If you’re familiar with using pop culture to spark social change, it’s no surprise to see major awards ceremonies like the Oscars, hard-hitting documentaries or high-budget historical films with rock star casts spotlighting social justice. But the latest movie sparking a social justice phenomenon may surprise you: It’s a teenage romantic comedy.
Love, Simon, was released last March by 20th Century Fox. The film follows Simon Spier, a gay high school student played by Nick Robinson, accompanied by Josh Duhamel and Jennifer Garner, who play Simon’s parents.
Throughout the movie, Simon navigates the universally difficult trials of high school ranging from balancing friendships, family, love and bullies – all while struggling to hide that he is gay.
As the first movie from a major film company to feature a gay teenage romance, the film has sparked dialogue about representation of LGBTQ people in pop culture.
Not only does the movie bring to life how difficult it can be for queer youth to come out – even when they are privileged with supportive friends and family (among other things), but the film’s impact goes beyond that.
Here are some ways that activists are using the film to spark change:
GLAAD hosted a social media campaign, asking movie goers to show their support on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, tagging @GLAAD and #LoveSimon.
The It Gets Better Project shared messages of hope from the film’s cast to youth who may struggling with their identity:
Many have pinpointed that part of what makes Love, Simon so powerful is simply that it’s a romantic comedy. While often relegated to guilty-pleasure-status, romantic comedies and teenage come-of-age stories resonate because they reflect our own experiences back at us. Who doesn’t want to see a part of themselves reflected on screen and know that despite obstacles, they can still have a happy ending? Unfortunately those depictions have long been reserved to cis-gender, heteronormative (not to mention white) teens.
As GLAAD campus ambassador Palmer Haasch noted, it’s rare to see movie depictions of queer youth as happy and accepted. This simple, surprising movie trend becomes disturbingly dangerous when considered with the fact that LGBTQ are more likely to face bullying, violence, suicidal thoughts and even attempt suicide. But by portraying a high school coming out experience as one of love, acceptance and a happy ending (though not without its obstacles!), Love, Simon shows LGBTQ youth a more positive outlook on what their experience can look like. Put simply, it gives them hope. Put truthfully, as Mashable’s Jess Soho explained, it has the power to save lives.
Others have commended the film’s diverse cast, particularly applauding its portrayal of queer Black youth, whose experiences are so vastly underrepresented in pop culture. Clark Moore, who plays Ethan, Simon’s openly gay classmate, is a gay Black man himself. He told The Advocate that Ethan represents a character he always needed to see growing up:
“The fact that there are little gay black boys [who] are going to see someone who looks somewhat like them, or can speak to an experience that’s similar to theirs? That’s huge,” said Moore. “For so long, our stories and the LGBT community have been white-centric. They’ve spoken to an aspect of my identity, but not the full intersectionality of my identity.”
That’s not to say that the movie is without flaws. Some have noted that the film represents an idealized version of the coming-out experience, failing to portray the many different experiences of LGBTQ youth. Others have commented that the film plays into stereotypes. In a New York Times opinion piece, Jacob Tobia explained that, while still trailblazing, Simon’s character furthered the emotionally-damaging trope that to be accepted, gay men need to be “the right type of gay.”
Whether you loved the film, recognized its imperfection, or both, the key is that Love, Simon is sparking a dialogue. You don’t have to wait for the perfect storyline to begin to harness the power of pop culture for your cause or nonprofit.
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