Grace Moretz) who is sent to gay conversion therapy — a subject that also will be explored in Boy Erased starring Lucas Hedges (Lady Bird) later this year. Then there are TV sitcoms such as NBC’s new Champions, and Netflix’s One Day at a Time and Dear White People, all of which prominently feature teenage characters who happen to be gay.
What separates many of these stories from past LGBTQ representation in Brokeback Mountain, Philadelphia and The Crying Game is their content: The latest characters aren’t “punished” for being gay, and if they are, their journeys are punctuated by hopeful messages about acceptance.
Cameron Post “had a positivity to it that really struck me when I first read it,” Moretz told the crowd at a post-screening Q&A in Park City, Utah. “What one of our first conversations was about was that it deals with such heavy subject matter. And the reality of the situation for these kids is so heavy, but we wanted the interpersonal relationships to be real and fun.”
Simon is similarly heartwarming, drawing comparisons to a “gay-themed John Hughes movie,” says Greg Hernandez, founder of gay entertainment blog Greg in Hollywood.” That’s really the breakthrough here: It’s a love story about youth. It’s not tragic and has a lot of commercial potential.”
As a producer, Berlanti, who is gay, has championed LGBTQ characters on shows, including Dawson’s Creek, Riverdale and Arrow. For him, it was crucial to avoid some tropes while leaning into others: Simon, a soft-spoken music geek who hangs with both athletes and theater kids, and his more flamboyant classmate, Ethan (Clark Moore), show very different but equally layered portrayals of gay men. On the flip side, the movie also embraces some rom-com conventions, as Simon plans a grand romantic gesture to try and find his mystery boy.
“With each character, whether they’re straight or gay, you try to add authenticity to them,” Berlanti says. The roles reflect high school stereotypes, yet “the point was to have stories similar to what we’ve seen before, but put a new twist on it.”
That mix of conventional and groundbreaking is what ultimately stands out about Simon, which has received strong reviews (92% positive on aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes) and has earned close to $33 million at the box office. Coming at a time when only 23 movies released by major studios last year featured LGBTQ characters, according to GLAAD’s Studio Responsibility Index, it could also help push the needle forward for more gay stories on the big screen.
“This is a way to make it palatable to the mainstream,” Hernandez says. “If they can get teenagers in to see this, that’s key. If this makes a decent amount of money, I think we might be seeing more of them.”
Pent-up passion between Oliver (Armie Hammer, left) and Elio (Timothée Chalamet) was at the heart of awards season favorite “Call Me By Your Name.”