- Desiree Akhavan
- Run Time
- 1 hour and 31 minutes
VP Content Ratings
- Sex & Nudity
- Star Rating
You cover up your ignorance with lies;
you are like doctors who can't heal anyone.
Say nothing, and someone may think you are wise!
Listen while I state my case.
Why are you lying?
Do you think your lies will benefit God?
Set in 1993 when gay conversion therapy was still defendable, this is an intriguing look at a teenage lesbian who struggles against the view that God cannot love her unless she changes. The orphaned Cameron (Chloë Grace Moretz), fights back against her guardian Aunt Ruth (Kerry Butler), her church, the authorities at a gay conversion therapy camp, and indeed her culture. Surprisingly, she finds refuge among what are regarded as “the bad kids” at the treatment center. Director Desiree Akhavan’s adaptation of Emily Danforth’s novel of the same name is a film that a youth leader who is bold but cautious about advance preparation would do well to watch and discuss with teenagers. I suspect that the film’s makers left it unrated so that more teens could get into a theater to see it.
Cameron is a high-school track athlete who attends her school prom with a boyfriend but sneaks out to engage in sex in the car with her best friend Coley (Quinn Shephard). When the boyfriend discovers the girls together Aunt Ruth promptly drives her niece up to God’s Promise camp “to pray the gay away.” There the first to greet her is the camera-toting girl who goes by the name of “Jane Fonda” (Sasha Lane). Inside the dining lodge the director Reverend Rick (John Gallagher Jr.) is playing a religious song, accompanying himself on his guitar. The camp psychologist is Dr. Lydia Marsh (Jennifer Ehle), a strict authoritarian convinced that “science” can cure the hapless campers committed to her harsh care. Rev. Rick testifies that he too once was gay, but that God converted him back to his “natural state”. He is Dr. Marsh’s brother, so I wonder if she had been the means of his “cure.”
Cameron’s roommate is Erin (Emily Skeggs), a football fan who meekly goes along with the program, but who also, we soon see is susceptible to the leading of others. Erin spends her spare moments gazing at her VHS tape of a religious aerobic video called “Blessercize” hosted by a jolly-voiced scantily clad female.
Mark (Owen Campbell) seems at first to be one of the school’s “success” stories. He was sent to the institution by a father who thought he was “too feminine.”
The “bad kids” include Adam Red Eagle (Forrest Goodluck), a Native American committed to the program by his father who has political ambitions, and Jane, who grows her own weed and stashes it in her artificial leg.
The camp goes by the hopeful name of “God’s Promise,” but that promise unfolds in an ironic way for Cameron. It is here that the young outsider finds the acceptance of a gay community, the “bad kids” who are joined by Adam, revealing that his conversion to heterosexuality was all pretense. Finding strength in each other, they refuse to give up what they consider is a part of the personality they were born with. Adam finds support in his tribe’s belief in “two-spirit” personalities.
To the film’s credit, the authority figures are not dismissed as one-dimensional villains, but depicted as flawed humans subject to a patriarchal system built on a misreading of the Bible. Dr. Marsh means well, and her brother is shown as also victimized by the combination of pseudoscience and belief in a judgmental God. In several scenes between him and Cameron he betrays an uneasiness and lack of assurance about his convictions, so that we might anticipate a point beyond the scope of the film when he follows John Paulk and others who left the leading gay conversion group Exodus in the 21st Century,
Cameron’s” therapy” includes lecture/sermons on sin and salvation, group discussions, one-on-ones with the two leaders, sing-alongs, field trips, and, at night, bed checks. Rev. Rick uses the drawing of an iceberg in his spiel to try to explain their homosexual sin, . The kids are told to write in the drawing significant past happenings that landed them at God’s Promise. Cameron, too intelligent to be taken in by such claims as “There is no such thing as homosexuality,” at first plays along, giving answers she knows the adults expect—but eventually she says to the adults that they don’t really know what they are doing.
After a tragedy brings in a pair of state inspectors, Cameron honestly admits, “Nobody is beating us.” The brother and sister are subtler than that, Cameron, seeing through their claim to be Christian when she says at one point, “How is teaching us to hate ourselves not emotional abuse?” The three friends make their final refusal to play along, with the film ending rather abruptly, leaving us to imagine what their future might be. It’s one of those leave em up in the air” conclusion similar to that of The Graduate.
Though set a quarter of a century ago, The Miseducation of Cameron Post remains relevant—only 9 states thus far have out-lawed such conversion therapy centers, heeding the American Psychiatric Association’s warning about the possible harmful effects of the practice. Job’s charge against his so-called friends, that they are covering up their ignorance with lies, applies to those running the God’s Promise center. Playing on a vulnerable young person’s self-loathing (because their peers and society labels them as “deviants”) is indeed a type of child abuse, even if it is not physical, as Cameron observes. The film’s makers obviously approve of her independent spirit and mind. We can wish her well for her uncertain future and hope that she and her two friends survive long enough to enjoy the somewhat freer times that the LGBT revolution will usher in.
Note: To see this story in historical context see CNN’s “LGBT Rights Milestones Fast Facts” at https://www.cnn.com/2015/06/19/us/lgbt-rights-milestones-fast-facts/index.html.
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