PARK CITY, Utah ― The coming-of-age genre is having a moment, and rightfully so.
Following the success of Oscar-nominated films “Lady Bird” and “Call Me By Your Name” comes Desiree Akhavan’s “The Miseducation of Cameron Post,” which took home the grand jury prize at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival last month. Although it has yet to find a distributor, the film’s contemporary appeal is apparent: The teenage tale revolves around the horrifying realities of so-called conversion therapy, a discredited pseudoscientific practice some say was backed by Vice President Mike Pence. (Pence made statements during his 2000 congressional campaign suggesting he supports conversion therapy, but a spokesman in 2016 said it was “patently false” that Pence “supported or advocated” the practice.)
The movie follows Cameron Post (Chloë Grace Moretz), a 17-year-old girl whose aunt/legal guardian sends her to a camp called God’s Promise after Cameron is caught fooling around with her best (female) friend Coley (Quinn Shephard) in the back seat of a boyfriend’s car on prom night.
God’s Promise, run by conservative brother-sister duo Reverend Rick (John Gallagher Jr.) and Dr. Lydia Marsh (Jennifer Ehle), specializes in therapy that aims to “cure” teens of “same-sex attraction.” There, Cameron grapples not only with her own desires, but the dilemmas of those around her, including commune-raised Jane Fonda (“American Honey” star Sasha Lane), native Lakota teen Adam Red Eagle (Forrest Goodluck of “The Revenant”), and football fanatic Erin (Emily Skeggs of “Fun Home” fame). Through a surprising mix of comedy and drama, Akhavan’s film unravels the pressures young people face to conform to the unfathomable ideals of misguided adults.
“Cameron Post” is based on a 2012 young adult novel by Emily M. Danforth, which centers on a 12-year-old Cameron in the 1990s trying to come to terms with the realization that she’s gay. Although the film adaptation focuses on Cameron as a 17-year-old, the message of the movie and the novel is the same: Yes, conversion therapy is real, and it’s still happening today.
While in Park City for Sundance, I sat down with Chloë Grace Moretz and Sasha Lane to talk about coming-of-age tales in the time of Donald Trump, and what Hollywood’s reckoning means to a younger generation of actors. Unfortunately, ahead of our conversation, a representative informed me that Moretz isn’t answering questions about her controversial movie “I Love You, Daddy” and co-star Louis C.K., who has acknowledged sexual misconduct. When Variety pressed her on the subject earlier, Moretz said, “I could single-in and talk about my experience, but I think it’s more important to talk about the entire movement as a whole.”
Read more on what Moretz had to say about the “entire movement” below:
“The Miseducation of Cameron Post” was my favorite film at the festival. What were your thoughts when you watched it for the first time?
Sasha Lane: I’m so proud of it. I love it so much. I think it hit all the right messages, all the right tones. It was just incredible. I loved watching it. You get so nervous to watch yourself on screen, but a couple minutes in, I was like, man, this is a dope movie.
Chloë Grace Moretz: Yeah, all of us aside, it was just a great movie.
On set, did you have a feeling it would be as impactful as it turned out?
SL: I kind of knew, because especially as we’re filming around election time, you got the sense that, oh shit, we’re really making this movie and it’s very relevant. So, we did get that hunch. But I think I was even still like, wow, this really is something, watching it again.
CM: We all really became the characters and the characters became us. We shot it in 23 days. It was this whirlwind of a movie. We just jumped in and gave our all to every piece of it.
How did it feel, as young actresses in Hollywood, to find roles as dynamic as Cameron and Jane?
SL: I feel like Jane Fonda was kind of the momma bear of the whole group, and I’ve always been that way with my family and my friends. So it was kind of nice to go into that with the mentality of holding everyone together. It’s a nice role to play. Very comforting.
