Op-Ed: My Beef with Beauty and the Beast

Addressing that moment, and much more…

Sometime last month, I went to the cinema with my mother to see Beauty and The Beast, and I have to say, I really wanted to hate it. Despite being a die-hard Harry Potter fan, I have never been that hot on Emma Watson. I think she was very lucky that she fit what the casting director was looking for on The Philosopher’s Stone, because although she’s proven herself since, she certainly wouldn’t be setting the world alight, acting or otherwise, had she not had the historically large leg-up that that franchise turned out to be. Moreover, I find Watson to be guilty of white feminism, which not only do I see as one of the first world’s largest roadblocks to social progression, I also find it odiously boring, so I think it’s time I put a lid on this little sidebar.

My point is, I really wanted to hate it. And, despite me having my critic hat firmly on, I enjoyed it in spite of myself. Maybe it was the songs, maybe it was the ~romance~, maybe it was the fact that nostalgia is simply that powerful, but I enjoyed it. Apart from one thing.

That.

Exclusively.

Gay.

Moment.

Now, before you all light up your posts and attempt to burn me alive like the beast I truly am, allow me to explain myself a quick moment. I actually loved the gay moment; I am all for inclusion of all walks of life in all walks of media. Media is supposed to hold a mirror of society up to society itself, and I really believe the reflection should be something that we recognise. Show me every walk of life in every capacity, and celebrate the forward steps that we manage to take. But don’t do what the cast and crew of Beauty and the Beast did. Don’t hold up a non-moment, made possible only by outdated stereotypes which serve only to misinform those who may need informing.

I’ll tell it to you as I saw it unfold. Josh Gad, as well as the director of the film, came out in the media lauding an “exclusively gay moment” in the film. A moment of inclusion, for which we were to praise the film and its participants. Yes, there was some outcry against it, but in this day and age, when outcry comes from the conservative, homophobic places it does, is it even news? Does it even really count? But whatever, buy your ticket, settle in and begin.

At first I thought I had the moment. There’s a bit in the song section, you know: no-one can quite sink a boat like Gaston, no-one wants to make me deep-throat like Gaston… something like that, I’ve never been great with lyrics. Anyway, song draws to a close, and LeFou is rubbing Gaston’s shoulders in a way that is so intimate and loving, I half expected Ed Sheeran to come on in the background, singing about a hot bath and bubbles. Gaston sort of shrugs off the moment, because, hey, you’re allowed to do that if someone is touching you in a way that makes you feel slightly uncomfortable. So I thought that was the moment. I enjoyed the song, even if the lyrics apparently weren’t as crude as I’ve remembered them, I enjoyed Josh Gad’s LeFou absolutely owning the whole scene, despite it being named for another, and I also enjoyed knowing that the praise sung of Gaston is hollow because yay he’s a baddie and morality is black and white, right?

But then we came to the final scene of the film. The curse is broken, the beast is now genuinely hunky, which I’m sure left some furries, and Belle, very sexually confused, and half the furniture has been played by national treasures literally the whole time and I didn’t even know. We’re in a ballroom and there are dozens of males, dancing with dozens of females. It’s an old routine, and one that, even as a child, I understood to be no more than a function of high society; just because this woman is dancing with this man doesn’t mean that they are involved with each other. The dancing is almost platonic. But then two pairs of eyes lock. Two bodies intertwine. Two stars cross, two hearts skip a beat, TWO MALES ARE DANCING TOGETHER AND WE ARE HAVING OUR EXCLUSIVELY GAY MOMENT WE ARE HAVING OUR MOMENT OF INCLUSION GET THE POPCORN GET THE CONFETTI MY GOD GET SOMETHING IT’S HAPPENING IT’S HAPPENING. Oh. Wait. It’s over. We had it. It’s done now. The focus is sent back to Belle, or the Beast, or Ewan McGregor (seriously, how did I not know he was in the film?) and we’re back to our hetero-tale-as-old-as-hetero-time.

