I have to admit, growing up in the suburbs of Detroit and then spending much of my queer adult life in NYC, conversion therapy seemed like a boogeyman. A thing that was spoken about in films like But I’m a Cheerleader and the occasional news article, but something that seemed so distant and too terrible to exist. I tucked it away in the back of my mind, because I was out and proud and my privilege protected me. Then I moved to South Carolina.
When I moved to the South, it took me no less than a couple months to meet five men who had been forced into conversion therapy camps and church intensives like the one at the heart of The Miseducation of Cameron Post. When they spoke of their experiences, their voices still shook. They survived, but not everyone they knew did. It was cruel and unusual punishment for the crime of being true to themselves. The reality of their reality hit me like a ton of bricks. How could I have been so closed-off to something that often still shaped the way they looked at the world as gay adults.
Their stories are not unlike Cameron Post’s, whose life is turned upside down when she’s found being intimate with her high school girlfriend and shipped off to a place called, God’s Promise, where she will learn to “pray away the gay” and get to the root of her SSA (same-sex attraction). While God’s Promise is all smiles and Christian rock and “supportive” therapy sessions, it still exists for one purpose: to teach teenagers how to bury their true selves deep within a place of fear and loathing.
Cameron is played by Chloe Grace Moretz, who has already had an impressive career for only being twenty-one years old. As Cameron, Moretz is strong-willed, a teenager who guards her vulnerable side and approaches the camp with caution. While she often goes along with what she’s told, Moretz allows Cameron’s rebellious nature to simmer beneath the surface. It’s one of Moretz’s finest roles to date.
Other stand outs include out actor Sasha Lane as Jane, a teenage who grew up in free-loving communes but whose new step-father tries to stomp down her spirit by sending her away. Lane is a perfect casting choice for the disaffected, Jane, who secretly grows her own stash of weed and says all the things the powers that be at God’s Promise want to hear. Forrest Goodluck plays Adam, a dead-panned non-believer who is sent to camp by his new politician father. Adam is Two-spirit and despite all the rhetoric of camp, never loses sight of who he truly is. While a smaller role, Owen Campbell gives a stand-out performance as Mark, a young man who desperately wants to be accepted back into his father’s home, even if it means crushing the very things that make him, him.
The film is directed by openly bisexual director Desiree Akhavan, who also co-wrote the screenplay along with Cecilia Frugiuele. The two has also worked together on Akhavan’s critically acclaimed feature, Appropriate Behavior. Akhavan is a director who gets it, and she stays true to author Emily Danforth‘s source material, while putting her own stamp on the film. The film is set in 1993 but it doesn’t get lost in it’s own nostalgia, and feels like it could take place even now. Akhavan doesn’t shy away from Cameron’s burgeoning sexuality, and allows the teenage characters in the film to contain multitudes. It’s a real stunner of a film that stays with you.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post was released on August 3rd, but you may find it difficult to find in your local cinema. In fact, it’s not playing within 100 miles of where I am in Greenville, South Carolina, a place that could use a film like this. One has to drive three hours to Atlanta to see the film. If that doesn’t upset you, you aren’t paying attention. I know, because for too long I wasn’t. So call your local theatres and ask them to play Cameron Post. Support the film when it comes out on VOD and DVD. In the meantime, the National Center for Lesbian Rights is working hard to fight against conversion therapy, and you can find out how you can help, here.