Upon release, #BeautyAndTheBeast was both celebrated and criticized for the inclusion of Josh Gad's LeFou. The character was the studio's first openly gay character, and was clearly attracted to the hot-headed narcissist, Gaston. Having seen immense success with the live action adaptation, director Bill Condon recently opened up about the inspirations for Gaston. More specifically, Condon discussed the real life characters that inspired Howard Ashman while he penned Gaston's songs for the animated classic back in 1991.
Much of Disney's animated Beauty and the Beast was shaped by the late writer Howard Ashman, who brought so much of his own humor and tragedy to the beloved fairytale. In fact, his own experiences as a gay man in the 1980s directly informed the narrative structure and its focal characters. The Beast's role was greatly expanded to become an extended metaphor for the writer's own struggle with aids. LeFou was deliberately coded as gay, and Gaston was inspired by a very particular category of men known as "trade": a non gay-identifying man that has casual sex with other men.
If that wasn't already apparent from Luke Evans's performance, director Bill Condon recently told Attitude magazine the following:
“I’ll tell you one other thing that’s for sure, I’m not saying Howard Ashman liked rough trade, but Alan told me that both the dentist in Little Shop of Horrors and Gaston were based on, you know, trade.”
Condon was then asked whether the uber-masculine caricature might have been drawn from Ashman's previous experiences.
"Yeah, or had been with. Not the brightest but lovely, you know… That’s a gay joke, that’s a gay inside joke; that character, Gaston."
The hyper-masculine facade of Gaston is a threatening fantasy, simultaneously dangerous and exciting because of the secrecy a relationship with him would require. There are many reasons people find this exciting or simply necessary, and narrowing it down to even a few would be simplistic and pointless. However, given the backlash against Beauty and the Beast for outing LeFou as gay, it's easy to see why many members of the LGBT community still feel the need to hide such aspects of their lives.
"Who's The Man Among Men?"
There's a tragic element to Evans's character that played out as mere arrogance in the Disney animation. His machismo quivers at times, breaking into near-psychosis. Gaston has been the poster boy of toxic masculinity for years, and now the live-action adaptation has gone to greater lengths to show us the dangers of that characteristic.
Bill Condon doubled-down on the condescending chauvinism of Beauty and the Beast's leading villain while expanding on his military background and potential struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Luke Evans, who played the character in the remake, elaborated on this:
"He probably does suffer from PTSD, which he manages to keep under wraps because he has people like the villagers and LeFou and the girls who puff him up and make him feel sexy and wanted. But below that is a broken human being."
All this combined suggests that LeFou's gay narrative is just one facet of a subtextual plot as rich as the main story line itself: that of Gaston and LeFou. It's hard to say whether the two were intimately involved, or if LeFou was merely strung along by Gaston's constant need for emotional fluffing.
The late Howard Ashman helped to create an #LGBT parable which resonated on multiple levels, and still does today. A fantasy in which a miracle cure offered hope and escapism for millions across the world, and where two characters are able to accept each other for who they are inside. Essentially, it's a story about enduring, unconventional love.
Regardless of any perceived controversy, Beauty and the Beast recently crossed a record-breaking threshold to become the highest-grossing PG movie of all time, leading to countless rumors of spin-offs and sequels. Having already explored the humanity of Maleficent, is it time Disney took a closer look at Gaston?
Did you pick up on the suggestion that there was more to Gaston than an incredibly thick neck? How about that Gaston spin-off? Sound off below!