I‘m coming out of the closet, again. I’m going to shout it loud and clear, so that everyone can hear: I absolutely love Disney. Maybe it’s the whimsy. Maybe I’ve never truly let go of being a kid. Maybe, as Matt Lucas once said in his sitcom ‘Come Fly With Me’, I’m quite thick. I don’t know, nor do I care. All I know is that there isn’t much that makes me happier than cuddling up with my fiancé – who’s an even bigger Disney nut than me – with some sumptuous snacks, and drowning in my own tears as I watch Mufasa plunge to his untimely death.
So understandably, when it was announced that they were re-working Beauty and the Beast, one of my favourites, and the delightful and supremely talented Emma Watson was to play Belle, I was in my element. My fiancé and I gleefully watched every trailer, every teaser, and joined the Facebook group for updates. It looked like a dream: the original story had been untouched, the jubilant highs and devastating lows had been been recaptured, and as much as I was going in with trepidation – as I often to when any of my favourite films are remade – I was mostly confident that everything would work out as it should.
I watched it with my fiancé on the day of its release, and I came out of the cinema overawed. The story stayed true to the original but was enriched with new twists and additions to the tale that were not far-fetched or overstretched. The cast were utterly impeccable, particularly Luke Evans’ devilishly delicious portrayal of the odious Gaston, Dan Stevens’ wonderful showing as the terrifying then gentle Beast, and of course, the millennial princess and the woman who will now be known as Belle to a new generation, the stunning Emma Watson. Everything was perfect.
In the previous weeks leading up to the film’s release, Disney announced that they would be adding a gay character to the cast. At the time, there was no hint as to who this mysterious character would be, but as you can imagine, the Internet exploded, with the usual, ‘Stop forcing gay on my poor children!’ brigade crying out from every conservative corner of the Earth. While I wasn’t joining in with this – I’m not ready to add ‘gay traitor’ to my accolades just yet – I certainly wasn’t enthralled with the idea. And when it was revealed that it would be Lefou, Gaston’s sidekick, who would be the gay character, I was even more skeptical. To me, it just didn’t seem necessary to add into the story, as it made no real difference whether the character was gay or not. But I persisted, and I promised myself to give it a chance.
As it turns out, I was right to be uncertain. The character of Lefou was pretty much made into a punchline – he was a gay man infatuated with the character of Gaston. In the original, Lefou was a hapless, clumsy, silly goof who was frequently the light relief of the intense story. Why did the filmmakers decide to throw in the fact that he was gay, when it didn’t actually add anything to the storyline? It wasn’t a sub-plot, and it was never spoken about. The only hint that was made was at the end of the film, where there is a brief encounter between Lefou and another man, presumably because said other man had cross-dressed in the film, which automatically makes someone gay, right?
This is not the right way to do things, Disney.
I said before about how parents and the like are outraged that homosexuality is being ‘forced’ on them. The fact is, the only way to change their minds on this is to keep going. Casually throwing a gay character into a story for the sake of being called ‘diverse’ and ‘progressive’ is utter, utter toss. Disney could’ve gotten away with turning the Beast into a lesbian and people would’ve still thrown money at it, because it’s Disney. Yet instead, they pull off this completely half-arsed attempt at inclusiveness by basically telling us that we don’t matter. Rather than adding something into a re-worked film that doesn’t actually call for it, do it in your future films. Give gay kids a voice. They need one.
Don’t get me wrong, Disney made fantastic steps in the film to promote diversity. The opera singer and the ‘closest’ was played by black American actress Audra McDonald, and the stunning British-African actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw played the role of the feather duster. But the fact is, throwing a gay character into a film that doesn’t actually push the plot forward isn’t ‘diversity’. It’s doing for the sake of looking diverse, and those are two completely different things. People are applauding Disney for this, citing it as ‘progressive’, and a step in the right direction.
Well, I’m sorry, but I’m stepping out and saying it’s not good enough. If you’re going to do it, do it properly. Otherwise, next time, don’t bother. We can do without it. We’re worth more than a footnote in your fairytale.