L.G.B.T.Q. audiences want to see characters who reflect their lives and experiences. (Forgive the personal aside, but this is the type of movie I’ve been looking for since I was growing up — my first encounter was a small, tragic gay character in “Pump Up the Volume,” from 1990 — and I’m sure I’m not alone.) Ms. Albertalli made note of the website LGBTQ Reads, curated by the author Dahlia Adler, which suggests books for all ages. “It’s really exciting seeing the conversations in YA that are happening around representation.”
For gay readers, one line in Ms. Albertalli’s novel is especially resonant. Simon thinks, “In reality, I’m not the leading guy. Maybe I’m the best friend,” and Ms. Albertalli said, “It was almost as if all these creative people read that line and they were like, ‘O.K., Simon, let me prove you wrong.’”
One of those creative types is Greg Berlanti, the director of “Love, Simon.” An executive producer of television shows starring DC Comics heroes, , Mr. Berlanti remembered telling studio executives in his initial meetings with 20th Century Fox, “I think it’s so cool that you guys are committing to making a movie like this.” He also said, “I’m sort of surprised that one doesn’t already exist.”
Working on the film was an emotional experience for him. “It was filling a void I didn’t even know that I needed filled,” Mr. Berlanti said. “It was making me feel something that I couldn’t quite identify.”
With most romantic films, he explained, “you’re not always experiencing it totally viscerally because you’re having to imagine ‘if this character were gay.’” That extra effort isn’t needed for “Love, Simon.” Mr. Berlanti added: “You get so used to just existing with things the way that they are, you don’t even realize the math you’re doing when you’re watching everybody else get represented in love stories or whatever in a mainstream film.”
Like Mr. Berlanti, Sarah Kate Ellis, the president and chief executive of GLAAD, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, was also surprised that 20th Century Fox was producing a wide-release coming-out story. “This is like the ‘Sixteen Candles’ of this generation,” she said.
“Twenty percent of millennials identify as L.G.B.T.Q.,” Ms. Ellis said. “Having a film available to them is a breakthrough.”
This was especially important, she noted, after her group’s annual acceptance poll showed a decline. The online survey of 2,160 adults by the Harris Poll found more people reporting discomfort if they learned that family members, their doctors or their children’s teachers were gay, lesbian or transgender. “To be able to have this movie come out — for those that don’t identify as the norm — is really, really powerful and will do a whole lot of good,” Ms. Ellis said.
Like the Bechdel test, which examines how often female characters talk with each other about anything other than a man, GLAAD has the Vito Russo test for portrayals of gay characters. For a film to pass, it must have a lead L.G.B.T.Q. character who is not solely defined by sexual orientation or gender identity and whose removal from the film would have a significant effect. “Love, Simon” would definitely pass.
Studios seemingly learn a lesson annually. This year, “Black Panther” proved that a film rooted in black culture could do well overseas. In 2017, “Wonder Woman,” “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” and “Beauty and the Beast” showed that female main characters could top the box office.
Will “Love, Simon” make a similar case for movies about gay characters? “The interest in this film is incredibly high,” said Paul Dergarabedian, a senior box office analyst at comScore. He noted that it was being heavily discussed on social media and that its trailer had more than 19.7 million views on YouTube. “You don’t get 19 million views on something nobody cares about,” he said.
Mr. Berlanti is keenly aware that the most important test facing “Love, Simon” is at the box office. “I’ve had a lot of people tell me this is the movie they wish they had when they were kids,” Mr. Berlanti said. “So it’s here now and we want those kids to get to see it. It really needs everyone to come out and show studios and show individuals that a film like this can be just as incredible as its counterpart with a straight protagonist.”