Going to the movies has always been an escape for me. Being brown, lower middle class, and queer in a overwhelmingly white, high-income suburb of Los Angeles meant that I spent a lot of my formative years deep, deep in the closet, and one of the few, safe escapes I had in my admittedly ordinary life was my family's weekend trips to the local movie theater. I could always identify with at least one character in whatever box office draw was out at the time. In superhero and action movies, I found myself rooting for the one superheroine who could kick ass better than the men. And in romantic comedies, I usually saw a lot of myself in the female lead, who was usually very hard-working and independent, but a hopeless romantic looking for her Mr. Tall, Dark, and Handsome.
But no matter how easy it was for me to find someone to relate to, in my heart of hearts I still yearned to see someone more specifically like me. I wanted to see a gay male character leading a major, mainstream movie. And that's why Love, Simon, 20th Century Fox's latest release from director Greg Berlanti, is so groundbreaking.
Based off of author Becky Albertalli's 2015 young adult novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, Love, Simon tells the story of Simon Spier (played by Nick Robinson), a gay teenager living in suburban Atlanta trying to navigate life during his senior year of high school. After a classmate finds emails he's written to an anonymous, online pen pal named Blue (who is also gay), Simon get's blackmailed and risks potentially getting outed to his entire school.
Minus the dramatics of blackmail and outing, Simon and I have a lot in common. We both live in an Everytown where nothing really exciting happens and everything (and everyone) is painfully the same. We have big families who, despite their quirks, love us very much. We have a close-knit group of friends who we rely on for everything. And we both have a secret that weighs heavily on us, that scares us, and that prevents us from being our most proud, authentic selves.
When I saw Love, Simon the first time at a screening event earlier this year, it truly dawned on me how, up until this point, I had never seen a teen rom-com (and trust me, I've seen a lot of teen rom-coms), lead by a realistic gay character in a movie of this scale. In recent years, there have been plenty of artistic, critically-acclaimed, queer movies that have brought the narratives of LGBT people to mainstream consciousness—Call Me by Your Name, Moonlight, and Carol are the first three examples that come to my mind—but you still find yourself wanting more when you consider how small their releases were (according to Box Office Mojo, during their widest releases, CMBYN only reached 914 theaters, Moonlight made it to 1,564, and Carol made it to 790).
Love, Simon is more. It was helmed by a major studio and is getting a wide release (2,402 theaters during opening weekend) so that queer kids all over the country, from the city to the suburbs, have access to it. Access that the closeted, teenage me wishes he had when he was struggling to figure out his identity in a space and community he was afraid would reject him.
I saw Love, Simon for the third time this past weekend in the same movie theater I have been going to with my family for years. To my surprise, it was actually packed with fellow locals (including an adorable, older couple who had the most hilarious and refreshing commentary during Simon's first kiss with Blue—don't worry, no spoilers) who were all crying, laughing, and cheering at all the same parts I was. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would see a gay character in a movie go through the same fears and experiences I had when I was that age—and at a movie theater in a town where those experiences happened to me. (Usually I have to drive to an artsy cinema in Hollywood to do that!)
While Love, Simon is only one, small glimpse into a diverse and wide-ranging community filled with different stories to tell, it's a good start. And it's something that mainstream audiences need to see more of.
Love, Simon is in theaters everywhere now. Watch the trailer in the video below.