Oh, Isn’t This Gaymazing
Re: Queer Landscapes in Entertainment
Contributors: Michael Steiner
The wonderful thing about remaking movies for a company like Disney is that it gives them the opportunity remove the often times out of touch themes from the original versions and replace them with a new, modern feel. Remakes allow companies like Disney to wash off the stains of sexism and racism from their movies and rewrite these timeless tales as friendly, and often times topical and progressive box offices hits. It makes sense that a company created by a playfully* racist, antisemitic man would need a face lift in 2017. After all, black-face Mickey Mouse just isn’t the American icon he once was. There are two ways to continue to make entertainment in the modern era of acceptance. The first is to rewrite classic stories you’ve already written and add in or change characters that represent a broader spectrum of races, genders, etc. The other is to create new landscapes, plots, and settings that allow for realistic characters to exist fluidly and realistically without feeling as if they were socks shoved in a suitcase at the last minute after realizing you had forgotten to pack them. Disney (and other entertainment companies), of course, have almost always chosen the sock option.
As, I assume but cannot confirm, Entertainment Weekly reported that Disney’s new live action Beauty and the Beast contains A GAY CHARACTER. In the movie, the debonair, walking date rape PSA, Gaston, has a sidekick named LeFou. LeFou has been REVAMPED to be a gay man. And by REVAMPED, I mean to say that LeFou’s only purpose in the movie is to, not so subtly, pine after Gaston while Gaston traipses around town doing whatever it is that Marco Rubio did to meet girls in college. After watching two hours of LeFou reinforcing the stereotype that all gay men are only attracted to straight men, I left the movie wishing he hadn’t been gay at all. Disney had merely reprogrammed the character, but left him in a world where a character like that could not exist. It didn’t feel triumphant to watch him, it felt confusing and unrealistic. In a village where Belle, that peculiar girl who is smart AND beautiful, was publicly humiliated and had her property destroyed for teaching another girl to read, one could only assume that a gay character would face a much worse fate (not to mention the fate of the black librarian).
It’s unlikely that LeFou provides a needed role model to any LGBT+ youth; if anything, he is no more than another gay sidekick or flamboyant afterthought. It’s not just Disney, of course. We see shows like Glee (FOX) or Friends (NBC) struggle to incorporate a gay character who’s nuance reaches beyond their surface homosexuality. It’s true that shows that portray the struggle of gay characters that circle around their sexuality are important in representing these struggles on the screen. Laverne Cox’s portrayal of Sophia on Orange is the New Black was one of the more important portrayal of an LGBT+ character viewed by a wide audience. Before then, it’s safe to say that the struggles of a trans woman in prison was not a main plot of any piece of mainstream media. Transparent also broke ground in the same sense, showing audiences that the trans community is just as diverse and vibrant as any, and that its conflicts, heartbreaks, and triumphs were equally as important.
Shows like Transparent (Amazon) and Orange is the New Black (Netflix) must continue so that they can expose viewers to the many aspects of LGBT life that they may not have considered. Parallel to these shows, there is responsibility in media and entertainment to utilize LGBT+ characters and let them experience the parts of life that are experienced by their counterparts. The OA (Netflix) takes steps in this direction with a trans high school student that, while facing adversity because of their identity, is not solely defined by this struggle and plays a main part in the overlaying plot development. Successful LGBT+ characters don’t need to be the bullied theater kid. They don’t need to be the athletic lesbian who always seems to only have a father in the military as if it was somehow impossible to imagine a gay woman any other way. A teacher can be gay without needing to teach their students about the struggles of a gay teacher or be criticized by parents or the principle to keep their personal life to themselves.
The peculiar thing about the LGBT+ community (especially in youth culture) is that they/I/we often times are drawn to fantasy genres/worlds (a la Adventure Time, Rick and Morty, Comic Con et al) not because they are specifically inviting LGBT+ kids into their worlds, but because they are creating worlds that are not structured in a way that relies on or even cares about gender structures, race, etc. This read’s two ways: The fantasy genre entertainment industry is doing a better job at including the LGBT+ community OR the only place that the LGBT+ community feels at home is in absurd fantasy worlds.
It’s time for us to stop applauding the Modern Family style “everyone’s a stereotype but at least they're diverse” structure, or the “I’m gay so I’m bullied” structure, and start accepting that there are millions of people ready for casts of characters who are LGBT+, non-white, multiracial. They’re ready for a 60 year old man to have a 70 year old wife. They’re ready for a Latino teen without a chip on their shoulder who not only is shaped by their heritage but by their active place in the plot. They’re ready for a woman who is not brave for being in the profession she is in. They/I/we are ready for worlds and characters that represent the diversity of 2017 truthfully rather than worlds and characters that treat diversity as a bonus or a feature, crudely added on to stories that have been told over and over for decades.