'Love, Simon' Premiere: Stars Talk Representation, Youth Activism

Love, Simon Cast Screening - Getty - H 2018
Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images

At the L.A. premiere of the gay teen romance movie, the film's leads reflected on the future of teen activism and diverse storytelling.

The cast and crew of Love, Simon gathered at the Westfield Century City mall to push a simple message: this is only the beginning. Love, Simon might be among the first mainstream gay teen romance film to hit theaters, but no one is under the impression that it is the last.

Guests Matt Bomer, Darren Criss and Jack Antonoff joined Love, Simon stars Nick Robinson, Keiynan Lonsdale, Tony Hale, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Natasha Rothwell and director Greg Berlanti at the film’s Los Angeles premiere on Tuesday night. Hitting theaters this Friday, the film, based on the book Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, follows 17-year-old Simon as he struggles to come out to his family and friends in the wake of his bourgeoning crush on an anonymous boy he knows only as "Blue."

Elizabeth Berger, who co-wrote the script with Isaac Aptaker (This Is Us), doesn't shy away from the fact that Love, Simon is breaking new ground, but she doesn't think it will be the only mainstream queer movie for long. "Right now, Love, Simon is sort of an event, an event in that it’s the first of its kind. We hope that these become as regular and as every year as all other romantic comedies that are being made."

Clark Moore, who plays Ethan — the only other openly queer teen at Simon’s high school — said he believes that future stories should encompass a wider range of experiences and identity categories. "This movie shows us that when you come out it doesn’t have to be the gay story, it doesn’t have to be just about AIDS or just about your parents disowning you, and I think that’s the same for LGBT people of color," Moore, himself a queer black man, said. "Moonlight is a great story, but it’s not my story, and there are thousands of other stories about gay black men that can get told, so I’m hoping that this will break the door wide open."

He reflected on something that he said Love, Simon director Greg Berlanti said during production: "The gay experience exists on a spectrum, and everyone’s experience, wherever you fall on that spectrum, is valid, and it’s important, and it needs to be told." 

Lead Nick Robinson, who has appeared in movies like Everything, Everything and Jurassic World, didn’t intend to act in another high-school-set film, but Love, Simon was special. “This felt like it actually had something to say," he said. He added that he believes the significance of the movie extends beyond its two-hour runtime. "Young people are the next generation who are going to be leading these movements," he said. "I hope it's a story that empowers them and lifts them up. It gets a groundswell, it gets a movement going."

"My biggest fear is that people will think Love, Simon ticked the gay box, and now we’re done," said Natasha Rothwell, who plays Simon's drama teacher Ms. Albright in the film. "There are a myriad of stories that need to be told about the queer community, about the black community, about marginalized voices overall. I hope that this is a watershed moment for diverse voices."

In a moment in which teens in the Black Lives Matter movement and teens protesting gun violence after the fatal shooting in Parkland are throwing themselves into politics, stories about teens are being seen in a new light. 

"Sometimes life imitates art versus art imitating life," noted Jorge Lendeborg Jr., who also stars in the Showtime movie Shot about the repercussions of gun violence. In the same way that reproductions of negative stereotypes harm how people see themselves, movies like Love, Simon that show teens embracing all facets of their identities have the potential to ignite movements for change: "People believe those things."

"If you don’t see someone who looks like you, if you don’t see people within this world of the traditional Hollywood industry validating your experience, then it’s hard to feel like you have a space in this world," Moore added. "I’m hoping this movie will galvanize that youth activism that’s already happening in Parkland and already happening around the world, and I hope that it will drive them forward, give them the juice they need to vote in 2018."