In recent years, Disney has increased the racial and ethnic diversity in its stories, and has made strides to reimagine female characters as fully formed protagonists rather than simply damsels in distress.
But there have been calls among some for children’s entertainment to portray same-sex relationships as well. Last year, a Twitter campaign asked Disney to make Elsa from “Frozen” a lesbian character in the movie’s sequel, inspiring the hashtag #GiveElsaAGirlfriend.
A few Disney movies have left viewers wondering about the orientation of characters, with allusions to same-sex relationships. “Zootopia” featured Bucky and Pronk, two male antelopes who live together, bicker like a couple and share a common last name. An episode of the Disney Channel show “Good Luck Charlie” included a character who had two moms.
But the live-action “Beauty and the Beast” will bring an overt depiction of a gay man to the big screen.
Gad, the actor playing LeFou, has also spoken out about the nature of the role. In response to a local TV host who tweeted that “this would mean a lot to me, and gay kids everywhere. Can you confirm?,” the actor wrote that he was “beyond proud of this.”
As The Post’s Jessica Contrera has previously written, some Disney fans have argued it would have been hugely helpful to see gay characters in such movies when they were young, and studies suggest positive depictions of gay characters in entertainment can help decrease prejudice.
“There is no doubt that kids seeing positively portrayed gay characters could have a significant effect that would contribute to such children’s learning about the world and who is in it,” said Edward Schiappa, a professor of comparative media studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.But doing so is a risk for children’s entertainment companies, who have a financial incentive to make movies as widely accessible — and therefore as non-controversial — as possible.“It can be any little thing that will set off a firestorm,” said Lori Pearson, lead critic for Kids-In-Mind, a nonpartisan, non-religious group that warns parents of potentially unsavory content in movies. Pearson points to a time in the mid-1990s when a rumor spread that in “The Little Mermaid,” there was a suggestive bulge in the pants of the man officiating the wedding of Princess Ariel. Conservative groups called on parents to boycott not just the 1989 classic but all Disney products. The bulge, of course, was nothing more than the cartoon character’s knee.“Now, especially with the advent of Twitter and places where information can travel quickly, if a certain group decides something in the content is unacceptable, it will spread, and people will decide based on that information not to go see the movie,” Pearson said. “And that will ultimately affect the box office.”
Attitude Editor in Chief Matt Cain called the LeFou plotline “a watershed moment for Disney.”
“It’s only a first step towards creating a cinematic world that reflects the one in which many of us are now proud to live,” he said, according to Attitude. “But it’s a step in the right direction and I applaud Disney for being brave enough to make it – and in doing so hopefully helping to change attitudes and bring about real social progress.”