Meet Hollywood’s first gay teen blockbuster

Teenage dream: Alexandra Shipp, Nick Robinson, Jorge Lendeborg Jr and Katherine Langford. © Fox

Did Love, Simon arrive too late? The romantic comedy is the first mainstream teen movie to feature a gay character in the leading role. But some say it is not as groundbreaking as it sounds.

“Mom, there’s something I have to tell you,” says a character in Love, Simon, a new teenage romantic comedy that comes out in the UK next week. “I’m straight.”

Her mother bursts into horrified tears. “Oh, God! Help me, Jesus!” she sobs.

This is a fantasy, of course, dreamed up by the main character: a closeted American high school student named Simon Spier. “It doesn’t seem fair that only gay people have to come out,” he says. “Why is straight the default?”

This is the central question of the film, based on a 2015 YA novel by Becky Albertalli.

It is the first gay film of its kind to be released by a major film studio. It has all the hallmarks of the high school genre: bullies, house parties and a sweet love story. For this, it is being hailed as a landmark moment for LGBT young people.

Yet in Time magazine, Daniel D’Addario questioned whether today’s gay teenagers really “need this movie.” “Kids like Simon, in 2018, already have a good shot of fitting in,” he wrote.

That is not to say that LGBT teenagers do not still struggle. Last year Stonewall found that 45% of LGBT youth had been bullied for their identity in the UK.

But does Love, Simon play it too safe?

Simon says…

Yes, say some. Simon is wealthy, popular and has very supportive parents. He is “carefully built to seem as straight as possible.” Surely there are more interesting stories to tell about today’s LGBT young people? Making a film that so closely mimics straight romance feels flat and uninteresting.

That “normality” is what makes it special, argue others. It is sweet and happy, without any real heartbreak. Gay teenagers have not had that before, and they need it. The optimistic portrayal of coming out has already encouraged people to come out to their own friends and family. That is all the proof you need.

You Decide

  1. Do teenagers need a film like Love, Simon?

Activities

  1. As a class, list all of the LGBT characters you can remember seeing on TV and film. Discuss: were they good or bad role models for young people? Was their sexuality treated as a joke? And do their stories have happy endings?

Some People Say...

“The only queer people are those who don’t love anybody.”

Rita Mae Brown

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Love, Simon is rated a 12A, and it will be out next Tuesday (April 6) in UK cinemas. It has already been out in the US for two weeks, where it earned $11.8 million over its opening weekend.
What do we not know?
Whether LGBT stories will become the norm in Hollywood. Gay characters are still largely absent from mainstream movies; there are no openly gay superheroes, for example.

Word Watch

Closeted
Someone who is “in the closet”, meaning they identify as LGBT but have not told other people yet.
YA novel
Titled Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda and published by Penguin in the UK.
Film studio
20th Century Fox.
45%
This has decreased from 55% in 2012, suggesting that things are getting better for LGBT young people in Britain, but it is still significantly high.

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