The Coming-of-Age Storyline: A Standout Theme Amongst This Year’s GLAAD Media Award Film Nominees

To celebrate the welcome increase in fair, accurate, and inclusive LGBTQ images in film over the past year, the GLAAD Media Awards have expanded the number of nominees in the Outstanding Film - Limited Release category from five to ten. A notable theme across many of the incredible nominees in both film categories this year is the rise in LGBTQ coming-of-age storylines. The dynamic and necessary stories showcased in films like Love, Simon, Blockers, We The Animals, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, and Boy Erased all demonstrate a push to accelerate acceptance and highlight the unique experiences of LGBTQ teens and young adults.

Known as the first major Hollywood release to focus on a gay teenage romance, Love, Simon became a phenomenon when it hit North American box offices in March 2018. The film follows the story of Simon Spier (Nick Robinson), a teenage boy who struggles to come terms with the fact that he is gay. After developing an online relationship with a mystery boy (“Blue”) from his high school, Simon is met with the challenge of concealing his “secret” when one of his classmates finds out and blackmails him. Through his attempts to hide his sexuality, Simon continues put his relationships at risk until the point that he is eventually outed to the whole school by his blackmailing classmate. Confronted by his own reality, Simon decides to not only embrace his faults, but more importantly his identity, which allows him to repair his relationships with people he hurt along the way. In the end, Simon’s acceptance of himself gives him the confidence to follow his heart, which in turn, allows “Blue” (Keiynan Lonsdale) to do the same.

The film’s message hit very close to home for Nick Robinson, whose brother came out to him at the beginning of the filming process. In an interview with Ellen DeGeneres, Robinson mentioned that “one of the best things that came out of this movie is being able to talk to [my brother].” In an interview with Newsweek, Robinson talked about the significance of films like Love, Simon for teenagers today, saying “it's very powerful to see someone that you identify with, or a story that you identify with, represented on the screen, and that can have [a] lasting impact.” Although he said that Love, Simon is not representative of all LGBTQ experiences, Robinson argued that “it's a step in the right direction that, hopefully, opens the door for more films like this.”

Another 2018 Hollywood release that made waves for its inclusion of a LGBTQ coming-of-age storyline is Blockers - a film about three best friends who make a pact to lose their virginity on prom night and whose parents do everything in their power to stop them. One of the main characters, Sam (Gideon Adlon), is a closeted lesbian who agrees to the “sex pact” in order to share the same high school experience as her best friends. Although she goes to prom with a boy named Chad, Sam’s father Hunter (Ike Barinholtz) has an inkling that Sam might be LGBTQ, but allows her to explore her sexuality until she is ready to come out. On prom night, Sam finds herself battling with her inner desire to appear ‘straight’ until she runs into her crush, Angelica (Ramona Young). Later that night, Sam decides to not go through with having sex with Chad and instead comes out to her supportive father, who had ultimately followed her to the hotel with the other concerned parents. Afterwards, Sam comes out to her best friends and is ultimately reconnected with Angelica, with whom she shares a romantic kiss before the night ends.

In an interview with Vanity Fair in April 2018, Blockers director spoke about changes made to the script, including making Sam’s character gay: “It was my idea to make Sam gay and that was one of the biggest changes...I wanted to show three completely different relatable stories of who represents high school girls.” Vanity Fair also spoke with Gideon Adlon, who highlighted the importance of representation in the film: “I know that young women are starving to see themselves in films like this, where they’re just normal kids going through ‘normal’ things.” She added, “I put the second normal in quotes because the idea of a young woman struggling with her sexuality might be foreign to some parents. I hope that when kids watch it and parents watch it, it bridges this communication gap between a kid who might be going through something like this and their parents.”

Adapted from Justin Torres’s 2011 novel, the 2018 film We The Animals is set in upstate New York during the 1980s. It follows the story of three young half-Puerto Rican brothers whose parents battle through an abusive relationship and struggle to make ends meet. Compared to his older brothers, the main character, Jonah (Evan Rosado), is much more quiet and gentle, often spending time drawing and writing about a boy that he is neighbors with. Although his brothers seem to follow the toxic attitudes of their father, Jonah adopts his own feelings towards masculinity and seeks to explore his sexuality. Told through the eyes of Jonah, We The Animals not only depicts what it is like for a 10-year old to find their place in the world, but also showcases what it means to reject conditioned behavior by tapping into one’s own innate thoughts and feelings.

