‘We didn’t go far enough’: Josh Gad on playing Disney’s first ‘openly gay’ character
Many Disney movies have gotten reboots in recent years, but not all have been successful. In fact, quite a few of them have still missed the mark, both in terms of representation and in addressing outdated – and frankly very harmful – stereotypes.
Parents, children and the young-at-heart will all be familiar with Josh Gad, the man – or rather voice – behind Frozen’s Olaf. Four years later, he starred in the live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast and a whole new generation of fans fell in love with him.
Charming, charismatic and larger than life, Gad proved that he could capture an audience’s attention even when not his cartooned snowman self, but while many praised his performance as LeFou, the actor still thinks he could have gone further with the role. He actually thinks the movie did the character a disservice.
Released two years ago amid hype that LeFou would be Disney’s first “openly gay character”, viewers had high expectations as to how this would be represented onscreen. The network overstated what was to come though and the result was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it dance scene in which Gad could be seen dancing with Gaston.
As The Independent points out, the scene was neither exclusive (it was a crowd scene) nor “particularly gay” (they could easily have been friends) and so 90 years of Disney “ignoring queer people” culminated in well, nothing.
Gad agreed. “We didn’t go far enough to warrant accolades,” he commented. “We didn’t go far enough to say, ‘Look how brave we are.’ My regret in what happened is that it became ‘Disney’s first explicitly gay moment’ and it was never intended to be that. It was never intended to be a moment that we should laud ourselves for, because frankly, I don’t think we did justice to what a real gay character in a Disney film should be. That was not LeFou. If we’re going to pat ourselves on the back, then damn it we should have gone further with that. Everybody deserves an opportunity to see themselves on screen, and I don’t think we’ve done enough – and I certainly haven’t done enough to do that,” he continued.
Director Bill Condon claimed that the character would be portrayed as gay, and while Disney never confirmed that statement, they did nothing to quell the rumours either. “LeFou is somebody who on one day wants to be Gaston and on another day wants to kiss Gaston,” Condon said in an interview with Attitude Magazine at the time. “He’s confused about what he wants. It’s somebody who’s just realising that he has these feelings. And Josh makes something really subtle and delicious out of it. And that’s what has its payoff at the end, which I don’t want to give away. But it is a nice, exclusively gay moment in a Disney movie.”
Obviously enjoying the approval that came with supposedly having modernised the story to represent a wider pool of people, Condon (and Disney) essentially let the story grow legs, but one ambiguous scene between two characters of the same sex does not an openly gay character make… and that’s without even mentioning the fact that “Le Fou” translates as “the fool” in English.
This isn’t the first time that the network has come under fire for tokenism either. Just last month actor Peter Dinklage called Disney out over the upcoming Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs remake. While producers had made moves to diversify both the cast and the story, Dinklage criticised the team for still falling short. And he wasn’t wrong. In fact, he was absolutely right on the money with his assessment of things.
Prioritising racial diversity but failing to address other harmful stereotypes within the fairytale, Dinklage – who has a form of dwarfism known as achondroplasia – accused the studio of double standards, saying that he was dumbfounded by how they had approached the remake. “I was a little taken aback by [the fact] they were very proud to cast a Latina actress as Snow White, but you’re still telling the story of Snow White and the seven dwarfs,” he told podcaster Marc Maron.
“You’re progressive in one way but you’re still making that f*cking backward story of seven dwarves living in the cave. They were so proud of that, and all love and respect to the actress and the people who thought they were doing the right thing but I’m just like, ‘What are you doing?’”
Disney appeared to take Dinklage’s criticism on board and issued a swift response to his comments saying that they wanted to “avoid reinforcing stereotypes from the original animated film”, and would be taking a “different approach with these seven characters”. They also assured the public that they “have been consulting with members of the dwarfism community” as well.
Both instances feel as though Disney is merely looking for a get out of jail free card though. Hyping audiences up to believe that LeFou will explore his sexuality in a subtle but important subplot, then doing so by way of a two-second clip is not enough. Casting a Latina actor as the lead but ignoring other harmful aspects of the story (i.e. the “little people” trope) seems like a box-ticking exercise. If Disney was really committed to change then they would be completely overhauling these age-old stories and listening to viewers about the issues they have with them.
With the new Snow White movie not due for release until sometime next year and the Beauty and the Beast spinoff sequel (starring Gad and Luke Evans as Gaston) “delayed indefinitely”, it still remains to be seen whether Disney’s promises to do better are just lip service or not.