The Miseducation of Cameron Post - some thoughts
The Miseducation of Cameron Post was the perfect coming of age, tender and political film to close the Pink Screens Festival 2019. The winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival is based on a novel by Emily Danforth and directed by Desiree Akhavan.
Chloë Grace Moretz stars as Cameron Post, a teenager in the early 90s in the US, who is found making out with her best friend Coley in the back seat of a car on prom night. Following this, her aunt sends her to God’s Promise, a Christian retreat for curing the homosexuality of young people. There, Cameron develops a friendship with Adam and Jane.
The retreat is led by Dr Lydia Marsh, a psychologist who guides the disciples through group and bilateral therapy sessions. The main rationale of the therapy is that homosexuality does not exist and that it is a just a sin.
Interestingly, Akhavan did not follow the mainstream approach of making the heterosexual adults consciously and purposely cruel in the film. What they were was just painfully unaware and misguided, yet confident of their beliefs and methods.
For example, Dr Marsh was strict and persistent but not cruel. She developed a program whereby the cure to homosexuality came from drawing an iceberg on which to list all the “reasons” for which the young homosexuals had SSA (Same Sex Attraction). Cameron’s commitment to sports was a reason Dr Marsh found an important one. Then Dr Marsh suggested that Cameron was not really attracted to Coley, but just got “mixed up” with “wanting to be Coley” because she admired her so much. She couldn’t even perceive that a kid could be born that way or even chose to be that way.
Rick, Dr Marsh’s brother, who co-ran the retreat broke down in tears and was unable to answer if he could confidently say whether he and his sister took good care of the kids at the retreat.
Cameron’s aunt seemed loving and tender and thought she was doing the best for Cameron. When Cameron called her in tears and asked her “If I were to tell you I am really unhappy here would you let me come home?”, she refused, not with cruelty, but with pain.
A disciple’s father denied him permission to return home because he was still too feminine, despite Dr Marsh believing he was ready.
Adam’s father had gone into politics and Adam’s “Two-spititness” had become a PR problem.
Yet despite this lack of direct cruelty, the film was difficult to watch. It was painful to watch the effects that being in the hands of these misguided, miseducated heterosexual adults had on the vulnerable, homosexual young people.
At the same time, the young people were quiet in the film, kept their head down, tried to get by.
Cameron did not seem to believe in what the retreat aimed at achieving. When someone asked her if the retreat was abusive, she replied “Nobody is beating us, but isn’t a program that teaches you everyday that you should hate yourself abusive?” Yet despite her strength and awareness, Dr Marsh’s methods led Cameron to moments of doubt. “What if this really is my only chance, and I’m blowing it?” she pleaded in a moment of crisis. “I’m tired of feeling disgusted with myself.”
Coley, who seemed wholly consensual and tender towards Cameron, convinced herself that Cameron seduced and took advantage of their friendship and that she was not “like that” herself.
Erin, Cameron’s roommate, who was convinced by the conversion therapy and tried her best, still found herself having sex with Cameron in the middle of one night and then hating herself for it.
One of the disciples resorted to self-harm and tried to cut off his genitals.
Yet, despite the film being a difficult watch, a sense of warmth also came out of it with the growing friendship of Cameron, Jane and Adam, the powerless outcasts who bonded through being victims of the powerful, misguided institutions (retreats, the church, family), as often happens in the gay community and our chosen families.
As a film set in the 90s, can it be understood as a period drama? Are these incidents of a past long gone? With conversion therapy still lawful in most of the US, as well as in many other parts of the world, one can wonder. Institutional power structures, adults dominating over the young, heterosexuals guiding homosexual behaviour, the bonding formed amongst the powerless remain pertinent issues today. Today’s fashionable high-waisted jeans only strengthen the proximity of the setting in contemporary society.
In the end, it wasn’t Cameron Post that was miseducated, but the “educators” themselves.