The Miseducation of Cameron Post (2018), a coming-of-age film with a focus on queer identity, offers a new perspective of teenage sexuality with a religious undertone. In a realistic style, director Desiree Akhavan explores the intricacies of growing up in the cruelty of a conformist reality. It is a narrative and a victory song as Cameron Post (Chloë Grace Moretz) finds liberation outside the indoctrination of a gay conversion camp.
The most interesting theme explored is the concept of education. The gay conversion therapy camp, under religious orders, thinks homosexuality’s only cure is belief in God and obedience to the Bible. At first, everything at the camp seems normal enough, with a slight catch—a kindness flawed with intrusiveness. Beyond checking the teens’ beds with a flashlight at night and asking them to analyze their same-sex attractions, the counselors constantly assert that the teens have sinned for being gay. The camp members even use SSA instead of “same-sex attraction” to section off their homosexuality.
The instructions of the camp are one-sided and misinformed. Under the barrage of negativity aimed at their sexuality, the camp “disciples” turn compliant but also conceited. The rule violations, outpouring of self-hatred, and outbursts of passion only confirm the teenagers’ frustration of being denied for who they are. Even though the film focuses only on Cameron Post, her journey chronicles and coincides with the pains of other disciples.
Perhaps the most disturbing scenes involve the labels on everyone’s icebergs. In a sick analogy, the camp counselors link the top of the iceberg – homosexuality – to the submerged section – causes of homosexuality. The diagram prompts disciples to lie or seek unfounded reasons for their homosexuality: Was it because of their athleticism? Were they attracted to the values instead of the body of their partners? Was it because of a traumatic past? No, it was not any of these things. Here the miseducation lies. The camp counselors fail to see sexuality as part of identity and preach grace through self-denial. The education makes the disciples think they are evil and shameful when they are just normal teenagers. As Post declares at her therapy session, “I don’t think of myself as a homosexual, I mean, I don’t think of myself as anything.”
In a group, a family, and a society that constantly berates a person for being attracted to the same gender, the film exposes the toxicity and hypocrisy of a faith that believes in unconditional love. As Cameron Post points out: “How’s programming people to hate themselves not emotional abuse?”
The setting and camera shots complement the thesis of the film. Throughout the movie, the wide-angle shot of the gay therapy group is juxtaposed with close-ups of deep conversations between characters. A sudden shift of angle reveals the interplay between imprisonment of a herd mentality and freedom of mutual understanding. This, true to the film, is what good education is all about: not preaching to the masses, but listening and seeing a person instead of a disciple.
This June of 2020 calls for so much of the understanding this film inspires. In a world that constantly establishes norms, such as a heteronormative culture, The Miseducation of Cameron Post shows the powerful potential of learning rooted in compassion.