The Fall of Queer Cinema

Matthew Holman

“Love, Simon” is not a piece of queer cinema. Well, it’s not the best representation of one.

The young-adult romantic comedy from 20th Century Fox is churning social cinematic waters, being the first film released by a major studio to feature a gay protagonist. Such a seemingly bold – albeit surprisingly delayed – piece of LGBTQ representation for mainstream moviegoers is being paraded with laudations.

But when sitting down and witnessing the film unfold before one’s own eyes, audience members come to the stark realization that, while its core indeed deals with queer subject matter, “Love, Simon” is quite a normative film, one on a ostensible streamline of normative queer cinema.

Normativity is the antithesis of queer cinema. Pioneered by eccentric visionaries such as John Waters or Pedro Almodovar, the hallmarks of queer cinema are not necessarily that the film dabbles in LGBTQ material, but rather it’s content be so outside the regularities of so-called normalcy it can exist as staunchly queer; just because a film contains LGBTQ subject matter does not inherently make it a queer film.

But a key hallmark from queer cinema scions is imbued in “Love, Simon:” the gay male gaze, in which the directors of queer films are queer individuals themselves. This puts “Love, Simon’s” director Greg Berlanti in the same sociological grouping as directors like Almodovar and Waters. However, the film’s content showcases anti-normativity for naught: despite the character of Simon continually polarizing himself as starkly different from his peers, the film’s universe is wholly in the realm of normalcy.

Even outside the narrative, normalcy reigns: there aren’t shots sexualizing the male body or perpetuating any sort of visuals that exist outside the norm. The entire film visually and narratively comes across as especially plain, almost as if Berlanti subjugates queer ideology to direct a film that looks just like something normal. This is something the film admits in the first few minutes, with Simon proclaiming he’s “just like you,” despite, you know, the gay thing. It is so absorbed into the normalcy the queerness is dead: anyone can indulge with this story.

This accessibility has seemingly become systematic for other films utilizing the queer male gaze. The 2017 Oscar-winning film “Call Me By Your Name” is directed by Luca Guadagnino, who himself is also a gay man. The luscious romance between two young men is portrayed through more erotic imagery than “Love, Simon.”

However, the circumstances in which this romance unfolds are objectively quite idyllic: the characters are affluent, intellectual and white and wasting their days basking in the glow of the Italian countryside. For how gorgeous the film comes across, it still doesn’t adhere to any queer elements and reads as yet another easily embraceable story with queer elements.

The mainstream propagation of these normative LGBTQ films is potentially harmful for the community at large, as it gentrifies the queerness on display. The aforementioned “just like you” mantra of “Love, Simon” is problematic — if not downright insulting. As delineated in a recent article in The New York Times, Simon has the exterior of a totally normalized, masculine gay – amplified by straight actor Nick Robinson – with the film not portraying other types of gay men in a light that isn’t comedic relief. For such a groundbreaking portrayal of a gay romance on a public platform, the mainstream queer film arguably utilizes the most heteronormative queer characters imaginable to be its mouthpiece; they don’t represent a broader spectrum of queer personalities.

GLS sophomore Ryan Tang expressed his qualms with the film.

“I enjoyed it,” Tang told WSN. “But it was also tiring to see another idealized coming out story involving people that look nothing like me for the sake of a cute Hollywood ending.”

But even if the representation is more skewed to appeal to a broader audience, perhaps the fact such queer presentation exists at all is a step in a positive direction.

A recent article in Quartzy discusses how these LGBTQ-centric films not only perpetuate queer storylines but promote positive narratives for members of the community.

In comparison to previous phenomenons such as “Brokeback Mountain” and “Angels in America,” the stories being told promote a more positive energy for the community, along with the aforementioned widespread notoriety. This is possibly reflective of the growth in our culture of LGBTQ acceptance in recent years, with the love and acceptance only continuing to grow, if only evidenced by the movies.

Ideally, mainstream film will better represent the array of personalities that embellish the LGBTQ community and adhere to the roots of queer cinema. But for now, it’s a start, and one cannot help but think of the positivity this might be perpetuating across the country right now.

Even if it’s not entirely “queer cinema,” I can’t say that if I were still a starry-eyed, burgeoning gay teen back in the discomfort of generally non-accepting Oklahoma, “Love, Simon” wouldn’t have been a shining beacon to look up to. If it’s not queer cinema, it’s at least part of a movement of affirmative queer films.

“I left the theater feeling really happy,” Tang said, and perhaps for now, that’s all that matters.

A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, April 5 print edition. Email Matthew Holman at [email protected].

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