“Out of any movie I’ve made, this is the one people need to talk about – they need to see it,” says Chloë Grace Moretz. “It will change you.”
That might sound like your standard PR-friendly sound bite that gets taught in lesson one at the Hollywood School of Media Training, but in this case we believe it to be infinitely more genuine than that. Why? Because the film in question is The Miseducation of Cameron Post – an adaptation of Emily M. Danforth’s 2012 coming-of-age novel of the same name.
Chloë Grace Moretz – the young actress you’ve seen in Kick-Ass and its sequel, the Carrie remake, and Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, among other big budget flicks – takes on the title role here; a queer teen caught having sex with her girlfriend at her school prom by the boyfriend she attended it with, only to then be carted off to God’s Promise, a conversion therapy camp in Montana. When it first premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, it was met with critical praise. So much so that it walked off with the Grand Jury Prize for US Drama – widely regarded as the festival’s highest honour.
“I had basically taken a little bit of a break from acting for a second to figure out where I wanted to be in my career, the content I wanted to put out, and what was so important to me,” Chloë tells us when we ask at what point when reading the script did she know that she needed to be a part of this project. “The first movie that really ticked all the boxes for me and lit a fire under me was Cameron Post. It was really that that made me want to jump into this project and be a part of it – and it was for a multitude of reasons.” The main one, she says, was because she was completely unaware of how much an issue conversion therapy was – and continues to be – in America.
The statistics are heartbreaking: there are currently 700,000 people in America affected by conversion therapy, while it’s estimated a further 77,000 young people will be subjected to the unethical practice in the next five years. There is absolutely no reliable evidence that this pseudoscientific method is effective. In fact, pretty much all respectable scientific and medical experts consider attempting to change someone’s sexuality from bisexual or homosexual to heterosexual through psychological or spiritual means to be seriously harmful. Yet conversion therapy has so far only been banned in 14 states in the US, and that is just when it comes to minors. In the UK, the government is only just looking into banning the practice after years of campaigning by LGBTQ activists.
“It’s an issue that never went away,” Chloë says. “The movie is set in 1993, so in a way you could look at it and think it’s different now, but actually it’s not. If anything, it’s louder, it’s more talked about, and it’s more easily accessible. There are websites now that will help you find any therapist in a 10-mile radius of your home that you can take your kid to tomorrow. So it’s become very readily available and that really shocked me.”
What is even more shocking, Chloë adds, is just how far conversion therapy has its grip. “It’s in every religion, it’s in every socio-economic space, it’s in every race, it’s an incredibly widespread issue.” And this is where the power of art comes in. When Chloë says that this is the one movie of hers that she needs people to see, it’s because it could help mobilise real social change when it comes to the conversation around conversion therapy. “Hopefully, from people becoming educated it’ll help them to become advocates to overturn it and make it illegal in their country and their city.”
When Chloë says that, it’s not even directed at just the LGBTQ community, but people outside of the rainbow who could be completely unaware that these very real issues still persist in society. And The Miseducation of Cameron Post’s secret weapon? A great big emotional punch that would be difficult for anyone to resist connecting with.
“What’s wonderful about this movie is that it doesn’t feel like you’re taking a medicine when you’re watching it – it’s incredibly educational and you find out a lot of information, but it’s told through very interpersonal relationships that are easily accessed by those that even aren’t in the community,” Chloë says, before adding: “To highlight something else, I would say what’s important about this movie is that it’s a queer movie told by queer people. Our director [Desiree Akhavan] is bisexual and everyone in the movie is on the spectrum, and it’s told by the community for the community. It’s through our lens. That is the most important thing we can push through – that we’re not just taking advantage of the story.”
For Chloë, that meant delving deep into research for the role and speaking with conversion therapy victims. She met many survivors who were just two to three years from their horrific experience, but what left her astonished was that her idea of what type of person might be subjected to this practice was completely wrong. “I was really surprised by the diversity of conversion therapy,” she recalls. “In my mind when I hear conversion therapy, the first thing I thought was Christianity and obviously, highly, strictly religious families. But then you start talking to these survivors and it’s actually a lot more insidious. It crosses socio-economic and racial boundaries. For instance, one man’s story is that his father put him in conversion therapy because his father was an immigrant from another country. He worked very, very hard to gain the wealth and respect that he now has in this country, so in his eyes, he thought he was giving his kid more opportunities in the world by getting the gay out of him. I’d never thought of that. It was a really shocking entry point into conversion therapy that I hadn’t thought of.”
The diversity of conversion therapy is implemented into the movie through both Forest Goodluck’s character Adam Red Eagle, who comes from a Native American background, and Sasha Lane’s brilliantly named character Jane Fonda, who grew up in a commune. “There is no single face of conversion therapy, as there’s no single face of gay people – it’s as diverse as it can come,” Chloë adds.
What it highlights is just how widespread homophobia is throughout different cultural, social, and economic backgrounds, and how pervasive it remains in society. “There’s a shocking amount of casual homophobia,” Chloë agrees. “It’s homophobia that comes in the form of, ‘It’s okay if it’s over there, but don’t bring it into my home.’ It’s this latent, insidious form of homophobia which now, in America in particular with this administration we’re living under, you see people who maybe had these ideas of homophobic rhetoric, but now they feel like they have a platform to be able to look at you and go, ‘You’re gay, I don’t want you near me, near my family, or certainly bringing me food or working with me.’ It’s jarring, it’s scary.”
