screening room

Can’t pray it away: 6 times the dangers of conversion therapy have been depicted in film

Image Credits (clockwise form top-left): ‘But I’m A Cheerleader,’ The Criterion Channel | ‘Boy Erased,’ Focus Features | ‘Fair Haven,’ Breaking Glass Pictures | ‘The Miseducation Of Cameron Post,’ FilmRise

This week, we shared an early look at the heart-wrenching yet empowering documentary Conversion, which—as the title might suggest—provides an eye-opening look at the dangers of conversion therapy, as told by the individuals who survived it.

It’s a subject as urgent as ever because, although the unethical practice has been banned and discredited in 22 states, recent studies have shown it still exists in almost all 50, albeit often insidiously rebranded, posing a threat especially to LGBTQ+ youth.

What Conversion so astutely points out is: a big part of the problem is that many people don’t even know that conversion therapy still exists, believing it to be just a backwards thing of the past. Therefore, merely making others aware of its realities—that there are real people being affected by it—has the power to save lives.

With that in mind, while we anticipate Conversion‘s VOD release on July 2—we’re taking a moment to shine a spotlight on other films about conversion therapy. While these movies all take different approaches to the subject at hand (there’s a slasher and a campy comedy among them!), they’re all at least based on the stories and experiences of real people, real survivors. And they all have the ability to inspire real change.

Boy Erased (2018)

Perhaps one of the more well-known and well-regarded films to broach the subject matter, Boy Erased is based on an acclaimed memoir of the same name by Garrard Conley. Lucas Hedges plays Jared, a fictionalized version of the author, whose strict Baptist parents (Russell Crowe, Nicole Kidman) make him take part in an “ex-gay Christian Ministry” led by Victor Sykes (the film’s director Joel Edgerton). As Jared experiences the dehumanizing “treatments” first-hand, he leans on the support of fellow patients (including one played by Troye Sivan), and his mother comes to realize how her actions have put the son she loves so much in danger.

Streaming via Netflix.

But I’m A Cheerleader (1999)

Sure, maybe it’s a little too colorful, too cheeky, too ’90s to feel like its taking conversion therapy seriously, but director Jamie Babbit’s teen satire is now viewed as a groundbreaking piece of queer cinema and has become a cult classic for a reason. Teen Megan’s (Natasha Lyonne) interests in vegetarianism and Melissa Etheridge worry her parents, who ship her off to a conversion camp where she meets an eclectic group of characters including the totally crushable Graham (Clea Duvall), repressive hunk Rock (Eddie Cibrian), and the quiet Hilary (Melanie Lynskey), leading to a cathartic sexual awakening. And yes that is RuPaul as “ex-gay” counselor Mike!

Streaming via Paramount+ and Plex.

Fair Haven (2016)

Instead of telling a story within a conversion program, this lesser-known indie gem focuses on the aftermath, with small-town boy Richard (Michael Grant) returning home to his family farm, emotionally scarred and left to wonder what the point of it all was. It certainly doesn’t seem to have made a difference to his widower father (Tom Wopat), who remains distant but demanding. And while the daughter of his clinic’s “doctor” is pretty flirty, Richard just can’t seem to quit his sweet ex-boyfriend Charlie (Josh Green) whose feelings haven’t faded. Their quiet longing almost make this rural romance a teen Brokeback Mountain—albeit far less tragic.

Streaming via Amazon Prime Video, Freevee, Kanopy, Peacock, The Roku Channel, and Tubi.

The Miseducation Of Cameron Post (2018)

Though it was somewhat overshadowed by the release of Boy Erased the same year, queer filmmaker Desiree Akhavan’s The Miseducation Of Cameron Post is incredibly worthy of your time, adapting Emily M. Danforth’s acclaimed novel and providing an insightful glimpse at how these programs impact more than just young, gay men. At the heart of the story is Chloë Grace Moretz’s Cameron, who finds family among fellow “disciples” at a teen center called God’s Promise, including a flower child named Jane Fonda (Sasha Lane), and two-spirit Lakota youth Adam Red Eagle (Forrest Goodluck). It’s a raw and brutally honest but ultimately hopeful tale.

Streaming via Amazon Prime Video, AMC+, Freevee, Hoopla, Kanopy, Peacock, Plex, The Roku Channel, and Tubi.

Pray Away (2021)

Ryan Murphy is among the producers of this shocking investigation into Exodus International, an organization started in the 1970s by five Evangelical churchgoers who were struggling with their own homosexual urges. But what began as a small Bible study to “pray the gay away” quickly grew into what’s been recognized as the largest—and most controversial—conversion therapy organization in the world. In Kristine Stolakis’ doc, survivors of Exodus share their stories, as do a number of former leaders of the program, many of whom have since come out and all struggle with what their actions have done to so many others just like them.

Streaming exclusively on Netflix.

They/Them (2022)

Taking the tropes of the “summer-camp slasher” to a conversion therapy camp is an idea that’s somehow both ingenious and so very wrong—do we really want to see helpless queer characters picked off by a mass murderer? But Oscar-nominated filmmaker John Logan’s wry horror (starring Theo Germaine and Kevin Bacon, among other familiar faces) finds a way to flip the script and let the gays have the last slash. Sure it didn’t get the best reviews upon release, but just keep in mind this movie’s title is meant to be read as They-slash-Them, so it’s not taking itself too seriously. And that’s to say nothing of the singalong to Pink’s “F**kin’ Perfect”!

Streaming exclusively on Peacock.

Don't forget to share:

Help make sure LGBTQ+ stories are being told...

We can't rely on mainstream media to tell our stories. That's why we don't lock Queerty articles behind a paywall. Will you support our mission with a contribution today?

Cancel anytime · Proudly LGBTQ+ owned and operated

One Comment*

Comments are closed.