing about LaFou’s pining for Gaston, while I had lost friends because I was queer and some women don’t want to be friends with you if they think you’re going to fall in love with them. The rub of knowing this was a conscious choice on the part of the filmmakers. Why not have Cogsworth rush into the arms of a long lost husband, instead of Mrs. Potts? You can’t tell me Sir Ian wouldn’t have been all for that. You had two promient gay actors in this film, which was scored by a gay man and the best you could come up with the villain’s side kick who’s name means fool? Really?
And adding insult to injury, it wasn’t LaFou as a person that was the fool, his gayness MADE him the fool in the context of the film. It was his pining for Gaston, to try and impress him, that was played to make him look foolish. Do you know what that says to people? That being gay makes you a fool, it makes you a joke. I’m 27, I’ve learned how to pack that shit up and process later, but what if I had been 16? 10? What does that say to gay parents, sitting in the audience watching their child laugh because social cues tell them this thing is funny and you should laugh? What LaFou really says to LGBT+ people, to gay men especially, is that you are good enough to put in the labor, to make this beautiful thing(Ian McKellan and Luke Evans did great work as Cogsworth and Gaston and without Howard Ashman, there would be no beauty and the Beast.), but you are not good enough to be well represented in it.
So straight Disney fans, before you feel the need to tell us why we are “making something out of nothing” or that we should be “glad” for what we get, or that his half assed “redemption” arc or a single moment of him touching another man made it all better, I need you to imagine sitting in a theater, and knowing everyone is laughing at you. Laughing at who you are, at the struggles you deal with. Imagine the things that have shaped you being watered down and played for comedy before you tell me what is or isn’t good queer representation.