Ah, there it is. It didn’t take long into this conversation for the T word to pop up: Trump. Chloë explains that production on The Miseducation of Cameron Post actually started while Barack Obama was still in the White House. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were battling in the 2016 Presidential Election throughout the first half of filming, but when that fateful night in November happened, it all changed. “We all went to bed one night thinking Hillary Clinton was going to be our president the next day, and we woke up finding that it’s now President-Elect Trump,” Chloë remembers. “In that moment, this movie became one of the most impactful things we could be doing, and it lit a new fire under us. It was always important to us to make the movie, but now it became important for America to see the movie.”
This added weight of importance made The Miseducation of Cameron Post an even more vital and much-needed piece of activism. “This is what art should be,” Chloë says. “In the current state of America, if you don’t have a message that you’re pushing out, if it’s not some sort of activism, then why are you doing it? I want this movie to be a platform. I want this movie to start a conversation and to help lobby against conversion therapy in America. I’m actually flying to DC to do a screening and to have an open conversation with a couple of politicians, and to talk about lobbying against gay conversion therapy in America.”
We don’t need to remind you that the current Vice President of the United States, Mike Pence, has a terrible record when it comes to supporting LGBTQ rights. When he was running for Congress back in 2000, he publically said that resources should be given to “institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behaviour.” It was widely interpreted as support for conversion therapy. He has since promoted anti-LGBTQ legislation in the name of his religious faith.
The use of religion as ammunition to enforce bigoted, conservative views plays a large part in The Miseducation of Cameron Post. As we mentioned, Cameron is sent to God’s Promise; a place where ‘psychologists’ use religion to make these kids feel unnatural for being gay. Having grown up in Georgia, which is a very conservative state, Chloë has experienced bigotry based purely on religious beliefs firsthand. “The pushback we saw towards our family after my brothers came out was jarring for sure,” she says. “There’s a lot of people from our small town that treated us differently, and treated my brothers differently. The way I saw them bullied and ostracised was shocking. What made me most sad was that people were weaponising something that isn’t inherently a negative thing.”
“Religion isn’t inherently negative,” Chloë continues. “It’s the misinterpretation of it and the weaponisation of it that becomes abusive. There’s a lot of really scary rhetoric in the interpretation of the bible – the way people can really manipulate it. That breaks my heart because you can do that with any religion, you can do it as an atheist, you can be an extremist in any form. It’s really heartbreaking to see people use something that could potentially be enlightening, but turning it into abuse like that.”
After her brothers came out, Chloë’s advocacy for LGBTQ people was solidified and she continues to support the community in any way she can. “It was a no-brainer for me,” she smiles. “The healthiest relationship that I’ve ever seen and grew up with was not that of my parents, it was that of my brother and his boyfriend who have been together – still to this day – for 11 years. That has been my most healthy parental relationship that I’ve ever seen. It gave me faith and hope that you can find someone to be with for a long period of time who you truly love. But for me, it’s interesting that it wasn’t your typical nuclear family unit – it’s my gay brother and his boyfriend.”
This experience had a profound effect on her world view, ultimately turning her into one of the community’s most outspoken allies. “I was really blessed because I grew up so open to it,” Chloë says. “I grew up fighting on their behalf because it broke my heart to see that yes, they can stand up for themselves, but people wouldn’t listen. So I took it upon myself with their blessing to go out there and talk about it, and to tell people, ‘Hey, being gay is not a big deal at all. But be proud and be out there and raise the flag high. Be a part of the community, and be for the community.’ So it was never a question to me whether or not I was ever going to be an advocate, and what that meant to my heart and how it shaped me.”
But when it comes to being a good ally to the LGBTQ community there are rules – rules that Chloë lives by. “First and foremost, don’t take stories,” she says. “Let other people’s stories stand for themselves. Many people try to make these stories about themselves, and it’s like, you’re not a saviour. As an advocate, you’re not a saviour, you’re in no way shape or form saving anyone, but you just need to open your ears and listen. You are a sounding board. You are a microphone. You’re someone that can amplify the voice of others. That’s what’s important. Don’t take the story and then be like, ‘It’s as important to me because I’m doing this’. It’s like, ‘No, you’re just setting the stage. That’s it. You’re just giving people a platform to hopefully be able to shout it even louder and take it to reaches that they wouldn’t have otherwise had.’”
So when Chloë Grace Moretz reiterates for a second time during this conversation that “out of all the movies that I’ve done in my career – which is fair amount at this stage as I’ve done sixty-something in 15 years – I’d say this is the movie I’m most proud of,” we believe her unconditionally. “I will back this movie until the very end,” she adds. “I hope it opens your heart. I hope it gives you a new perspective of something – even if you knew about the community or conversion therapy. I hope it gives you a new connection to it. And I hope that it gets seen – that it opens eyes and educates people.” Amen to that.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post will be cinemas from 7 September.
Photography Dennis Leupold
Fashion Dani Michelle
Hair Gregory Russell
Makeup Mai Q
Nails Shigeko Taylor
Fashion Assistant Rum Brady