The so-called "gay moment" in Disney's new live-action version of "Beauty and the Beast" is subtle — so subtle that one could easily miss it with an ill-timed sneeze or glance away from the screen. And it may sail over the heads of young viewers.
But the cast and director say it is indeed a gay moment —one they're proud of. And advocates are calling it a big step forward for Disney and for youth entertainment.
Mere word of it was also enough to lead one Alabama drive-in theater to cancel plans to show the film — apparently without having seen it, because it doesn't open nationwide until March 17.
The scene in question involves the character of LeFou (Josh Gad), the timid and lovable sidekick to the preening villain Gaston (Luke Evans). Without spoiling too much, it's safe to say that LeFou spends much of the film in Gaston's thrall, and toward the end also has a moment — a few seconds, really — where the same-sex theme is more overt.
At the film's Los Angeles premiere on Thursday evening, Gad said he was "very proud" of the scene.
"(Director) Bill Condon did an amazing job of giving us an opportunity to create a version of LeFou that isn't like the original ... but that makes him more human and makes him a wonderfully complex character to some extent," he said. "And there's a moment at the end of the film that I don't want to ruin ... because I want the surprise to be intact, but I'm very proud of it. I think it's an incredible moment and it's subtle, but I think it's effective."
Condon suggested that descriptions of LeFou as the first Disney gay character went too far. "I keep saying it's more like the first gay moment," he said. "Because I think it's a very fluid character." The director added: "You can't help but wonder in his adoration of Gaston ... (is there) something more going on?"
The length of the scene — or scenes, since LeFou's fluid orientation is hinted at elsewhere — is not what's important, said Sarah Kate Ellis, president of GLAAD, the LGBTQ media advocacy group.
"It's a wonderful step forward," she said. "And this is incredibly important for the youth of today. They need to see themselves reflected in the media they consume. More and more, as studios want to appeal to youth audiences, they're going to have to include LGBTQ story lines and characters."
Ellis noted that in the annual survey that GLAAD puts together on LGBTQ inclusion in movies, "we have struggled year after year to find any content in major studio films. We're usually the punching bag or the laughingstock. So this is an enormous step forward for us."
In the past, many have speculated on what they see as "coded" gay characters, or winking references to gay characters or themes in Disney and other youth-oriented films. Ellis said the difference here is that "we're moving from coded, where you have to put together the pieces, to this being in the spotlight ... It shows the direction America is moving in."
A Facebook page that apparently belongs to the Henagar Drive-In Theatre in Henagar, Alabama, announced that the theater won't be showing the film as planned because its operators are "first and foremost Christians" and "will not compromise on what the Bible teaches."
"If we cannot take our 11-year-old granddaughter and 8-year-old grandson to see a movie we have no business watching it," the message said. Theater operators did not immediately respond to emails or phone messages to confirm the Facebook posting. The theater's website continued on Friday to say the film was coming in March.
Audra McDonald, the Tony-winning Broadway actress who plays a particularly tuneful supporting character in "Beauty and the Beast," said she was "so honored" to be a part of the moment. "The thing is, Disney's not doing anything all that revolutionary," she said. "LGBTQ people have always existed, interracial couples have always existed. And now they're shining light on it. So they're just representing the world the way it actually is and I think that's spectacular and necessary." (Interracial couples also appear in the film.)
Evans said the scene in question was "about unity. It's about never judging a book by its cover, but digging a little deeper and understanding to not be fearful of things you don't know, people that are a little different to you. Fear is not a good thing to fuel."