Disney has announced that it is introducing its first openly gay character. There is a problem though. They made that character, LeFou. Now if you don’t remember who that is, that’s more than fine, because no one does. He’s Gaston’s side kick. He sings one song. If you know his name, you have watched the 1991 version recently because I am not sure his name is said more than once.
6 Better Ideas for Disney when it Comes to LGBTQ Characters
The intent for Disney to show LGBTQ people as normal and visible is a good idea, but one that will never work with LeFou. In reality, he is the worst choice “to make gay” in the whole film.
LeFou is a short, weak kiss ass, captivated by masculinity of Gaston, a thing he can never truly be. His obsession and loyalty to Gaston was always coded as gay, but now that Disney is confirming it, it truly cements Lefou as an ugly stereotype.
As a gay man, LeFou embodies self-hate. He wants to be Gaston, but he can’t be. He wants to be with Gaston, but he can’t have him either. LeFou becomes tragic, or maybe now we just have to realize, he always was.
LeFou is a couple of things. He is feminine. He is a sidekick. He is comic relief. Unless in a huge twist, Disney decides to make Gaston bisexual, he is tragic.
These have all been long stereotypes for LBGTQ characters in film both in and out of the closet. Dating back to the late 1920s and 1930s, the type of feminine characters, that much like the 1991 version of LeFou never are called explicitly gay presented as such, are used for humor. Films like Our Betters (1993), The Gay Divorcee (1934), and Broadway Melody (1929) show sidekicks whose lack of masculinity is used as a joke. These characters, like the 1990s Lefou, don’t even seem to have a sexuality. There is even a scene in 1932’s Call Her Savage that has these characters singing and prancing around a bar much like LeFou.
When LGBTQ characters aren’t around to be laughed at, they were meant to be pitied. While saying that a cartoon sidekick with barely a name is pitied is a stretch. There is something tragic in LeFou. He loves a man that will never love him back. Even if it isn’t about sexuality. He is a character that worships masculinity.
LGBTQ characters have often been tragic: Sal Mineo in Rebel Without a Cause, 1961’s The Children’s Hour, Brokeback Mountain. And while it’s harder to be critical about them, even those that are based on true stories like Philadelphia, Milk, or A Normal Heart, always end with a death. It is easier to make a film where the LGBTQ character doesn’t win, and usually that means death. While Lefou survives, the object of his love doesn’t. At least in the 1990s version, he doesn’t get a happy ending. He can’t.
But possibly a larger problem with LeFou is that he is a villain. He doesn’t feel like the villain because he’s so comedic, but he’s the sidekick to the villain. He’s a bad guy. This isn’t a new trend, through out the 1940s and 1950s, films saw many LGBTQ villains: Rebecca (1940), Rope (1948) technically two gay villains, The Maltese Falcon (1941), even later films like 1971’s The Vanishing Point.
Disney’s villains have always read a little gay. Ursula was modeled after famous drag icon, Divine. Scar has the less masculine form than his heroic brother. Captain Hook has a similar femininity to him, even having his own LeFou (though a less loyal one, in the form of Smee).
The gay villain is perfect for straight audiences. Because you get to root against them and not feel bad. When they die or lose at the end, the straight gaze gets to cheer.
In some ways, LeFou is the perfect character for Disney to introduce as gay, because he is every mean stereotype that Hollywood has ever made for us. But that means he isn’t progressive, he isn’t something to be celebrated. He is a reminder of historical short comings when it comes to representation.
Disney can do better. Looking at their upcoming roster, there are many places to add more LGBTQ characters.
1) You own Marvel, make me a Queer Super Hero!
You know who isn’t sad and tragic? Superheros, unless I guess they are Batman, but that’s DC. Marvel has already made X-Men, which other than being a metaphor for the queer and other minority experiences, has queer characters. Deadpool, Mystique in her story line with Destiny, lesser known characters like Wiccan, and even lesser lesser known characters such as the bisexual Prodigy. Mary Jane Watson in parts of the Spider-Man Universe. Or go with someone new like America Chavez, the rebooted Miss America.
2) Sword and the Stone
We know it is getting a reboot, but let’s be honest: no one remembers this film. While I am sure you are worried about adding queer characters to live action reboots and remakes when it comes to changing the canon on beloved characters, no one remembers this. No one is going to cite “it’s not canon” as a weak excuse for homophobia.
3) The Little Mermaid
Okay so I know I just talked about canon. But if you remake classic after classic with nothing changing, we are going to get bored. Plus The Little Mermaid is a perfect opportunity to add in something about queer identity. Based on a Hans Christian Andersen story, influenced by Divine, and worked on by Howard Ashman, come on this is screaming queer! You don’t have to make the Mermaid a Merman, but you can add a positive portrayal.
4) A car in Cars 3 that’s a non-cis car
Many may ask, do cars have gender? In your universe they do. You shouldn’t pull some hokey crap like make the car a TransAm or anything, but I know you would. But this is the third painful movie in this painful series, give us a reason we want to see it. You gave objects genders for no reason, make your film say something about why all “girl cars” don’t need to have those goddamn eyelashes.
5) Star Wars: Episode VIII
Do aliens understand sexuality and gender like we do? No way. You can write a character who is an LGBTQ human or you can literally do anything with aliens. It’s all new and the possibilities are endless. Why do we need earth conventions in space?
6) Something unheard of in Hollywood, a new idea.
There is so much room for imagination. Make something new. Make something progressive.