Beauty and the Beast’s Failed Attempt At Inclusion

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This past weekend, Beauty and the Beast let me down. I was promised an openly gay character and instead, I got a man who may or may not have had a crush on an arrogant, homicidal maniac. Said man was seen dancing with another man—a shocked and confused look on his face—for less than two full seconds at the end of the film. If I had glanced downward to eat some more popcorn from my lap, I would have missed it.

The director said that the comments he made about the role Lefou’s sexuality would play in the film were overblown, and that he didn’t intend to make it seem like it would be a central factor. I can’t help but wonder, though, if it is going to be a factor at all, why make it so vague? In general, I respect Emma Watson and the activist work she does, but her comments about Lefou’s sexuality were naïve at best and disrespectful at most. She told Entertainment Weekly, “I don’t want people going into this movie thinking that there’s like a huge narrative there. There really isn’t. It’s incredibly subtle, and it’s kind of a play on having the audience go, ‘Is it, or is it not?’ I think it’s fun. I love the ambiguity there.” Well, that “fun” she’s having speculating about another person’s sexuality is had at the expense of the real, genuine, gut-wrenching pain and confusion closeted people feel, especially someone like LeFou, who is in love with a straight man who will never love him back.

Besides, this added element of “is he or isn’t he?” is worthless to the young gay kids watching this movie in search of a role model and someone to tell them everything they’re feeling is okay. Why can’t LeFou’s sexuality just be clear? If his feelings have to be cloaked in subtlety just because he’s gay, what kind of message is that sending to closeted children? Don’t ask, don’t tell? Live your life the way you want, just don’t rub other people’s faces in it?

Here’s the thing, Emma: Gay kids aren’t looking for a guessing game. They are walking through their school hallways each day, and, like Belle, being called “strange, but special,” and “so peculiar.” They don’t need subtle hints. They need an out, proud character who gets to dress up and dance around a beautiful ballroom with the person they love.

As I sat in the movie theater watching Emma Watson sing about wanting “adventure in the great wide somewhere,” my heart started to beat a little faster than it normally does. Because Emma Watson is beautiful and British and her accent makes me go weak at the knees. I am attracted to her, and the ease at which I allowed myself to admit that as I watched the film was not something I took for granted. Just a few years ago, those heart palpitations would have disturbed me and confused me and made me want to cry under my covers. I would have found a way to explain them away. Young me, who watched Disney every day, really could have used some out, proud characters, and I have a feeling there are a lot of kids out there right now who still could.

I have been out for about two and a half years now, and still, whenever I see a gay couple holding hands on the street or in a film I can’t stop staring. It makes me so happy. It feels like someone’s giving me a big hug. Beauty and the Beast didn’t give that to me and it didn’t give that to the many kids who need that hug far more than I do.

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