By Anthony Sennett
Homophobia is gross. The Miseducation of Cameron Post and Boy Erased are two films from this year that would like to reiterate that fact. Both are adaptations of novels following teenagers forced into gay conversion camps. With unique settings and characters, they provide different viewpoints on the horrifying subject, but some display the matter more effectively than others.
Out of the two books and two films, I feel that the most effective and important is the autobiography of ‘Boy Erased’ by Jared Eamons. Since it discusses the real life situations this man had to go through, it provides the most necessary viewpoint on the matter. The novel and film version of Miseducation are also very poignant and captivating, but they do not provide a true solution and catharsis to the problems of the conversion camp. However, in the end, it is a fictional tale. It does not have the responsibility to give a real life solution to this issue. Either way, the novel and film are still incredibly well done and properly convey their messages. With adaptations, there is usually one, the original or the new interpretation, that is better. These two are a rare exceptions, complimenting and emphasizing one another. The book provides a much more detailed and long view into Cameron’s life before conversion camp, giving so much weight and history to Chloë Grace Moretz’s film portrayal of the character. Structurally, the film’s ending feels better executed and paced. While Desiree Akhavan’s adaptation could have explored the source material just a little more, it is still one of the best films of the year.
On the other hand, the film adaptation of Boy Erased could have been executed much better. The work is far from bad, but not every directorial choice was great. From a filmmaking standpoint, the musical choices were heavy handed and many of the side characters feel underdeveloped, but it also had a solid structural progression and tons of great performances. The main fault is the film’s inability to understand the power in subtlety. In Jared Eamons’ autobiography, there were no notable accounts of physical abuse that took place at the conversion camp, but Joel Edgerton’s adaptation is rife with it. From slow motions scenes of younger sisters being forced to hit her gay brother with a Bible, to the instructors physically restricting Jared from leaving the camp, the over-dramatization begins to feel cartoonish. Of course, all of this contributes to the emotional abuse the counselors threw onto the young men and women, but it could have been done in a better, less aggressive manner. This is was what Miseducation really got right. In Desiree’s film, the counselors were two presentable, kind Christians with a horrifying flaw in their belief systems. Seeing these seemingly respectable people inflict such emotional abuse onto these camp members emphasized how disturbing the whole situation was. The fact that the grown man and woman truly felt that they were making a positive difference in the kid’s lives shows how dangerous the normalization of these ideologies are. Children who are exposed to nothing but a prejudiced religious community turn into adults who can’t accept or understand anything that is different from their myopic idea of normal. It is easy to be against homophobes who use violence to enforce their beliefs. It is much more necessary to identify and critique the ‘kindhearted’ church goer who presents homophobia in a delusionally rationalized manner. In Boy Erased, by amplifying the role of Jared’s mother, they are able to depict this very type of church going women. She manages to form her own beliefs and see the situation from a better viewpoint. This character, and Jared’s entire familial depiction, are what truly save this movie. Even if I think the other film and novels are better, I would rather have people see Boy Erased than see or read nothing.
“Children who are exposed to nothing but a prejudiced religious community turn into adults who can’t accept or understand anything that is different from their myopic idea of normal.”
In the theatre for Boy Erased, people would laugh at the idiotic, bigoted justifications of homophobia from some of the misguided characters. While it was nice to know how foreign and ridiculous these homophobes’ hateful words were to the movie-goers, it saddened me to know these places still exist. In 2018, thirty six states have taken no legal action to ban these organizations. It has only been six years since the first state, Los Angeles, banned the practice. 700,000 Americans have gone into conversion therapy, many of whom are driven to suicide. Unless legal action is taken, the number of victims will continue to rise. Whether the families who endorse the camps recognize it or not, all they are doing is forcing a perfectly okay child (or adult) to hate themselves. These environments breed nothing but delusion, depression, and guilt as the human beings lose of any sense of identity.
Christians who endorse the discrimination of the LGBTQ+ community are not Christians. Christians who endorse any type of discrimination and hate are not Christians. Sadly, the institutions these people worship under refuse to understand or acknowledge that. Until these camps are terminated and the Church speaks out against all hateful prejudices, the quote ‘religion causes as many problems as it solves’ will remain true.