1) LeFou, a comic relief character whose name means "the fool" or "crazy", will be openly gay... more or less. He's described as "confused" and someone "who on one day wants to be Gaston and on another day wants to kiss Gaston". Of course you will recall that Gaston is a) the villain and b) obsessed with expressing his own heteronormative cisnormative masculinity by hunting animals, beating men up, aggressively pursuing a woman who doesn't want him, and flaunting his body hair.
2) The depiction of the Beast's curse is a metaphor for AIDS, thanks mainly to the work of lyricist and executive producer Howard Ashman, who died of AIDS a few days after the film's first screening.
Item one is appalling on its face. This is not anything resembling useful or appropriate gay representation. The "wants to be/wants to kiss" thing is pure pseudo-Freudian anti-gay bullshit; the gay narcissist is one of the most pernicious and persistent gay stereotypes. With one voice fandom cried "WHAT ABOUT COGSWORTH AND LUMIÈRE" but no, instead of a happy gay couple we get a bumbling buffoon whose lust object despises him (and, if the live-action film is true to the animated one, repeatedly assaults him in public for the amusement of others or just for fun). In addition, the live-action portrayal is downright swishy. Blech. If it turns out that Gaston is closeted and just stalking Belle as a cover, I may punch a wall.
Item two looks more sweet and heartwarming, a tribute to a gay man's last great work. But while I was searching for the original Attitude interview (because a screencap of the headline was going around with no additional link attached), I found Dan Rather's 1992 review of the animated film, in which he observed what appeared to be a metaphor for AIDS and asked Disney about it.
The folks at Disney tell me that Beauty and the Beast was well under way before lyricist and executive producer Howard Ashman tested HIV positive, and long before Ashman died of AIDS. They say this isn't autobiographical.In other words, Disney was scared of getting gay cooties all over a children's film, so they erased Ashman's efforts to tell his story, all while his body was still warm.
If you have a box of tissues handy, watch Ashman's partner, Bill Lauch, accept Ashman's posthumous Oscar for "Beauty and the Beast". (h/t to suzisteffen for mentioning it.) Lauch humbly thanks the people at Disney for the support they gave Ashman behind the scenes. But Disney still wouldn't admit in public that the story of the Beast was Ashman's own story of being cursed and running out of time to love and be loved.
Now it's 25 years later and societal attitudes have changed. Here's how Condon describes it in the Attitude interview:
"Disney had been developing Beauty and the Beast for decades," Condon explains. "But there was a specific version they were working on developing in the Eighties."To be absolutely clear, Ashman's contributions and motivations are only being discussed by Disney reps because it won't harm the new film's chances of success. This is pure cynicism on Disney's part. Rather's review, which is quite wonderful, notes that the sympathetic portrayal of the Beast could really help to change the way people with HIV and AIDS were seen and treated by the rest of society. And those changes did come, arguably encouraged by Ashman's work on the film. But instead of sincerely honoring Ashman, Disney is coolly taking advantage of his legacy—and his death—after a quarter-century of just as coolly obscuring it, all for their own profit.
"On the heels of The Little Mermaid they showed it to [composer] Alan Menken and Howard Ashman. Ashman had just found out he had AIDS, and it was his idea, not only to make it into a musical but also to make Beast one of the two central characters; until then it had mostly been Belle's story that they had been telling."
Unless they release a statement apologizing for their earlier denials, I see no reason to believe that this is anything other than a marketing ploy. And until they announce that a percentage of the new film's proceeds are going to an HIV/AIDS charity, they're not getting another dime from me.
If you were thinking of seeing Beauty and the Beast in the theater, please consider donating the ticket cost to God's Love We Deliver, the Names Project, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, or another HIV/AIDS-related charity, in memory of Howard Ashman.