March 22, 2018 at 8:07 pm PST | by John Paul King
Before we loved ‘Simon,’ other movies paved the way

(Screenshot via YouTube.)

The arrival of “Love, Simon,” as multitudes of commentators have already pointed out, is a groundbreaking moment for positive LGBT representation and presence in mainstream cinema.

While it’s undoubtedly the highest-profile release to focus on young people coming out, it’s certainly not the first. To celebrate this new milestone for LGBT inclusion, we’ve put together a list of other landmark movies that have tackled the same theme. In the era of streaming media, all of them should be readily available on one or more platforms, so look at this as a chance to catch up on some important titles you may have want to revisit.

In chronological order:

“My Beautiful Laundrette” (1985, dir: Stephen Frears) – Not so much a coming-out movie, but a must-see classic offering a positive depiction of gay love amid oppressive surroundings. Omar (Gordon Warnecke) is a young Pakistani in London whose entrepreneur uncle gives him a job restoring a run-down laundry and turning it into a profitable business; he enlists the help of a white street-thug (Daniel Day-Lewis), who is looking for a better life, to help him with the task, and the two oddly matched young men find themselves falling in love as they face the challenge of building both a business and a sanctuary for themselves in a community embroiled with racism, cultural intolerance and corruption. Audiences, gay and straight alike, adored it – the superb early work by director Frears, who has gone on to create a long list of acclaimed films, and Day-Lewis, here at the start of his remarkable acting career, certainly helped win them over – and it became one of the most lauded films of the ‘80s, still counted as one of the decade’s finest.

“The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love” (1995, dir: Maria Maggenti) – A funny, tender, and refreshingly non-exploitative teen lesbian romance about a troubled tomboy (Laurel Holloman) and a pretty rich girl (Nicole Ari Parker) who find first love with each other – much to the dismay of family and friends. Concentrating more of its attention on the development of a relationship than the process of coming out, it drew praise for its realistic portrayal of non-stereotypical characters. After its Sundance debut it enjoyed relative commercial success – sufficient to boost the careers of its two stars, along with supporting player Dale Dickey – and won the GLAAD media award for Outstanding Film – Limited Release.

“Beautiful Thing” (1996, dir: Hettie MacDonald) – Originally made for British television, this kitchen-sink “dramedy” proved so popular it was released theatrically. Following the story of two working-class London teens (Glenn Barry and Scott Neal) who fall for each other amid the drug-and-alcohol-fueled drama of their council estate community, it’s based on a play by Jonathan Harvey (who also penned the screenplay) and appears on numerous lists of “essential” LGBT films. Featuring a sweet ending and a fun, retro soundtrack of songs by The Mamas and the Papas.

“Edge of Seventeen” (1998, dir: David Moreton) – Another early entry in the gay-teen-coming-of-age canon, set in the ‘80s and starring Chris Stafford as an Ohio high school boy whose summer flirtation with a college student (Andersen Gabrych) starts him on the path toward coming to terms with his sexuality. A favorite at Outfest and many other LGBT-themed film festivals on the circuit, it received a limited theatrical release and garnered acclaim from many mainstream critics as well – an all-too-rare accomplishment for the time. It also features Lea DeLaria in a supporting role.

“Get Real” (1998, dir: Simon Shore) – Another British film, also based on a play, about a gay 16-year old (Ben Silverstone) living in a rural town where homosexuality is viewed as the ultimate taboo. While cruising local restrooms, he finds his school’s star athlete (Brad Gorton) doing the same thing, which leads to a tentative romance and forces both boys to grapple with the idea of coming out.

“But I’m a Cheerleader” (1999, dir: Jamie Babbit) – Though not well-reviewed by mainstream critics upon release, this deliberately “trashy” satire found a friendlier reception from festival crowds and commentators in the LGBT media, and it has since become a fondly-remembered cult favorite. Starring Natasha Lyonne as a high schooler whose parents suspect her of being a lesbian and send her to a conversion camp, where instead of being “cured” she learns to embrace her sexuality and helps to lead a rebellion among the other campers. Cute and quirky as it may be, this comedy was also deeply subversive for its time, and fearless in its condemnation of religion-based intolerance and bigotry; it also features a colorful cast that includes Clea DuVall, Melanie Lynskey, Cathy Moriarty, Michelle Williams, Mink Stole, and RuPaul in a rare non-drag role.

“Latter Days” (2003, dir: C. Jay Cox) – Another festival favorite that met with opposition from the mainstream press, this highly personal romance from writer-director Cox also faced controversy over its portrayal of a young Mormon missionary in Los Angeles (Steve Sandvoss) who falls in love with his openly gay neighbor (Wes Ramsey) and is subsequently excommunicated, shamed by his family, and sent to a mental hospital to be “cured” of his homosexuality after he attempts suicide. Bleak as it may sound, it’s actually a watershed moment for gay moviemaking in that it offers the kind of sappy, crowd-pleasing love story (and yes, there’s a happy ending) that straight audiences had been enjoying since the beginning of cinema. For that reason, it’s a movie with a lot of fans (attempts to ban it by religious groups, Mormon and otherwise, likely only increased its popularity), and can still elicit a smile and a tear today. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Mary Kay Place, and Jacqueline Bisset add some star power to the supporting cast – but the two leads are endearing enough to carry the movie on their own.

“Pariah” (2011, dir: Dee Rees) – Like “Moonlight,” this movie is a double landmark in that, in addition to its depiction of a teenager coming out, it also portrays that process from the perspective of a person of color. It deals with 17-year-old Alike (Adepero Oduye), whose growing awareness of her sexuality brings even more turmoil to her already-turbulent home life. Expanded by Rees from an earlier short film, it was praised for its authenticity and for Oduye’s powerful performance, in addition to the work of Charles Parnell and Kim Wayans as Alike’s parents.

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