The essence of each one of us is comprised of many different things. From our race, ethnicities, and cultural backgrounds to our families, friendships, and sexualities-- these are all components that make us who we are. During our high school years, we begin to parse out our identities. Unfortunately, for some of us more than others, standing in our truth is easier said than done.
A warm and beautiful story of friendship, loss, and the innate desire to love and be loved, Greg Berlanti’s groundbreaking Love, Simon is not just a love story for the LGBTQ community -- but one for humanity in a time when we seem to be losing touch with one another. The film follows seventeen-year-old Simon Spier (portrayed by Nick Robinson), a typical teenager just trying to get through his last year in high school. However, since he as yet to tell his friends and family that he’s gay, managing his friendships, familial relationships, and a new love becomes stifling.
The Flash star Keiynan Lonsdale stars in the film, as Bram, a classmate of Simon’s who seems to move through high school effortlessly, not held down by the all-consuming confusion Simon is battling. Ahead of the Love, Simon premiere, I sat down to talk with Lonsdale about his role, why young people are going to change the world, and why this film spoke to his spirit.
Though the film is based on Becky Albertalli’s 2015 award-winning YA novel, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, Lonsdale picked up the script without knowing anything about the story. “I hadn't read about the book prior to hearing about the film project, so it was all sort of a surprise,” he revealed. “It was a whole new look into an awesome story — one that is very much needed. So it was really exciting. Once I read the script I just kept thinking, 'I can't believe this movie hasn't been made already.' I think that was a good sign to say that it's really time.”
With a plethora of YA films dominating the box office in recent years from Harry Potter to The Hunger Games and more recently, The Fault in Our Stars and The Perks of Being a Wallflower, it seems astounding that Love, Simon is the first teen LGBTQ romance from a major studio. “I think perhaps everything has changed in the past 12 months,” Lonsdale reflected. “A year ago I would have been surprised by a lot of these things -- surprised by all these firsts, but now the way that I look at things is I should have realized how young we are as a society. As much as progress seems really slow, there are also changes that happen really really quickly. Five years ago honestly, I don't know if people would have been warm and openly as accepting of this kind of project —Hollywood especially. Social media has really helped because now people can see that they're not alone, and more people have started to speak up. I think it's a combination of things, but I do think that we're shifting a lot, so that's why these firsts are coming out.”
Though the Australian native is no stranger to the big and small screens with his role as Kid Flash on The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow and his portrayal of Uriah in the blockbuster film Insurgent, playing Bram in Love, Simon really spoke to his soul. “My other characters have been around a similar age, and no matter who you are at that age you're constantly trying to define yourself,” he explained. “And everyone around you is trying to define you even though your struggles are similar. However, there is a whole other world of issues in Love, Simon that aren't superhero-related and it's not a dystopian world. I think for each of those characters and each kid in high school now, it can feel like that because of self-identity and the issues that we're also trying to figure out at that age... any age.”
Having Greg Berlanti, who happens to be an openly gay director helm the project was also an important part of this film. Through Berlanti’s lens, we watch Simon struggle with fear, those first intense inklings of love, and the desire to be free. “I think it's really important," Lonsdale expressed. “I don't think it's actually essential, but at the same time, I knew 100% once Greg was onboard that this was going to be made with love. I knew this was going to be made from not a place of guessing or assumption, but by someone that knows what this feels like. It adds a whole layer of depth and history and surplus experiences of what these issues feel like. I think it definitely felt like a gamble, but I trusted Greg to get things right. I think we tackle LGBTQ issues really honestly, and it comes out in this really beautiful positive way.”
With everything that is happening in the world presently, it seems like young people are the most compassionate and most able to love and accept others exactly as they are. From the way the characters are positioned in Love, Simon we could all learn a lot from them. “There was so much tragedy and suffering in past generations that have fought for what they've fought for, so there is a lot less of that now,” Lonsdale explained. “However, it doesn't mean that it's not really difficult for someone to come out or accept themselves, it still presents itself with different challenges. I feel like it's just a really nice portrayal of how this generation treats each other within that community and how we think about sexuality and what makes it difficult for us to still find our way.”
For Lonsdale, Love, Simon is more than just a film; it’s an opportunity for people who identify with the LGBTQ community and their allies to see themselves represented in a mainstream film lovingly, warmly, and sensitively. “I just want them to walk away, feeling loved,” he said. “Hopefully they see themselves or someone that they know in one of the characters just so they can walk out of that theater a little more confident.”
Love, Simon was a life-changing experience for the 26-year-old actor, and it has compelled Lonsdale to take on more projects that he finds profoundly impactful. “I either want to be extremely challenged and connected to a character, or I want to know that I'm going to have an insane amount of fun and I can make a lot of cool memories," the Dance Academy alum revealed about his next projects. “Or, I want to know that it's going to have an impact on the way that society thinks. So, any kind of role that presents one of those key options for me is something that excites me. Also, I do want to be a part of more LGBTQ films. For me, I keep thinking, 'Yeah yeah yeah I've made it, I've made it to self-acceptance, I've made it to a point where I'm confident with my sexuality.’ And then I grow, and I change again, I see another layer comes up, and I'm like 'Oh.’ For me now it's at a point where it's not about acceptance, it's about embracing yourself. There’s a beauty in being queer, the same way Black girls have Black girl magic. When we fully allow ourselves to accept ourselves and the beauty of other cultures and of other sexualities and whatnot, it's amazing. That's what I'd like to continue to explore with my work.”
Love, Simon premieres Friday, March 16th
Aramide A Tinubu is a film critic and entertainment writer. As a journalist, her work has been published in EBONY, JET, ESSENCE, Bustle, The Daily Mail, IndieWire and Blavity. She wrote her Master’s thesis on Black Girlhood and Parental Loss in Contemporary Black American Cinema. She’s a cinephile, bookworm, blogger and NYU + Columbia University alum. You can find her reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, read her blog at: www.chocolategirlinthecity.com or tweet her @midnightrami