Now, I’m not saying that progress isn’t progress. Technically we just witnessed Disney’s first canonically gay moment (ignoring the fact that Li Shang was obviously hot for Mulan when she was dressing up as a boy). A first step of minute proportions is still a step. However, with all the hoopla around this ~big moment~, I expected it to have… a bit more teeth, a bit more balls (neither literally, it is still a children’s film, after all). I expected it not to be placed firmly in a platonic setting with vanilla girls dancing the holiday two-step with vanilla boys without any trace of desire or romance being in the air two inches beyond Belle and Beastie Boy. I expected it to not be an action that is actually not gay at all, in a platonic setting, with no teeth, no balls, no words, and no time to reflect.

And it’s not enough to say that subverting social norms of traditional roles blah blah is brand new ground for Disney, so let’s take it easy. Countless films have shown gender roles be subverted (Mulan, Frozen, Brave, I’m looking at you), not to mention THE ACTUAL GAY CHARACTERS THAT HAVE BEEN IMPLIED IN DISNEY FILMS (Oaken, Hugo, Li Shang), as well as the direct tie to the LGBT community of Ursula being based on Drag Queen Divine’s likeness. So to praise this one-second moment placed firmly in a platonic setting as an exclusively gay moment, and Disney’s first, is lacking teeth and the gusto you would hope a leading media company, and anyone who claims to represent it, has.

And while we’re on a roll here, dear readers of The Late Review UK, might I draw your attention to the other male in this exclusively gay moment. LeFou’s presentation, of course, I have no problems with. It’s this other guy, who I have been reliably informed by IMDB, is called Stanley. Earlier in the film, before this non-moment, when the villagers are storming the anthropomorphic hottie’s castle, Stanley plus two other non-speaking characters run head on into a confrontation with the delightful Madame de Garderobe, who, in an attempt to beat them, unleashes her sartorial elegance on the three men and leaves them looking like cute little debutantes in the middle of a warzone. Two of the men, of course, are horrified and bemused; they do not wish to be dressed in female clobber and do not quite understand how an inanimate object managed to spring this one on them. The other male, however, looks simply delighted at suddenly being dressed in female attire. Using all my descriptive might, I’d say he looked like the hearts-for-eyes emoji. Yeah, he was that happy. Guess which of the three males in this sequence Bill Condon decided to make gay later on in the film, guys? It wouldn’t possibly be the one who expressed joy at being dressed as a female, because OBVIOUSLY BEING TRANSVESTITE AND BEING GAY ARE TOTALLY INTERCHANGEABLE AND EXPLAINING THE DIFFERENCE TO OUR KIDS SO THEY GROW UP AWARE AND TOLERANT DOESN’T REALLY MATTER, RIGHT GUYS?!  My point is, in that scene, there were dozens of humans, any number of which could have been confronted by Madame de Garderobe and dressed in female attire. That moment in itself isn’t mocking transvestitism; if someone is suddenly dressed in a way they don’t identify, the shock and discomfort alone provides for the comedic moment. What didn’t need to happen is, in a moment already comedic by the other two males’ confusion and shock, a male dressed as a female is similarly used as a comedic foil. Say it with me, folks: DRESSING AS ANOTHER GENDER SHOULD NOT BE LAUGHED AT. What else didn’t need to happen is that the male who appears to like dressing as a woman is then revealed as gay, as though that moment was the set up. Say it with me folks: WEARING ANOTHER GENDER’S CLOTHES DOES NOT MAKE YOU GAY. ENJOYING THAT DOES NOT MAKE YOU GAY. It was low-hanging fruit for character reveal that relied heavily on outdated stereotypes, which will only serve to misinform and undermine the communities which it includes.

So, TLRUK readers, the tl;dr version of this rant is as follows:

  1. Emma Watson ain’t all that
  2. Li Shang was totally gay for guy Mulan
  3. If you’re going to praise your own film for an exclusively gay moment, please make sure that moment is:
    1. Actually gay
    2. Not in a platonic setting, surrounded by platonic moments exactly like the one you are praising
    3. More than one second long
  4. If your exclusively gay moment fulfills all of the above, please refrain from patting yourself on the back for an inclusive job well done until you make sure that your set up for one of the characters doesn’t rely almost solely on inaccurate and outdated stereotypes. 

Be Better.

 

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