It’s a tale as old as time, however, the much-lauded “gay moment” in Beauty and the Beast might not honour the writer of the original.
I’m sure by now everyone in possession of a Facebook feed is aware of the “exclusively gay moment” in Disney’s recent live action remake of the iconic Beauty and the Beast.
— New York Times World (@nytimesworld) March 15, 2017
When I first heard, I was disgusted by the idea. I know your first impulse, but hear me out. This isn’t because I am a bigot who doesn’t think men should be together. It’s also not because the scene is most likely another example of Hollywood capitalising on the publicity from both the progressive left and the conservative right regarding a contentious issue.
My issue stems from the narrative of the (semi) original source material, and the man who produced it.
Although I was a little young to have known it at the time, my childhood was partially shaped by a man called Howard Ashman. Ashman was a driving force during the Disney Renaissance and was often considered a visionary by his peers and the studio. He filled the music of Alan Menken with the iconic lyrics to The Little Mermaid, Aladdin and, most notably, Beauty and the Beast.
He was also tragically killed young, mere months after finishing his work on the Beauty and the Beast, AIDS sadly claiming the lyrical genius. The film itself was dedicated to him at the time, and he has gone on to receive multiple posthumous awards from the studio.
Ashman said he connected with the beast while he was writing, understanding the isolation, depression and self-loathing that characterised him, because Ashman himself had felt that during his life. Moreover, Beauty and the Beast (2017) director Bill Condon has claimed that the curse of that felled the beast was a metaphor for AIDS, stating that: “He was cursed, and this curse had brought sorrow on all those people who loved him, and maybe there was a chance for a miracle – and a way for the curse to be lifted. It was a very concrete thing that he was doing.”
Conversely, to Ashman, the character of Gaston was everyone who had ever bullied him, the personification of the toxic hyper-masculinity of the time. Every song in the movie he sings is dripping with distain for everyone but himself, he is an egotistical user and abuser of everyone who surrounds him. While he is an embellishment, I would argue that we all know someone like Gaston – a bully who has a clearly-defined worldview with no desire to consider other opinions or points of view. Nevertheless, the remake will see Josh Gad as LeFou, Disney’s first gay character, coronate the pioneering gay scene…by kissing Gaston.
Many people are applauding this homage, possibly seeing it as a powerful representation of how far we have come as a society, but personally, I feel it was a misstep, and not the tribute that Ashman deserves, or a correct representation of where we sit.
Disney choosing Gaston as the object of affection for their first ever cannon gay character feels like the studio retroactively changing several narratives of the story to appease a society which, based on the response the announcement received, has not come far enough to merit it.