The new live-action Beauty and the Beast has been getting a lot of attention for its reshaping of traditional fairy tale tropes. There’s Emma Watson’s entrepreneurial feminist Belle, a much-vaunted “exclusively gay moment” – and now, it has been claimed, Disney’s first ever interracial kiss.
The film’s director, Bill Condon, has revealed that the new Beauty and the Beast will feature not one but two kisses between Cadenza and Madame de Garderobe, played by Stanley Tucci and Audra McDonald.
In the 1991 cartoon version of the classic fairy tale, Madame de Garderobe is a cheerful wardrobe – while neurotic grand piano Cadenza is a new character for the live-action remake.
“I didn’t give it a second thought, then at the preview, the [Disney] chairman told me that it was the first and second interracial kiss in a Disney movie,” Condon tells BBC Radio 4’s Front Row.
The director says he was “shocked” to learn that his movie was breaking new territory by showing a relationship between a white man and a black woman.
“I was surprised that it hadn’t happened before,” he says. “They [Disney] were excited by that.”
Of course, Disney has depicted love blossoming between people of different races before. In Pocahontas, John Smith is white and Pocahontas is Native American. In The Hunchback of Notre Dame, French Roma “gypsy” Esmerelda falls in love with Phoebus – who, like John Smith, is a white, blonde military man.
In 2009’s The Princess and the Frog, meanwhile, Disney’s first ever African-American princess Tiana winds up with the ethnically ambiguous Prince Naveen – a move that caused some controversy when the film was released.
Blogger Kimberly Coleman told CNN that “a lot of [African-American] moms had issues” with the fact that Tiana wasn’t shown falling in love with a black prince. “It felt like it was a slap in the face to black men,” she said.
However, Cadenza and Madame de Garderobe’s kisses in Beauty and the Beast will be the first time an interracial relationship is depicted in a live-action Disney film.
Their first kiss is thought to take place during a flashback scene, depicting what life was like before Prince Adam (Dan Stevens) was turned into the Beast and his servants into household objects.
The relationship between Gaston (Luke Evans) and his sidekick LeFou (Josh Gad), meanwhile, is the source of Beauty and the Beast’s “gay moment”.
Director Condon – who is gay himself, as is Evans – told Attitude magazine that LeFou is shown gradually coming to terms with his romantic feelings for Gaston throughout the film.
“[LeFou is] somebody who’s just realising that he has these feelings,” he said. “And Josh makes something really subtle and delicious out of it. And that’s what has its pay-off at the end, which I don’t want to give away. But it is a nice, exclusively gay moment in a Disney movie.”
The inclusion of an “exclusively gay moment” in a Disney film does represent a step forward, given that non-heterosexual relationships are depicted so infrequently in mainstream animation that the internet basically exploded when it seemed like a lesbian couple might appear in the background in Finding Dory.
However, several critics have questioned whether the relationship between LeFou and Gaston is really as revolutionary as Disney has suggested. The fact that LeFou’s sexuality is confined to just a “moment”, rather than being an established part of his character, has been seen as problematic by some – as has his sense of confusion about his homosexuality. (Surely, after all, children would be more inspired by seeing a happy, confident, non-conflicted gay man?)
In addition, LeFou is one of the film’s villains – and, as Marissa Martinelli points out in Slate, Disney has a long history of “queer-coded villains”, from “The Little Mermaid’s drag-inspired Ursula to The Lion King’s suave, effeminate Scar”.
It remains to be seen when Disney will deliver an out-and-proud LGBTQ hero – but we live in hope.
Images: Rex Features, Disney