Can we talk about the Beauty and the Beast live-action remake?
A few days ago, Disney released a short promotional clip from the film, featuring Josh Gad as LeFou singing Gaston. Teen Vogue described Gad as “an absolute star” for his performance in the clip; according to Screen Rant, Gad’s voice “really shines through. However, as anyone watching the clip could attest, the sound mixing is terrible – an unfortunate combination of Josh Gad’s failure to project his voice and the orchestration being far too loud. It’s an issue that needs to be remedied before the film is released later this month. And yet no one in the entertainment media has discussed the fact that this is a major flaw of the video, almost reminiscent of the muffled dialogue from Bane in the promotional Dark Knight Rises scene.
Instead it’s been a relative deluge of pants jizzing over the suggestion that Disney has made the brave choice to turn LeFou into an “exclusively gay” character. The New York Times characterised this announcement as a part of the ongoing culture war between conservatives and progressives, while others seemed to be working from the same press release.
The question must now be asked, if this “nice, exclusively gay moment in a Disney movie” is prominent, why is there a need to announce its inclusion? There was further news this week that Beauty and the Beast also contains the first ever Disney interracial kiss. A film with two watershed moments? Surely, that is worthy of its own media hype, and yet, almost nothing. Why? Because one moment has the illusion of being progressive, while the other seems to be 50 years overdue. Because one generates major headlines for its inclusion in a ‘family film’ and as such, free advertising, while the other is sure to draw condemnation for being so far behind the rest of society. And that’s the crux of the problem, while Disney is overdue for a gay character, tokenistic opportunism does nothing for anyone but Disney.
Disney is almost incapable of real diversity, and yet any hint of something that threatens the white, heteronormative, patriarchal groupthink of the ‘family entertainment’ industry and people lap it up like some loyal cultist in Jonestown. A white man kisses a black woman? How… progressive. An allegedly gay man has a crush on a straight man? How… inclusive.
The character of LeFou is a dogsbody – think Baldrick in Blackadder. The relationship between Gaston and LeFou isn’t some Burns/Smithers thing, a one-sided crush generally played for laughs, it’s supposed to be more nuanced. Rather, it seems to be playing on the trope that any male subservient to another male must be in love with him. This sounds more like something you’d find on r/TheRedPill or 4chan or some other message board arguing about alphas and betas, than an acceptable way to promote a Disney movie. I have serious doubts that this film will do anything positive for the LGBTIQ+ community, beyond the notion that yes, one character is gay. More gay characters are needed in movies like this, but they need to be honest depictions, not quirks to be exploited for profits.
“According to one person who has seen it, the LeFou moment is actually fairly subtle, perhaps so much so that it would slip past many viewers unnoticed.” – NYT
The moment is so subtle, that it has to be explained in an interview and press release weeks before the movie is released. Sounds a lot like when Zack Snyder had to announce that Jimmy Olsen features in Batman v Superman, because no one could have known this simply by watching the movie.
It would seem that this “touching tribute” to gay Beauty and the Beast composer Howard Ashman has less to do with fleshing out a character and is mostly about generating profits through controversy. Star Trek Beyond went down a similar route when it made Hikaru Sulu gay as a tribute to original Sulu actor and LGBTIQ+ activist George Takei. Except that Takei wasn’t such a fan of the idea, stating that it would have been a greater tribute to create a new character, rather than changing the vision of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry. And while Beauty and the Beast director Bill Condon stopped just short of saying Ashman was a fan of “rough trade“, watching the original film, it would seem as though characters such as Gaston and LeFou were intended to be straight.
The manner in which Disney is trying to market this film is endemic in Hollywood right now. Garbage is being given huge budgets and pushed out in a manner that to criticise it makes you a bigot, such that lazy filmmaking gets a pass because it became profitable by manipulating the public sphere.
Films that range from average to abortions are marketed with cheap gimmicks to get the public invested in the notion that the art transcends the screen. Bill Condon is no stranger to this, having directed the final two instalments of the Twilight movies – films that relied on the staged relationship between the two leads, Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson. This fakery was exposed when Stewart was caught in a tryst with her Snow White and the Huntsman director, Rupert Sanders, months before the release of Breaking Dawn: Part Two – putting the Stewart and Pattinson in an awkward position as they tried to promote the film as a”couple”. The Twilight films were fairly horrible – not one managed to crack 50% on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes – in structure, narrative, acting, and dialogue these movies all failed to create a worthwhile experience. Yet they turned a profit and were considered successes, helped in part by the “relationship” of Stewart and Pattinson.
Suicide Squad was another film that used gimmicks to create the illusion of quality. From Jared Leto’s alleged method acting – sending used condoms and dead rats to other cast members, to director David Ayer saying “Fuck Marvel” at the film’s premiere. Because, y’know, fuck having a coherent narrative or even vaguely decent acting.
And who could forget the Ghostbusters reboot, an average film that no one was allowed to criticise for its many flaws, because to do so was considered sexist.
Still, as this Beauty and the Beast story develops, there are a few lessons we can learn:
- It would be amazing for Hollywood to increase the presence of LGTIQ+ characters in films. However, stunts and gimmicks will only serve to undermine the message of inclusion and diversity. Visibility = good, tokenism = bad.
- If you’re going to announce that a character in your movie is gay, make sure that you can control the message. Bill Condon has now said that the issue of LeFou’s sexuality in the film has been overstated.
- Don’t assume that there will be a positive reaction to altering an established character, while it is 2017, people still struggle with change.
- Normalise gay characters. Write more LGBTIQ+ roles. Get to a place where you don’t need to announce that you have the “first openly gay” character for any particular studio.
- If you’re releasing a promotional teaser clip for a film, make sure it represents a finished product. If you have to go back and edit the film after receiving feedback on the clip, consider a test screening in the future.
- Editing makes or breaks a film. Stop outsourcing this vital job to the lowest bidder.
- Stop using gimmicks to promote inferior films. If you want to promote your film but don’t think it’s good enough on its own, make a better film.
I am open minded with regard to these changes. I know that more gay characters in films is a good thing, but I’m not so naïve as to believe that this media storm wasn’t a stunt. Be safe, stay woke.
Your friend and ally,
For clarification, this is how the song sounds in the original Disney cartoon. The lyrics are clear, the music is subtle and yet prominent enough to be memorable, there’s no straining to understand what is being said about the film’s antagonist. Mr Condon could learn a thing or two.