Review: The Miseducation of Cameron Post
by Sara Elizabeth Grossman
I had the pleasure of seeing the Miseducation of Cameron Post during a queer film festival preview in Denver. This was about a month ago, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the film since. (And not just because I have a huge crush on Chloe Grace Moretz.)
The quiet reticence that puts legs on this movie is displayed from the beginning to the end scene. I cannot recommend it enough. Should CGM starring in a film about conversion therapy not pique your interest right away, here is my review:
The Miseducation of Cameron Post begins with a religious authority figure (this Jew can’t tell whether he was a pastor or just a Sunday School teacher) saying, “We (adults) are trying to undo the things we did at your age. What feels like fun now is actually the enemy.” This sets the tone for the rest of the film. Shortly after being introduced to that concept, we meet Cameron and Coley–high school best friends. Well, more than friends, really. The viewer is first introduced to them when they are making out in Cameron’s high school bedroom. Then we flash to them getting ready for prom, attending prom, sneaking out of prom, and doing what any normal 90s teenager would do when sneaking out of prom–smoking pot and fooling around.
The two are caught by Cameron’s boyfriend / prom date, and then we flash immediately to Cameron being driven to conversion therapy camp at a place called God’s Promise. Unlike my generation’s But I’m a Cheerleader, there isn’t even a conversation or intervention leading up to this. In fact, I found myself comparing the two films throughout. Obviously, this one was much more realistic even though they both took place at the same time in the 90s. But we had what we had growing up, even if it was a parody or a farce.
In fact, But I’m a Cheerleader was so silly that I didn’t realize conversion therapy was a real thing until much later in life.
As we get to know the camp and the characters, we learn that everyone is there for what the director calls “SSA” or same sex attraction, which they describe as something that is merely a symptom of a bigger issue. They discuss how homosexuality is not aligned with Christianity (tell that to someone like Glennon Doyle). They ask pointed questions like, “When did your SSA get in the way of your goals” and use a lot of other very loaded Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous jargon. They talk about how same sex attraction is a compulsion and liken it to cannibalism (they try to take in qualities they admire through eating their own.) (Woof.)
Shame is really the main tool of the work they are trying to accomplish at God’s Promise. This comes to a head right after the scene where the kids are shamed for singing “What’s Going On?” by 4 Non Blondes. (Mainstream anything was not allowed. Christian music or bust.) Almost as punishment, the director of the camp gives Cameron the mail they’d been holding on to–a letter from Coley saying she never wanted to speak to Cameron again and that she took advantage of their friendship.
“I’m tired of feeling disgusted with myself,” Cameron says before really trying to acclimate herself to the ways of the camp. Unfortunately, we feel the whiplash the same way she does. We understand just as she does that this isn’t right. And this is exposed in the next scene, where we find out that Mark, one of the other “disciples” who has struggled because of his relationship with his father’s disapproval, tries to kill himself.
He has a breakdown, repeating his “father’s favorite [Bible] passage” over and over and over: For when I am weak, then I am strong. He fixates on this because the reason he isn’t allowed home. His father calls him weak and feminine. The result? He hurts himself.
This is the sad reality of conversion therapy camps. They are trying to fix something that is unfixable because it doesn’t need to be fixed. Through shame and pushing an evangelical agenda (which has become so disgustingly intertwined in US politics, but that is another blog post entirely), some of these kids are psychologically damaged for the rest of their lives.
In the wake of the trauma of discovering Mark trying to kill himself, a social worker arrives on the scene. While asking Cameron about whether she thinks she is safe at God’s Promise, she points out that she thinks the adults are perfectly capable of driving the van and feeding them.
The rest, however? I was the most struck by this line:
How is programming people to hate themselves not emotional abuse?
Spoiler alert: it is. I don’t want to spoil too much else about the plot of The Miseducation of Cameron Post, but the ending takes the quiet reality that is displayed throughout the film and leaves us with some hope.
The kids will be alright.
About the Author:
Sara Elizabeth Grossman has an MFA in Creative Nonfiction Writing from The New School, a BA in Interdisciplinary Studies (writing, psychology, humanities) from the University of Central Florida and runs communications for both the Matthew Shepard Foundation and The Dru Project. She is also a Survivor Fellow for Everytown for Gun Safety and speaks out on the importance in advocating for common sense gun legislation, hate crime reporting, and LGBTQ+ youth. Sara lives in Denver, CO.