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The Miseducation of Cameron Post thrusts Christian gay-conversion camps into the public eye

It may be a very Hollywood interpretation of conversion therapy, but it is an important issue to shed light on as US politics continue to be divided.

By Kate Llewellyn, Fourth Year Liberal Arts

It may be a very Hollywood interpretation of conversion therapy, but it is an important issue to shed light on as US politics continue to be divided.

Based on the popular novel by Emily M. Danforth, The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a sensitive portrayal of a teenage girl who is sent to a Christian gay-conversion camp after being caught ‘making out’ with her best friend on prom night.

Chloe Grace Möretz plays the titular Cameron Post and is perfectly cast as the awkward teenager coming to terms with her sexuality in an environment which clearly rejects it. Her lack of dialogue is compensated for with shrugs and nervous glances at her new surroundings, as she portrays the painful discomfort of her sexuality being thrust into the spotlight for her sympathetic counsellors and guardian to comment on and patronise.

Youtube / Movieclips Indie

In her first session of therapy at the camp, she must fill out her ‘iceberg’, as her new counsellors try to explain that her same-sex attraction, or SSA as it frequently shortened to in the film, is just a symptom of her deeper psychological problems that she must uncover in order to ‘get better’ and ‘pray away the gay’.

The counsellors at ‘God’s Promise’, played by John Gallagher and Jennifer Ehle, are ‘good cop/ bad cop’ binaries who are later revealed to be siblings. Reverent Rick is the peppy, welcoming face of the camp - the proven success of ‘God’s Promise’ having been cured of SSA himself. His optimism and energy are an almost stereotypical portrayal of a ‘born-again’ Christian whose presence is often received by non-believers with awkward sideways glances and pauses of disbelief. His sister, Dr Lydia Marsh, occupies a more sinister presence, described hilariously by one of the camp’s residents as ‘our own personal Disney villain, only she won’t let you jerk off’.

The so-called ‘saviour’ of her brother, Dr Marsh interrupts a bible study class to introduce herself to Cameron. Seemingly warm at first, her coldness is soon exhibited by her refusal to call Cameron by her preferred nickname ‘Cam’. She explains: ‘Cameron is a masculine enough name as it is, calling you by anything else will only exacerbate your gender confusion’. After delivering this icy response, she suddenly approaches another student and grabs his long hair, roughly pulling it back off his face in a way that clearly violates his space and embarrasses him in front of his peers. The quiet menace of this camp is then established, as Cameron begins to comprehend the level of discipline enforced in her new home.

Watershed / The Miseducation of Cameron Post

Although one cannot deny the merits of the film, there were points where it felt that the book’s translation to the silver screen was a bit ‘Hollywood’. For example, the casting of incredibly good-looking and effortlessly cool Sasha Lane and Forrest Goodluck alongside Möretz (who exudes the same magnetism), make the scenes with the three of them look more like high-end fashion campaigns than a realistic embodiment of the teens who would have shared these experiences. Cameron’s lack of dialogue also makes her character seem a little flat at times - though this criticism probably would not be relevant to the novel as there would have been text to convey the complex emotions suggested in the film by Möretz’s eyebrows.

Nevertheless, there is some excellent acting by the cast, particularly by Owen Campbell, who plays Mark. In easily the most harrowing scene, Mark reveals that although he was due to go home at the end of semester having been cured of his ‘SSA’, his father has forbidden it, as he is still apparently ‘too feminine’ to come home. The full force of the damaging psychotic pressures of the ‘conversion therapy’ is shown as Mark begins to shake and cry and shout, in a breakdown which only serves to highlight the reality of the inner pain that those sent to these camps would have felt.

Watershed / The Miseducation of Cameron Post

This compassionate story of a group of LGBTQ teens seems to come at a vital time. With Trump’s America threatening to lead us into a more conservative and reactionary world, the importance of shedding light on these stories has become more crucial than ever. Möretz’s subtle performance is a definite break away from her usual roles, but with the reception she has received so far, it could pave the way for even more nuanced roles yet.

Featured Image: Watershed / The Miseducation of Cameron Post

Do you realise the full effects gay-conversion camps have on young LGBTQ+ people?

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