Within the last month, two major Hollywood blockbusters have released last-minute promotional information relating to the inclusion of queer characters in their respective narratives. But what was promised as some groundbreaking inclusion in two possible billion-dollar franchise starters turned out to be, on both accounts, a blink and you’ll miss it nods to fringe demographics in the most basest of terms.
Inclusivity is in now. After years of the Hollywood system shutting us out, denying us representation both on-screen and off, something seems to have changed the studio’s mind about the inclusion of queer voices. Or, at least that’s what they’d like us to think. That’s why Beauty and the Beast and Power Rangers – two of the biggest releases of the past month – have plastered the news far and wide that they have an exclusively ‘gay’ moment or character in their then-upcoming film. The headlines were written large; Hollywood blockbusters promote inclusivity! Disney’s first ever out character! The first gay superhero on-screen! And while, yes, sure, it’s nice to see some diversity finally being included in these large-scale pictures that will have an incredible reach worldwide amongst dozens of different demographics, there was inevitably going to be a down-side.
And unsurprisingly, these promises of inclusivity turned out to be as much of a fiction as the films themselves. The fanfare when Beauty and the Beast’s director Bill Condon announced that lacky Le Fou would have an ‘exclusively gay’ moment in the film was, for a moment, deafening. Many expected this moment to involve the film’s villain, Gaston. Given the already established homoerotic boundaries of Le Fou’s admiration for Gaston, it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine this relationship being re-worked with an un-requited twist on Le Fou’s behalf. I mean, we’ve all been there, right lads? But what could have been an interesting, worthwhile twisting of a hyper masculine villain and the relationship he has with his physically inferior devotee and could have drawn interesting parallels with the internal divisions within the modern-day gay community and its fixation with masculinity as an increasingly popular form of validation and idolisation.
That would have been acceptable, that would have actually been fascinating to watch, even if it was swept aside by the dominant narrative of Emma Watson falling in love with a buffalo. But what we actually got was five seconds – five whole seconds, guys! – of Le Fou dancing with a male soldier. Not just any male soldier however! A solider who, in the climactic battle in the Beast’s castle, had been swallowed up by a wardrobe and emerged with a face full of make-up and wearing a Renascence-era frock. The ‘twist’, the ‘inclusive moment’ here is that the soldier seems quite at home in his new get-up and he and Le Fou twirl away in the ballroom in the last scene of the film. I’m sorry…but what? This is it? This is the ‘exclusively gay’ moment we were promised? Bullshit. Not only does it play – if not wholly intentionally – the use of drag for laughs, it also panders to the age-old Hollywood dichotomy that, apparently, gay people in the movies either have to be camp as Christmas or in a dress to be singled out by the audience.
God forbid the appearance of a gay man in a film that doesn’t line-up with an inherently homophobic way of fencing in gay men and boiling down our existence to a pair of stereotypes. And to make this all worse, Le Fou is played by Josh Gad. Josh Gad! That smug one, with the punchable face. Josh Gad! Barely there inclusivity! What a time to be alive.
A more recent promotional strategy promoting inclusivity and representation when there was actually little to none comes courtesy of the Power Rangers re-boot. Becky G (yes, really) plays the Yellow Power Ranger, Trini and in the run-up to the film’s release, it was casually announced that she would have ‘girlfriend trouble.’ Again, great news and extra points for not only having a queer superhero, but a queer Latino one as well. But – and I think you know where this is going – the reality of Trini’s sexuality is something different entirely. Much like Le Fou, it’s relegated to one minute beat of one scene, where it is implied – but never actually stated – that Trini is not having boyfriend troubles, she’s having girlfriend troubles.
Now, do not get me wrong, sexuality is not and should not be a tool to wholly define a character with; but, to openly use sexuality as a marketing ploy (and, make no mistake about it, Power Rangers’ tactic was definitely used to drum up interest in the wake of the film’s opening) and then to not even back this up with any quantifiable evidence is not only deeply troubling, it’s baffling. This is not equality; this is inclusivity for inclusivity’s sake, this is inclusivity used as a marketing ploy. And, most importantly of all, this is not inclusivity. We cannot call this inclusivity – this is trickery, this is using fringe and marginalised demographics’ hope for equality as a way to increase a film’s exposure and target audience. Neither Le Fou or Trini are out; their sexuality is purposefully kept at least partially masked; to keep us guessing, to keep us (partially) appeased that we have some kind of representation on-screen but to also keep more conservative audiences in their seats because, Heaven forbid, a queer superhero be included in the line-up of the Power Rangers.
The fight for equality and inclusivity will never end and it’s always going to be a delicate push-and-pull from both sides; to not turn a character’s sexuality into their defining trait or completely sweep it under the carper or become a derogatory stereotype. But the best thing about this conversation is that we’re actually having this conversation and that’s a good a start as any.
Get Volume #17 here.
Words by George Griffiths