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Friday, April 20, 2018

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Marginalized characters deserve real representation


Emma Watson is reason enough to flock to a nearby theater to see “Beauty and the Beast”; it will no doubt be an amazing live-action movie.

The movie is unique in many ways: it features an interracial couple and a gay character. In this version, Belle is the inventor — not her father — and she doesn’t have to wear a corset.

Although the movie hasn’t yet premiered, a leak about gay representation in the movie has caused some to erupt in thunderous applause while others were less than thrilled.

In the 2017 version of the Disney classic, the character LeFou comes out as gay. In the original 1991 version of the movie, LeFou was Gaston’s avid compatriot. He worked with Gaston to win Belle’s hand, and when that didn’t work, they conspired to have Belle’s father locked away in an insane asylum and to kill the Beast.

Disney fanatics are not unfamiliar with homosexual characters — Oaken from “Frozen” and the lesbian couple in “Finding Dory” — but LeFou is the first openly homosexual character with significant screen time. But although he is relatively prominent in the film, he’s not exactly what the LGBTQ+ community had in mind when asking for more representation in movies.

Some people say that featuring variations of sexuality and identity is good; it brings social issues to light. Some people believe the lack of positive representation in “Beauty and the Beast” forces moviegoers to acknowledge the existence of marginalized people, but this reasoning is incorrect.

The reason why people are advocating so intensely for giving “Frozen’s” Elsa a girlfriend is because she is iconic: a powerful female in a Disney movie whose bond with her sister was more important than a romance with a man.

That’s the kind of representation that gives people hope, and giving her LGBTQ+ status would help to normalize different sexualities.

Killing off that marginalized character or writing a marginalized villain into the script with no ‘good’ marginalized counterpart is almost as bad as refusing to acknowledge the existence of that character’s identity at all. Refusing positive representation is harmful.

Adults, who are mature and usually have solidified opinions about the world, can see gay characters and differentiate sexuality and evil intentions. Children, the intended audience for fairy tales, may not be able to make that distinction.

It’s not just children who need to see marginalized characters represented; adults do, too. It’s not bold for people to want themselves properly reflected in media they consume.

By employing stereotypes, the audience already decided LeFou was gay before the announcement, and it’s merely a step toward inclusion for LeFou to come out.

However, do we really want the first, second, third, even the seventh time a kid sees their sexuality represented on screen to be represented by a character who doesn’t get a happily ever after? Who stands on the side of evil — a trope that is produced on screens again and again? Whose name quite literally translates to “the fool?” Whose love interest treats him horribly?

Despite problematic writing, boycotting the film isn’t necessary. It will still break boundaries, challenge commonly-held ideas, and it’ll be entertaining, too. “Beauty and the Beast” looks gorgeous with all the costumes and songs and French provincial life — also the sure-to-be-incredible library.

Having a positive reflection of oneself in the media is exceedingly important. Giving Elsa a girlfriend is now in more dire need than ever — that would be cause for celebration rather than the disappointment that LeFou has induced.

Columnist Jackie Wostrel is a Public Relations freshman and can be reached at [email protected]

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