Why Today’s Teens Need “Love, Simon”: A response to TIME

The upcoming Fox release Love, Simon is perhaps one of the boldest releases of the year. On the surface, the film seems to be like any other teen romance comedy, with a coming of age narrative and a look at the idea of first love, but what makes Simon such a stand-out is its perspective coming from a gay boy. While the film isn’t the first time the story of a closeted gay kid has been released to theaters, the one element that makes the film stand out is how it specifically targets teenage audiences. Compared to features like 2016’s Moonlight and 2013’s Blue is the Warmest Colour, which are largely geared towards adults, are distributed by independent studios, and premiere in a very limited amount of theaters, the upcoming feature, directed by Riverdale creator and out and proud gay man Greg Berlanti, is going for a younger, Fault in Our Stars-esque crowd, and is getting a wide release, upwards of 2,400 theaters, and is being distributed by 20th Century Fox, one of the “big six” movie studios. In short, it’s arguably the first mainstream film from a major studio with a teenage gay romance. The film also promises to be more lighthearted in comparison to other gay-themed films, while still tackling a bit on the issues people within the community have to face.

But like with anything that appears groundbreaking, a few detractors come out of the woodwork to argue whether something isn’t good enough, and the example for Love, Simon is with a recent Time article written by Daniel D’Addario. D’Addario, a gay man himself, recently published an article about the film, entitled “Love, Simon Is a Groundbreaking Gay Movie. But Do Today’s Teens Actually Need It?” I was a bit taken aback when I first read the title, considering how low LGBT representation is in film, but awful clickbait titles have ruined good articles many times in the past, so I read D’Addario’s article, and while I have plenty of respect for the man, I also believe much of what he says are bizarre and downright ridiculous. Looking at select quotes from D’Addario’s article:

“A milestone that feels overdue–the first mainstream teen comedy foregrounding a gay character–may have been outpaced by real life. Can a love story centered around a gay teen who is very carefully built to seem as straight as possible appeal to a generation that’s boldly reinventing gender and sexuality on its own terms?”

Can we please stop with the whole stereotyping for one moment? The beautiful thing about the LGBT community is that the people within it come from all walks of life and have their own unique personalities. Does a gay man automatically need a lisp and wear pink in order to be “gay enough” for a movie? I had assumed the community would have moved on from that mindset. And better yet, considering this is the first major film to feature a gay protagonist, wouldn’t its possible success translate into other major features that “reinvent gender and sexuality?” Wouldn’t Love, Simon being made, and more importantly be a hit, lead to studios like Paramount and Columbia distributing and producing LGBT-centric features at the same, possibly even larger, production and marketing scale of Simon?

“Riverdale, and the more troubling Netflix series 13 Reasons Why…are what all kinds of teens have proved they want. Who could blame them? Both shows take on, in freewheeling fashion, various challenges that could befall a teenager, and then amp up those stories with a level of operatic dudgeon that’s a part of being in high school; whether the subject is sex or suicide, it’s a style that speaks directly to young people…There’s no reason that the first gay romantic comedy for young viewers necessarily needed to look so much like the pat, flat rom-coms with which today’s teens are barely familiar.”

Sure, romantic comedies have been dying down a ton within the last few years, to the point of nonexistence, but it’s rather unfair to assume that teens are unaware of rom-coms. Netflix has romantic comedies that date back through the years, and cable have rerunned several over the years. Hell, teens also have rom-coms from their parents’ DVD collection to watch as well. Also, teens aren’t one specific hivemind. There are plenty of teenagers who don’t care for Riverdale or 13 Reasons Why. Better yet, plenty of teenagers can like both Riverdale and 50 First Dates. Why is this even a problem?

“But that’s precisely the problem. Kids like Simon, in 2018, already have a good shot of fitting in. They don’t need this movie. Will they look up from Netflix to notice that it has premiered? Love, Simon feels like a film responding to an entirely different culture, like one in which gay marriage was never legalized. That decision both acknowledged that equality for gays had won the day and opened the door for far more interesting and challenging fights, ones the next generation will lead. Movies that integrate those stories are ones worth anticipating with relish. Love, Simon, by contrast, simply feels like looking back in time.”

The “Will they look up from Netflix” line already sounds like “You gosh-darn millenialz,” but the argument focusing on the legalization of gay marriage in America is perhaps the strangest out of all of D’Addario’s arguments. Never mind the fact that America isn’t the only place in the world that has LGBT+ members that still don’t have homosexual marriage legalized, this reeks of the idea that because there are laws, that LGBT issues and concerns are suddenly gone and that their stories are unnecessary. Even when Hollywood attempts to appear #woke, they are still severely underrepresented when it comes to queer characters, largely due to the homophobic nations who will censor and kill anything related to rainbows, and the greedy film studios obsessed with making as much money as possible. There are dozens of places around the world, including America, where people are uncomfortable with coming out, in spite of the recent legalization. Gay representation and culture itself is already barely depicted within fictional media itself, with only about a handful of films still recognized within the public conscious, but because homosexual couples are allowed to legally marry, a film like Love, Simon somehow isn’t needed?

In spite of all of my ragging on D’Addario, I do have somewhat of an idea of where he’s coming from. There’s the argument that we’ve already seen enough LGBT films from both a white and male perspective, and with a greater push for intersectional representation, it would be wonderful to see a major film about a lesbian, or a queer person of color, or a disabled member of the LGBT community. But that’s why we need Love, Simon. With the way the Hollywood system works, once one film is a hit, imitators will follow, and if Simon ends up as a critical and box office success, which has already been achieved by the former’s case, it will inevitably lead to more LGBT-centric films and stories being made from different points of view, both onscreen and offscreen. So yes, today’s teens need Love, Simon both in the present and in the future, as the film that could have potentially been a stepping stone for future LGBT films.