CM: It was a real departure for me from the other things I’ve done in my career, and that was important to me because it was the first movie I did after taking a break for a year. I really wanted to do something that, in a lot of ways, hit close to home [Editor’s note: Moretz has two gay brothers] and was able to show a side of myself that I hadn’t been able to depict on screen. And, in turn, through depicting it on screen, I think I opened my mind up into different areas of my emotionality, and my own depth and perspective on things.
Was it scary at all to jump into this character, Chloe? Some of the scenes you’re in are very raw and, again, very different to what we’ve seen from you.
CM: Completely. You just kind of try to jump in head-first, and if you looked toward the day and thought about the scenes you were about to film, I think you could psych yourself out very easily.
SL: You have to have no fear, you just gotta do it.
CM: Yeah. Just not think and just act on the emotion and the feeling. And it was really easy to do that, especially with Ashley Connor, our cinematographer. Pretty much every scene was just her and the camera, and then us.
SL: And she gave you that space.
What was your research process like? Were you at all surprised conversion therapy is still practiced?
CM: It was shocking for all of us. Even after reading the script, we probably Googled it, too. Like, “Is this real?”
SL: Yeah. Knowing a little bit about it, you’re still like, wait, this is like legit and actually happening? It’s a lot of emotions, man. You feel a lot of empathy. It’s shit. But what this film does is there’s also this kind of other perspective where these people [the counselors] truly feel like what they’re doing is something. Like they’re really helping these people by converting them. You start to think about that, too. It’s kind of a bit of a mind-fuck.
CM: We got really lucky to be able to meet a lot of survivors and to hear their stories. The truth of it is, a lot of the stories they told us, and what they told us happened to them, were almost too dark to put in [the movie]. I mean, they told us even heavier things than what’s in the film, and what’s in the film is already really, really heavy. Again, it’s just the reality to realize that these weren’t stories from 15 years ago, these are stories from four years ago, two years ago, a year ago. Right now, conversion therapy is only illegal in nine states in this country, and it’s only illegal for minors. And New Hampshire, two weeks ago, voted against banning it. [Editor’s note: The New Hampshire House bill to prohibit conversion therapy was defeated by one vote last month.] The reality is Mike Pence is our vice president, Donald Trump is our president, and this administration is not fighting for LGBTQ rights.
Do you feel like now is a good time to release this film because of that reality?
SL: It’s relevant and it’s in people’s faces and it’s impactful. And people can correlate.
CM: I think a headline on one of the reviews was “This Movie Is Mike Pence’s Biggest Nightmare.” And it’s like, yeah, it should be. It should be the administration’s biggest nightmare.
So movies coming out of Hollywood should try to push the limits in terms of testing the administration?
CM: 100 percent.
Do you find that the industry is trying to do that ― switch up storytelling to touch on relevant and important issues facing our world today?
CM: I think in some ways, yes. And in a lot of ways, so not.
SL: I think they’re trying.
CM: It’s still hard though to fight. It depends on what part of the industry you’re talking about. There are studio films, streaming services, independent films. You know, there’s more of a conversation [in independent films] that I think’s important. More communication.
The reality is Mike Pence is our vice president, Donald Trump is our president, and this administration is not fighting for LGBTQ rights. Chloë Grace Moretz
Sundance, especially this year, is seemingly highlighting films that are trying to say something about our reality. Whereas, like you mentioned, you see the big studio, superhero movies and you’re like ... not so much.
CM: You’re like, hmmm, the gender roles are still super messed up!
SL: Like, what is this even really about?
CM: It’s not about anything!
Within the Time’s Up movement, are you seeing more colleagues come forward to test the boundaries and fight for not only their rights, but the rights of their fellow actresses?
CM: I think people are being held accountable.
SL: That’s the driving force of it.
