What does it mean when people say “representation matters?” Why does it matter that we see a wide variety of people portrayed in films and TV? Why, specifically, do we need a healthy representation of LGBTQ+ people? For one thing, it is more likely that audiences, once given a wider exposure to people different from them, will experience an increase in tolerance and a better understanding of those people they see being represented. On the opposite end of the spectrum, it gives people who directly relate to these represented characters something to emulate and gives them the opportunity to see their stories played out in front of them.
Or maybe representation matters because articles like the one Time Magazine published on March 19 are still being written, an article brilliantly entitled: “‘Love, Simon’ Is a Groundbreaking Gay Movie. But Do Today’s Teens Actually Need It?”
“Love, Simon” is a new teen comedy directed by Greg Berlanti and based on the novel “Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda” by Becky Albertalli. It centers around a closeted high school senior named Simon (portrayed carefully and beautifully by Nick Robinson), his secret email correspondence with another gay boy attending his school and the challenges he faces ranging from his pen-pal’s continued anonymity to the struggle of being out in high school. It’s a devilishly funny movie; there were periods where minutes would pass without me being able to pause my laughter. From the perspective of someone who read and adored the book, the casting was perfect, the adaptations for the screen were thoughtful and concise and the heartfelt moments had the entire theater in tears. True story, upon discovering I was alone at the showing of the film, a group of three girls adopted me into their group without a thought, and the one I sat next to during the screening began crying about halfway through and did not stop until the end. Being in an environment like that and knowing how much a movie and book like this can mean to so many people, it’s a no brainer that this carefree LGBTQ+ representation matters.
But apparently that didn’t click for the lovely and illustrious Time Magazine critic Daniel D’Addario, whose review I previously mentioned. His critique mainly takes issue with three key points: that teens these days give more attention to the edgier, grittier content Netflix produces, making a standard high school comedy like “Love, Simon” fall flat; that Nick Robinson is constructed to be as “straight” and relatable as possible in a way that doesn’t push boundaries enough; and that, “Kids like Simon, in 2018, already have a good shot of fitting in. They don’t need this movie.” At the risk of coming across much too aggressively, I’m going to take a metaphorical deep breath and lay out why he’s so horribly, horribly wrong.
D’Addario opens his review by doing the straightest thing possible, which is to compare a completely unrelated gay movie to the only other relevant queer movies from the last five years, of which there are only three (yep, those gay teens sure have got all the representation they could hope for!) This is the movie equivalent of in real life saying, “Oh yeah, I know exactly what gay people are like, I have one gay friend.” I don’t know if D’Addario is aware or not, but gay people, like straight people, are very different from one another and don’t always want to watch the, admittedly beautiful, but often very emotionally intense and even more often tragic queer stories. Imagine that. Wanting a cheesy high school romcom that you can actually relate to after years of having to watch cheesy straight romcoms that you literally couldn’t care less about; what a wild concept.
He then tries to say that Nick Robinson’s portrayal of Simon is “too straight,” asking the scintillating question, “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?” The answer, predictably, is a resounding “yes.” The fact is, we do need more representation of different queer people, but as D’Addario keeps helpfully reminding us, it’s 2018 and we have yet to have anything gay and relatable at all. You have to walk before you can run and the fact that a major studio like Fox 2000 took on this project is a milestone. Yes, we should have more representation of whatever D’Addario thinks a gayer version of Simon looks like, but we’ve never had the chance to tell that basic, somewhat safer story until now. D’Addario is apparently ahead of his time, hands on hips, and asking with a furrowed brow, “Where have you guys been? You don’t need this basic comedy, it’s 2018!” Thanks for the reminder, Mr. Time Magazine; it’s such a radical concept. It’s not like it’s something the LGBTQ+ community has been striving for for years or anything, but go off I guess.
Finally, the kicker: the idea that basic kids with supportive parents and great friends don’t need a movie like this. It’s with a comment like that that D’Addario solidifies himself as the same kind of person as the antagonist in the actual film, the ignorant straight boy threatening to out Simon to the whole school because he “didn’t realize people were still homophobic today.” Here’s a newsflash: homophobia is alive and well today as anyone with eyes, ears and knowledge of our political climate could tell you. Having all the support in the world doesn’t matter a bit if you know there’s a good chance the world outside that support won’t accept you and, as a kid coming to terms with their identity in high school, that’s a terrifying thought. A kid like that, and hell, adults who remember feeling like that, need a movie like this. They need something that’s lighthearted and sweet but real and relatable, something that doesn’t break your heart or show the one gay character being killed off. So yes, sappy, cheesy, high school comedy-esque representation like “Love, Simon” is important and that importance hasn’t been diminished just because gay people are allowed to get married now. Try telling the theater filled with crying people that I watched the movie in that this movie doesn’t matter; I think you’ll find it’s quite the opposite.