Good Education

Desiree Akhavan made a film to make queer kids feel less alone

Name: Desiree Akhavan, 33

Who She is: Writer/Actor/Director

Why She Matters: Akhavan was born in New York after her parents fled the Iranian Revolution. She grew up in the Bronx and in New Jersey before studying Film at Smith College and completing her graduate studies. Though she struggled to find work in the industry, Akhavan persevered, creating the lesbian-themed web series The Slope in 2011.

She became a darling of the Sundance Film Festival in 2014 with Appropriate Behavior, a queer-themed comedy that she wrote, directed and starred in. Akhavan career went to the next level with the release of the sitcom The Bisexual, in which she also writes and directs, as well as stars. The series explores the life of a bisexual, Persian-British woman trying to find love in London, and has earned rave reviews for its depiction of female bisexual life. Last year, she also wrote and directed the acclaimed drama The Miseducation of Cameron Post, a drama about conversion therapy told from a female point of view.

Why We’re Proud: Akhavan has spoken about the challenges of finding work in Hollywood due to her Persian background and the overtly queer themes in her work, a challenge she is clearly beginning to overcome. With The Bisexual, Akhavan addresses not only anti-immigrant and racist sentiments in the UK. She also explores themes of bisexuality and female sexuality as well–two elements of the queer experience that still don’t get much discussion within the mainstream of Hollywood or sometimes even in the LGBTQ community.

In an interview with Bazar, Akhavan talked about the pitch process for the show: “I pitched this script in 2015 to all the networks in LA and I was rejected everywhere.” She also describes the frequent killer question: “But how are you going to appeal to men?” as if there is no use appealing to women or that men are not interested in women’s themes.

Akhavan managed to see her project through to fruition and used her artistic capital to strike another blow for equality. With her film The Miseducation of Cameron Post, Akhavan uncovers the tortures of conversion therapy from a feminist perspective and inspires Chloe Grace Moritz to do some of her best work.

Speaking with the website them, Akhavan described her hopes for the film:

I hope it starts a dialogue and gets people motivated to vote. The film was never just about gay conversion therapy. I set out to make an honest teen film. The setting was a metaphor — no matter who you are or what your sexuality, you hit those years and feel diseased. Whatever it is that sets you apart from the norm is a sickness you’re told you need to exorcise yourself of.

I made the film to speak honestly to the experience of being a teen: the joy, the angst, the desire, the freedom, the doubt, and the hope. And my hope is that this film makes people feel less alone. I made it to feel less alone.

What should Pride look like at 100?

I think that, at 100, Pride should look self aware enough to know it’s been exclusionary. Pride at 100 should be extending its reach to embrace and champion trans folk. Pride at 100 should be livid at the violence against trans women of color. Pride at 100 should look like action. –Desiree Akhavan