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Why I cried at 'Blockers' - and the need for more representation in major studio movies

April 17, 2018

Last week, I sat in a crowded movie theater with my girlfriend and our friends to take in the 10:15 p.m. showing of Blockers. I came in with mid-level expectations - I was ready to laugh, ready to maybe be impressed by John Cena, and mildly excited to watch what had been called “The Female American Pie.

What I didn’t expect was a feeling that hit me right in the gut 10 minutes into the film. As these teenage girls begin planning their pact to lose their virginities, the camera focuses in on Sam (Gideon Adlon) as her eyes find someone across the cafeteria. There’s an immediate cue that movie-goers know by heart: the room goes slow, the music swells, and the audience knows that someone is crushing hard. When this happens to Sam, we see that the object of her affection is her lovely classmate Angelica (Ramona Young).

A moment of disbelief went through me, right before that perfect and joyous thought of, “Oh my god, this is gay.” I didn’t notice until seconds later that I was squeezing my girlfriend’s hand much tighter than I had been before and she was squeezing right back. We turned to looked at each other. The feeling of being seen on screen that I felt in my chest was reflected back in her eyes too.

It’s heartbreaking how rare that feeling is. In GLAAD’s most recent Studio Responsibility Index, we found that in 2016, of the 125 films released by the seven biggest studios in the United States, only 23 of them included LGBTQ characters. Of those 23 films, only 13 of them included queer characters who had over a minute of screen time. It’s a trend we have seen over and over again in the five years of doing this report; and we saw it again last summer, when we found almost no LGBTQ people in any big budget film.

Year after year, the Studio Responsibility Index shows a number of raunchy, R-rated comedies where queer people are just punchlines and stereotypes. Toward the end of Blockers, a film that is undeniably that kind of comedy, Sam has a heartfelt scene with her father (Ike Barinholtz), where she comes out to him and shares her insecurities. He provides nothing but love and support for her in return. I looked down the row and saw that everyone I came with, all of them queer, were crying.

Meanwhile, this is the same movie in which John Cena butt-chugs a beer. So, it’s perfectly possible to include accurate and joyful queer depictions in comedy. Blockers shows that a movie can be hilarious and gross and rowdy, while still showing respect to its LGBTQ characters.

Last month’s Love, Simon felt similarly monumental. A gay lead and multiple queer supporting characters in a film opening in thousands of theaters around the country and overseas is something that still breaks new ground. The fact that Love, Simon is a romantic comedy made it all the more refreshing - seeing a gay character get his happy ending remains something that doesn’t typically get projected in theaters outside of New York and Los Angeles.

In the climaxes of both movies, Blockers and Love, Simon feature queer kisses, another plot point that, more often than not, LGBTQ people on the big (and small) screen are repeatedly robbed of. Simon (Nick Robinson) and Sam have the bravery to kiss their respective crushes, something that is so simple and yet essential to the teen movie experience. During the cinematic kiss in Love, Simon, I again turned to my girlfriend and realized how lucky I was to share this with her. Is this what heterosexual couples feel whenever they see any Nicholas Sparks movie? No wonder he gets to keep making them; it’s addictive to see a love like yours painted on the big screen and have a full theater of strangers root for it.

Blockers and Love, Simon are both opening a wider conversation for mainstream studios and audiences. It’s time for blockbusters to catch up with other mediums that have long outpaced them in terms of authentic representation. These two films  have made back their budget back and continue to receive overwhelmingly positive reviews, leaving the door wide open for more, including the opportunity for representing the full diversity of our LGBTQ community.

The major studios must take note. This cannot simply become a moment or a trend; LGBTQ people have to be seen at the movies, whether it is in Los Angeles or Swartz Creek, Michigan. And it has to be something that carries beyond these upper-middle class suburban white kids. The day needs to come when queer people of color, trans folk, queer women, and disabled queer people can lead a romantic comedy and studios need to have faith that people will come out and support those films. Because as it has been proven over and over again, they will.

I hope the day will come when my girlfriend and I share a look over a queer romance in a film, feel the same swelling in our chests, but it will not be something that is a surprise or a rarity- just a familiar part of the movie-going experience.

Raina Deerwater is the Entertainment Research Assistant at GLAAD. She conducts research for GLAAD's annual Studio Responsibility Index and Where We Are on TV reports, working for more accurate and inclusive LGBTQ representation. She is a graduate of Emerson College.

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