‘Love, Simon’ and the audience problem

By Suradha Iyer

Love, Simon (2018) can be described as a coming-of-age film—a romantic comedy set in high school, if you subscribe to such labels. A 17-year-old Simon Spier and his seemingly perfect friend circle face a few trenches in their dynamic, on account of Simon’s sexual orientation and how he chooses to deal with bullies as well as an online love interest. The film, very deliberately, is not just about Simon coming out or the fact that he’s gay. In fact, the movie is incredibly balanced while paying adequate attention to Simon’s struggle, and tells the story of bullying and friendships. We Simon Spier heterosexual, the story would have been yet another movie in the teenage romance genre done to death. Instead, as The Guardian reviewed it, it is “thoroughly intelligent and good natured,” and the New York Times notes that “the emotional resonance may be surprising

The real heroes of the story are artful writing and heartwarming performances by the cast that cut through the fiction in the aspirational suburban setting. The film “for all its attempts to not offend, it’s a genuine groundbreaker”, reports Rolling Stone.

Why the release of Love, Simon in India was postponed

The label of an LGBTQ+ film isn’t the first label anybody would attribute to Love, Simon. The film’s release, originally for June 1, has been indefinitely postponed. June 1 marks the beginning of the International Pride Month, an effort to promote and celebrate facets of the LGBTQ movement for equality. The “indefinite extension” on the ban has triggered a response from most national level LGBTQ organizations – but has led to no change in the actual release of the film. Activists in India and on Twitter have been vocal about their disappointment in the alleged decision taken by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC).

As per a statement by Prasoon Joshi the chairperson of CBFC, the film was certified ‘A’ on 6 February 2018 which makes the public backlash very irregular.

A short history of CBFC’s rocky relationship with LGBTQ-themed films

The CBFC does have a rather ugly history of denying certification to LGBTQ+ themed films for release in India, from Unfreedom (2015) to Ka Bodyscapes (2017). These films have been vocally pro-LGBTQ with strong language, scenes and activism in mind and have been released abroad without controversy. This is a sad state of affairs for the Indian creators of these films. The CBFC has never denied refusing certification for these films, however. The CBFC in Kerala refused to certify Ka Bodyscapes last year for “vulgar and offensive scenes” and because it “offends human sensibilities”.

An artist’s rendition of the ‘Call Me By Your Name’ poster. Credits: Topher McCulloch

A CBFC official remarked, “This is one more attempt to use the censor board to gain publicity for a film. The truth is, Love, Simon was not released in India for the same reason that Call Me By Your Name was not released. There is no audience interest in India for films on homosexuality.”

Call Me By Your Name (2017) was nominated in 4 categories at this year’s Academy awards. “Coming-of-age gay film that was denied release in India resulting in the Indian audience being deprived of “an experience that transcends the limitations of cinema” (Economic Times).

What audience problem?

Similarly, given the vociferous reaction of Indian Twitter that got hashtags #ReleaseLoveSimonInIndia and #LoveSimonIndia trending, the dearth of an audience is unlikely.

Indian cinema, despite the CBFC bans, has had certified LGBTQ portayals on screen in the past few years- Angry Indian Goddesses (2015), and Kapoor and Sons (2016) are some examples. The films had a decent run at the theatres and there was good audience response despite average approval ratings. With Call Me By Your Name and Love, Simon, the problem of release either lies in the foreign interpretation of homosexuality or the possible backlash for their raising the LGBTQ issue in society- neither Angry Indian Goddesses nor Kapoor and Sons were issue-based films and were family entertainers throughout.

Holding back Love, Simon somehow seems to have raised enough questions about the LGBTQ+ issue in India for pride month.

Call Me By Your Name is now available to stream on Amazon Prime.

Suradha Iyer is a writing analyst at Qrius