This week we bring you a personal piece from PFLAG National intern Casey Chalmers...
When I was 15, my mom and I embarked on our weekly library run. I was quite the reader in high school, desperate to read anything I could get my hands on. This was also around the time I started asking Google, “What are the signs you may be gay?” and “How to come out to your parents.”
One day, I did a quick search on “top gay books for teens,” and stumbled upon the book The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily Danforth. The story follows a gay midwestern teen in the who ends up in a religious conversion therapy camp. I checked the book out of the library before my mom could see me; I still remember my heart racing, feeling so worried she would catch me with it. When I got home, I raced upstairs and read the entire book, cover to cover, in one night. Afterwards, I just sat there, crying to myself, because finally I realized I wasn’t alone. I knew that there were other teenage girls out there who felt the same way I did. I saw myself represented for the first time—the feeling was, and still is, indescribable.
Miseducation... remains, to this day, a book that changed my life, no doubt helping me become the proud, queer young woman I am today.
I was offered the opportunity to speak with actress Chloe Grace Moretz, who now stars as Cameron in the Sundance Film Festival award-winning adaptation of the book, which opens August 10 in select cities and additional theaters throughout the month. To say this was the highlight of my summer internship with PFLAG National would be an understatement.
CC: What do Cameron’s story and the film mean to you?
CGM: I think what was so beautiful when I first read the script and the story was it broke a lot of stereotypes. I think that it depicted in both book and on film of what is the face of being gay, and I love the fact that not only was it a coming-of-age story for a young lesbian, but it was a coming-of-age story adequately depicted for young people—and the struggles of being a young person—and Desiree [Akhavan, writer/director of the film] in her adaptation of the screenplay really captures that. She also really kept through the tone that is latent throughout Emily’s book, of that strange line that shows comedy and distress and sadness and fear and anger and depression, with that combustible comedy in the way that we as humans deal with oppression and tension. So I felt all that depicted in the story and it was a no-brainer to me whether or not I wanted to take on this role, and especially with it being directed by a queer Iranian woman like Desiree, it felt like the perfect lens for this movie, and the only lens, in my opinion, for this story to be told through to get that tone correct.
I know that the movie was shot during the 2016 election. Do you think it’s even more important now, and is the story even more relevant in our current climate?
Definitely. I think with the midterms coming up in November this story can help educate and motivate people to the legislation and politicians that support pro-LGBT protection laws. I think this can help educate and motivate them, as well as be an entertaining piece so people that might not feel very positive towards the community can maybe step inside the shoes of the different characters in the community that we depict, and hopefully change their ideals and perspectives and respect for [them].
So veering off of that, what was the most difficult part of filming for you?
The most difficult part of filming for me was waking up halfway through this film and realizing that our President-to-be was Donald Trump. So in that moment I think, you know, of course it was an incredibly harrowing moment being that I helped campaign and stump for Hillary Clinton and that really hit close to home, that morning. But at the same time, my highest form of rebellion and my highest form of activism against the administration that was going to be taken into effect was to be in this movie and to be pushing all my energy into it. The day, that day I had to film probably the most happy scene in the movie which was the scene where I jump on the table and sing 4 Non Blondes. I had to funnel all of that energy into that moment and give my all to that in rebellion against the oppression and anger and sadness I was feeling, which was really powerful.
So that scene was filmed the morning after the election?
The morning after, yes.
What was the energy like on set that morning? I know you said you had to funnel your energy into making one of the more positive scenes of the film, but what was the overall energy on set?
Everyone was in mourning. We all sat together and we cried, and it was harrowing, and it was terrifying. But again, it was invigorating. It lit a fire under all of us and I think there was a severity and an urgency to our approach which I think aided the organic feeling in the movie that you feel, I mean it just changed our approach a little bit.
Before starting the film and reading the screenplay, did you have any knowledge about conversion therapy?