When writing the script for the film, director Jeremiah Zagar relied heavily on the perspective of Justin Torres, who wrote the 2011 novel largely as a reflection of his own upbringing. Zagar told them in August 2018 that the “amazingly beautiful” thing about the story Torres wrote is that “[it’s] about a mixed family — half Latino, half white — in a place where everyone else is white, and in a way, the film is this unique, special, specific thing in a world of homogeneity.” He continued to say, “It is specific and important in that it is representing very unrepresented people right now.” In an interview with INTO in August 2018, Zagar also highlighted the importance of showcasing Jonah’s exploration of sexuality in an honest way: “Well, sexuality is confusing, you know. I think especially for young people.” He continued, “I think a lot of it has to do with information that they receive and these young boys are receiving all the kind of conflicting sexual cues, strange sexual cues from their parents — they’re receiving you know sexual cues from the TV, they’re receiving sexual cues from people out in the world, and how they are processing those things is interesting. And we weren’t trying to say this is how they’re processing them, we were just trying to say they are processing.”

Two of this year’s nominees for Outstanding Film - Limited Release embrace coming-of-age storylines while highlighting the painfully dark reality of conversion therapy. The 2018 film The Miseducation of Cameron Post, based on the 2012 novel by the same name, follows the story of teenager Cameron Post (Chloë Grace Moretz), whose boyfriend catches her having sex with a girl on homecoming night. As a result, Cameron is sent to a conversion camp called “God’s Promise” by her Christian aunt Ruth. While in conversion therapy, the leaders of the camp attempt to convince Cameron that her sexual attraction towards the opposite sex is derived from her desire to be like the person she is attracted to. Although Cameron seems to start trying to get “better”, she is ultimately overcome by the fact that God’s Promise is a program that promotes self-hatred and emotional abuse. After one of their fellow ‘disciples’ hurts himself and almost dies, Cameron and her friends Jane and Adam make the decision to run away from God’s Promise - an ultimate act of resistance to an institution that attempted to convince them they needed to be rescued from their sexuality.

In an interview with IndieWire in August 2018, director Desiree Akhavan spoke about how the coming-of-age storyline reflects the true nature of adolescence: “To me, it was a metaphor for something anyone could relate to, which is the minute you become a teenager, gay, straight, whatever ethnicity, you feel diseased, like something’s deeply wrong with you.” When Deadline spoke to Moretz in December 2018, she mentioned why conversion therapy is such an important issue to bring attention to in today’s society: “It was always inherent to me that this story is not an echo chamber; this is something that 700,000 people in America have gone through, conversion therapy. It’s a silent epidemic that no one is talking about. 57,000 teenagers in the next five years will be subjected to conversion therapy, and to hear that, it makes me want to shout this from the rooftops and try to get everyone to watch it.”

Based on the true story from Garrard Conley's 2016 memoir, Boy Erased is a film centered on the life of Jared Eamons (Lucas Hedges), who is forced to join the “Love In Action” gay conversion program by his pastor father (Russell Crowe) and mother (Nicole Kidman). It is revealed that after Jared breaks up with his girlfriend when starting college, he befriends Henry (Joe Alwyn), who ultimately ends up raping Jared. After Jared decides to return home, Henry ends up calling Jared’s parents to out him, which ultimately results in his father enrolling him in conversion therapy. While in the program, the head therapist tries to convince Jared that his sexuality is a choice. However, when Jared is eventually accused of hating his father, he leaves the session and calls his mother to pick him up, but is then cornered by the program counsellors. When he is able to successfully escape with the help of another attendee, Jared’s mother is horrified by what he has been through and they return home at the disapproval of Jared’s father. Years later, Jared moves to New York City and writes about his experiences in conversion therapy, in which he attempts to convince his father to read.

In a October 2018 interview with Entertainment Weekly, director Joel Edgerton spoke about how he “only had one chance to make a movie about gay-conversion therapy”, continuing to highlight how important it was “to tell Garrard’s story as truthfully and as honestly as [he] could”. When asked how he felt about Edgerton turning his memoir into a movie, Garrard told EW that “[he] respected Joel for taking the story really seriously and documenting it in a way where history records it correctly.” On the topic of being released around the same time as The Miseducation of Cameron Post, Edgerton stated that there is “strength in a double-pronged attack; two very different stories, one female-skewed and one male-skewed. One is more about family, one is more about the conversion therapy itself...The more stories that are out there, aiming an arrow at these places, the better.” Troye Sivan, who also starred in the film, appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert in September, telling Colbert that he hopes the film communicates with parents and brings awareness to how their reaction to their child’s coming out can play a large influence in that child’s life. The segment was nominated in this year’s category for “Outstanding Variety or Talk Show Episode”.

For a full list of the nominees for the 30th Annual GLAAD Media Awards, including Love, Simon, Blockers, We The Animals, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, and Boy Erased, please visit glaad.org/mediaawards/nominees.