Love, Simon marks the start of a revolution in LGBT+ cinema
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Love, Simon (2018) has changed the game for LGBT+ movies forever - that fact remains undeniable.
Though we saw the unlikely event of Moonlight (2016), a black gay love story, being honoured at the Oscars a few years ago, that didn’t really mark a change in gay stories making it in the mainstream. Like Brokeback Mountain (2005), its success is seemingly still an anomaly.
Both those films, and many others in the LGBT category on Netflix and beyond, all too often involve a deep and profound suffering that the gay characters experience (case in point: Thelma (2017)). That’s not to say there isn’t a place for those movies — they can often be incredibly cathartic for LGBT audiences, and powerful pieces of art in their own right. The key often lies in who has written and directed the films. Tarell Alvin McCraney wrote In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue inspired by his own experiences growing up gay in a black community, meaning that the story is only ever truthful rather than appropriative or exploitative.
Call Me By Your Name (2017) swept the world despite its limited release this year, and amidst accusations of it romanticising the paedophilic age gap between the leads, its success has still borne rumours of a sequel that promises to deal with the AIDs crisis. Though AIDs will always be a devastating and unavoidable part of LGBT history, the obsession with it in LGBT media drives home some regressive stereotypes: that LGBT people always seem to suffer, and suffer nobly, for the ‘straight gaze’ of the audience. Rather than suffering in a story like any (straight) character might, gay suffering pretty much exclusively occurs for reasons directly linked to their sexuality. Whether it’s HIV, or their own self loathing and repression, or violent homophobic abuse from those around them and from society at large, happy gay love stories are few and far between.
Films like God’s Own Country (2017) and The Handmaiden (2016) probably on balance fall more towards the empowering side of the scale than the misery porn side, but they’re still very adult films. Love, Simon gives LGBT youth the coming of age, first love, high school film we’ve always craved. The drama is of course impacted by Simon’s sexuality, but the angst levels are similar to any teen rom-com — there’s no threat of actual death, just the death of a high school reputation.
As well as a candy-floss sweet love story, the depth and care surrounding Simon coming out to the people he loves is truly affecting. Jennifer Garner’s supportive parent speech blows Michael Stuhlbarg’s in CMBYN out of the water, only because it feels so unbelievably relevant and real, compared to the highbrow intellectualism of Elio’s father.
The only thing that left me dissatisfied about the film is the treatment of one of Simon’s friends, Abi (Alexandra Shipp). One of the only 2 women of colour in the film, her beauty and desirability is seen as a commodity by the boys around her — both those that want to date her, and even Simon who feels that he can use his friendship with her as leverage. It’s just unfortunate that in a film that’s so positive in its representation for other groups throws women of colour somewhat under the bus. Though she’s still a great character, and well acted, the plot devalues her agency.
The power of Love, Simon lies not only in giving LGBT teens a story that reflects their experiences, but also in normalising the fact that everyone can relate to gay characters, and by extension real LGBT people. While there is certainly room for painful stories like the Oscar-winning A Fantastic Woman (2017) to be given the recognition they deserve, Love, Simon proves that there’s room for as much diversity in LGBT stories as there is in the LGBT community.
Love, Simon is released in UK cinemas tomorrow, April 6th, distributed by 20th Century Fox.