I had some knowledge of conversion therapy from being born to a Christian Baptist family in Georgia and the idea of “praying the gay away” was an idea I think that most people are aware of, especially growing up under a very strict kind of religious interpretation about the bible. But I was unaware of the modernity of the issue until I met the five survivors...prior to filming.
How does it feel to have the opportunity to shed light on conversion therapy an issue that's obviously still prevalent all over the world?
I think it’s really wonderful to be able to help educate people under the guise of entertainment. I think one thing that really struck me is being able to take my love of activism and being an advocate and an ally, and partnering that with art. I’ve had more people come to me and say that they were unaware that conversion therapy was a real practice In America—and not only was it a real practice, that it's only illegal in 14 states, and in those 14 states it’s only illegal for minors, and that it’s not an issue that’s only isolated to small towns.
How do you think the movie will affect queer youth? I was talking to some other PFLAG staff and discussing how this is the movie I wish I had when I was younger.
I think they’ll feel represented in a very real way, I think that they’ll feel less alone, to see the diversity truly of the cast; I mean, without the diversity I think this movie is still important but it’s really the diversity which was in the book, but also really pushed by Desiree which I think will be what is the heavy hitter, especially within the community.
Absolutely. I know that Cameron is such a complex character, how did you prepare for the role? Was there anything that you focused on? What were some of Cameron’s traits that resonated with you?
The most important thing at least in my research was meeting survivors. I wanted to adequately depict this form of psychotherapy that we have in our film which is the insidious, quiet form that grows within you and plants a seed of doubt and hatred towards yourself. Which grows and turns into living a life lead in fear. I wanted to ask questions as to how their therapy sessions went down, and it was really beautiful meeting people because they were really willing to share their stories, and that was really very pertinent to me being able to capture the role. Then of course, growing up in my family with two gay brothers, inherently being an advocate and an ally for the community. I asked my brothers what it was like coming out and the stories that I might not know even though we were in the same family. Just because you’re born to the same family does not mean that you know the struggles of people you grow up with, and you know it was interesting hearing from their voices after growing up in our fairly conservative, Christian Baptist upbringing what it was like for them to come out to my parents, given that I was 11-years-old it was a very different conversation within me. It was a no-brainer that of course I would love them the same way I loved them before. But to hear their own personal stories about how hard it was for them and that they did try to pray away [“the gay”] and they realized after weeks of doing that, that it wasn’t going to happen and that’s when they came out to the family. I didn’t know that it was that close to my home and that close to my family so that really took me aback and again, I think gave me the viewpoint into the character which I wouldn’t have had.
So what does it mean to your family to be involved with this film? I know you mentioned your brothers, how do they feel about the film and your involvement and what it means to be involved in such a powerful story?
You know I think they were really proud of me when I signed onto the project. They were really taken aback from the beauty of the script and the story. I ran it by them immediately. [My brother] Trevor was the first person to read the script, and [he was] invigorated with the depictions of being a young gay person and meeting other gay people for the very first time, and realizing that, “oh I’m not alone.” That this isn't just me going through this struggle, and that played out in the story in a very, very beautiful light. They also loved the fact that the film doesn't focus on sadness. You know, it focuses on that silver lining that you find within your own life because you don’t just sit there going, “There’s so many obstacles, everything’s so hard.” No, you make light out of the dark moments, you find a way to cope and to be yourself and you find your form of self-expression within. And I think that was very special and specific to this story.
Absolutely. And I think that it’s so important to have these stories that are being broadcast that aren’t focusing on the sadness. It’s about embracing who you are.
Yeah, and the interpersonal relationships of that, of realizing you’re not alone.
Exactly, and that’s so incredibly important. As a gay woman myself I can’t talk enough about how when I read the book for the first time, I was just like, “Wow! I can’t believe I'm not alone, and I can’t believe I’m not the only person who is feeling this way,” and I just think that that’s so important.
Exactly, feeling seen I think is very, very important.
To find theatres and show times and order tickets, visit http://www.campostfilm.com/tickets.