The Miseducation of Cameron Post


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Please note that this article contains strong language. 

The Miseducation of Cameron Post deals with the topical issue of gay conversion therapy, which the UK government recently announced a ban on and which US Vice President Mike Pence alongside the Pope are apparent fans of. Akhavan’s adaptation of Emily Danforth’s young adult novel proceeds with a mix of irreverence and seriousness, appropriate to a practicewhich seems so laughable and absurd whilst simultaneously causing so much vicious damage to LGBT people. A UCLA report has found that over 700,000 people have been subjected to this type of medical treatment in the US.[1] The situation is less outwardly severe in the UK but campaigning group Stonewall found in a 2015 survey that ten percent of healthcare professionals have heard colleagues express the belief that lesbian, gay, and bisexual people can be ‘cured’ of their orientation.[2] Cameron Post addresses the topic through the titular character (played by Chloë Moretz), a teenager who has been caught having sex with her female friend and is duly packed off to God’s Promise, a Christian camp which claims to ‘cure’ young people of their homosexuality. Akhavan’s second feature film as director – after the lauded Appropriate Behaviour (2014) - takes on this weighty tale, doing justice to the abusive, horrific experiences that are based on real life persecution while injecting her own unique sense of nonchalance and humour.

Akhavan’s output has previously entailed comedy at the expense of herself and LGBTQ+ communities. The tag line of her web series, The Slope (2011), created with Ingrid Jungermann in 2010, was that the characters, played by Akhavan and Jungermann themselves, were “superficial, homophobic lesbians.” Desiree and Ingrid as the series’ main characters facetiously and accurately skewered hipster lesbian culture and politics in short skits. (There’s an episode called ‘Conversion Therapy,’ in which Desiree attempts to persuade her queer friend who’s now dating a guy to switch back to women, perhaps a precursor to the director’s interest in the subject.) The filmmaker wrote and directed Appropriate Behaviour and starred in it as a bisexual woman suffering from neurosis, a version of herself where, again, her sexuality and that of others were subjected to humorous introspection. Cameron Post acts as almost a rebuke to this prior, self-deprecating comedy because its the (ostensibly) straight characters who are the biggest source of the jokes rather than the queer ones. God’s Promise is run by creepy brother and sister team, Dr Lydia March (Jennifer Ehle) and Reverend Rick (John Gallagher, Jr.). Amongst other comedy moments, the ominous but silly pair give out a drawing of an iceberg to each camp inmate, encouraging them to fill it in with a list of wrong moves in their past that brought about their gayness. Lydia and Rick, though comical, are also deadly serious villains as their abusive treatment of the young people in their care is not sugar-coated. Indeed, Akhavan’s film “has humor, but isn’t jokey”[3] according to one reviewer. There is perhaps a resonance with Hannah Gadsby’s recent Netflix hit Nanette (2018), in which the Australian comedian reprimanded herself for using her butch, lesbian identity to make people laugh whilst underplaying the oppression she has suffered. Gadsby and Akhavan both seem to be arguing for a revision of queer comedy where incidence of homophobic violence and oppression are taken more seriously amongst the jokes.

Akhavan’s work has also sat uneasily between the camp and piss-take associated with US indie queer cinema and more sober, slow-burning psychological drama. There is reference in Cameron Post to underappreciated lesbian classic But I’m a Cheerleader (Dir: Jamie Babbit, 1999), which also tackles young people being sent to a gay conversion camp. In both movies, for example, a fellow inmate makes a sexually provocatively obscene gesture with their tongue across the dining hall at the main character shortly after they’ve arrived at camp. Babbit’s earlier film features RuPaul as a ridiculously effeminate ‘gay in recovery’ with unsurprisingly hilarious results, echoed in Rick’s camp moustachioed presence in Cameron Post. The latter generally contains echoes of Cheerleader’s John Waters-esque send-up of heterosexuality and its idea that conversion camps can be hysterical. However, Akhavan’s approach as director is typically more sedate and thoughtful. She has stated the likes of Woody Allen and Noah Baumbach are influences, both filmmakers with a trademark sense of humour wrapped within dour reflections on painful individual psychologies. The genius of Akhavan is combining the more sober approach with camp comedy. 

Alongside male director inspirations Akhavan is concerned in Cameron Post with paying homage to lesbian film history. Alongside the reference to Cheerleader, Cameron and her high school lover, the one that she is caught having sex with, are pictured cuddling on bed watching Desert Hearts (Dir: Donna Deitch, 1985), one of the first feature films about queer women directed by a queer woman herself. Akhavan referred to her investment in the lesbian cinematic context recently in an interview for The Guardian where she stated it was objectionable that mainstream queer female stories have always been directed by men.[4] The attention Cameron Post is getting is therefore exciting and Akhavan additionally has a new Channel 4 show coming out in Autumn, The Bisexual. Billed as a comedy drama about a gay woman discovering she’s bisexual, the series looks to continue the theme of conversion and focus on sexuality, and signals Akhavan becoming a staple queer auteur who has managed to breakthrough to the mainstream. 

Helen Wright
Festival Coordinator, SQIFF and freelance writer

September 2018


 

[1] Jonathan Mahon-Heap, ‘Why the gay conversion therapy drama is having a moment,’ on Little White Lies, published 5 Sep 2018, accessed 5 Sep 2018 < https://lwlies.com/articles/boy-erased-the-mideducation-of-cameron-post-gay-conversion-therapy/>

[2] Catherine Somerville, Unhealthy Attitudes: The treatment of LGBT people within health and social care services, (London: Stonewall, 2015).    

[3] Jordan Hoffmann, ‘The Miseducation of Cameron Post review – prayers answered with conversion therapy drama,’ on The Guardian, published 23 Jan 2018, accessed 5 Sep 2018 <https://www.theguardian.com/film/2018/jan/23/the-miseducation-of-cameron-post-review-sundance-2018-chloe-grace-moretz>.=|>.

[4] Miranda Sawyer, ‘Interview: Desiree Akhavan: ‘The only mainstream queer female stories have been directed by men – it disgusts me,’ on The Guardian, published 12 Aug 2018, accessed 5 Sep 2018 < https://www.theguardian.com/film/2018/aug/12/desiree-akhavan-miseducation-of-cameron-post-mainstream-queer-female-stories>


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