Before going to see this film I had read up as much as possible about it, even though I was always going to watch it after having seen Desiree Akhavan’s debut Appropriate Behaviour a number of equally entertaining times. Akhavan’s work is creative, entertaining and relatable; notably, it is queer. However, while Appropriate Behaviour is a witty comedy exploring themes close to Akhavan’s own experience, her second effort The Miseducation of Cameron Post is set at least 20 years ago and is a carefully solemn yet humorous adaptation of Emily Danforth’s novel. Akhavan lends her perspective once again to the direction and writing- alongside Cecilia Frugiuele- of The Miseducation of Cameron Post, with Chloë Grace Moretz as the eponymous protagonist.
The film takes us along Cameron’s journey from exploring the secret depths of her friendship with Coley, through being caught, to God’s Promise where she is to ‘cure’ her ‘same sex attraction.’ The aesthetics of the film, right down to the optimistically dingy school hall prom, clearly position the story in the 1990s. These settings, and the knowledge that gay conversion therapy was commonplace in the 1990s, allow for experiencing the film from a somewhat distant perspective. I allow myself to believe that if this film were set in the present day, we would have seen a section of the film depicting the outcry that would ensue back at Cameron’s school and hometown. But as Desiree Akhavan sagely reminded the audience in the post-screening Q&A, gay conversion therapy is still a prevalent issue in countries including the UK and America. So while this film has sentiments of a ‘period piece’ as it is set over two decades ago, it does also highlight the ongoing issue and struggle of gay conversion therapy and its damaging doctrines. The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a seminal work that brings queer coming-of-age stories to light from at least two queer women of colour (Iranian Akhavan and antagonist Sasha Lane who plays Cameron’s friend Jane Fonda) at the fore.
By giving as much time to showing the experiences inside God’s Promise as to Cameron’s personal struggle with her sexuality from secretive beginning through the self-doubt to the confident end, Moretz and Akhavan allow the audience to remember that the emotions and experiences of a teenager exploring her sexuality are timeless. Young queer teenagers today and tomorrow will relate to the risk, worry and curiosity of realising that they are different from the ‘norm’ that is and always has been thrust upon us at school, at home and in wider society. The worry in Cameron’s aunt’s voice as she justifies this decision of hers to send Cameron to God’s Promise by telling her how much she loves her and just wants her to be able to have a family is not isolated in the 1990s, of course, and the fact that the decision itself was given less than 3 minutes of the film and Cameron’s only involvement was eavesdropping on the discussion speaks volumes to the queer community of yesterday, today and tomorrow. Every self-identifying member of the LGBT+ community needs a more confident, unapologetic partner in queer disobedience like Jane Fonda.
Despite having a white protagonist, The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a film that is relatable to queer people of colour by virtue of the many other aspects of the queer experience that the story explores. Faith is an overarching theme in the film, permeating the atmosphere from the first scene. Akhavan stated that she was careful not to portray it as something to be denounced or ridiculed, but as another angle from which characters are exploring their life and sexuality. The film includes characters navigating various stages of their relationship with faith, from those who have ‘overcome same sex attraction,’ those in the process and those who have lost their faith completely. Akhavan gives each experience the nuance, time and seriousness it deserves. The storyline also deals with parents who have decided that their children do not fit into their ideal narrative so have pushed them into spaces such as God’s Promise, the death of parents and various beliefs and walks of life that influence their character today. By giving such a thorough representation of the last 200 pages of the novel which Frugiuele and Akhavan decided to focus on, The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a film that everyone will see themselves to some degree.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a peephole into the experiences of those who are forced into ostensibly therapeutic spaces to attack one of the most immutable facets of identity. Simultaneously a learning experience and a mirror of the society of the 1990s and present day alike, it is necessary, heartwarming and empowering viewing for all.