CM: And the communication. You would never tell people your story even a few years ago, because you were like, well, I feel alone in that. But I think just to realize that you’re not alone — the biggest actresses and actors in this industry, to the smallest actresses and actors in this industry, we’ve all had a story. Everyone had the same things they’ve been going through. And to realize that makes you feel so much more supported. And it also allows you to stand together in solidarity and be like, F this. F the system. Let’s change it. And let heads roll. Heads should roll 100 percent from even the silence. Even if you haven’t acted out or done something, you should be taken out of your position for silencing, because you were aware.
Are the women who’ve spoken out paving a path for you, the younger generation of Hollywood? Or do you feel you’re in that mix too, paving a path for those even younger than you?
CM: I feel like we’re definitely in that mix.
SL: Everyone is starting to speak out, I don’t think it’s an age thing.
CM: In some ways, the younger people are speaking out first because there’s a lot of people that might not have wanted to speak out, since they grew up a part of an industry which was a lot more silent. Now, the fact that everyone is speaking out, it gives the older actresses more courage to say, “Me too. This is what happened to me at that point in time. But I’ve never felt bold enough to acknowledge it.”
What I love about the film, too, is it’s made by women — director, editor, cinematographer, writer. How did that feel to be a part of that female community, which we’re all hoping expands to more and more Hollywood sets?
SL: Badass. Especially because the only two films I’d done before had been made by women, as well. Then going to something that had a woman director and cinematographer, I was like, “Yes, let’s keep this going!” It’s such a good feeling.
CM: It’s right where you want to be at this point and time in the industry. If you’re not making a cognizant decision to work with more diverse directors, and specifically female directors, than you’re making a mistake. It’s something that everyone should be thinking about, and it was definitely in the forefront of our minds.
How do you go about finding roles and pushing your limits in the industry?
SL: For me, it’s all feeling. I have to feel it. If I read a script and I don’t like it or I don’t have any connections to it, or don’t have enough heart in it, I’m not going to do it. I choose very wisely, I feel like.
CM: It’s changed over time for me, you know? Because when you’re younger, you’re just kind of doing a lot of roles to get all the kind of roles under your belt and really try things out. It wasn’t until about two years ago when I really sat back and was like, What do I want to do? Who do I want to work with?
And I saw this massive discrepancy in the industry with diversity, on all fronts — behind the camera, in front of the camera — and it really, really angered me. I had seen with so many studio films that I’ve been making, I would get into these fights, fighting for a female director or fighting for a more diverse cast. And I realized ― why am I having to fight for this? That shouldn’t be a fight! The fact that I’m having to say, “Why aren’t you putting X, Y and Z into an audition? Why aren’t you looking at this director?” And it wasn’t even in their minds to think about it. I was like, OK, I got to step back. I made a very big decision to try and be as proactive with working with female directors and it all worked in my favor.
What do you hope this movie does for not only theatergoers, but those in Hollywood who see it?
SL: Gets them talking, gets them feeling. We keep saying, communication, communication, communication. Knowledge, new perspective, awakening.
CM: Exactly, knowledge. Sometimes you’re put into certain circumstances as a young person or you’re born into a family that you feel like you don’t fit into. Don’t take everything the way it is — you can find your own life. You can create the life that you want to lead. You’re never alone. You can find people who will fill your heart up more than you ever thought was possible, platonically. And those relationships as you grow up are so important. That support. I think that’s very prevalent in this film and it really hits you.
Also, bringing this to the forefront of their mind and going, “This is a massive issue.” Google it, look up the statistics. If you go through conversion therapy, you’re eight times more likely to attempt suicide; you’re three times more likely to use illegal drugs; you’re three times more likely to contract HIV. These are true statistics that you can’t deny and all you have to do is Google it. The fact that people can watch this, and it doesn’t feel like taking medication, and just Google it and educate themselves on it, that’s impactful.
It’s coming-of-age story with a very powerful message. Was that what drew you in?
CM: It’s the same struggle with authority that everyone goes through in high school, but all the sudden you throw one sexual conversion therapy in there and being a young gay person, and you layer it on top. But at its core, whether you’re gay, straight, wherever you come from, you can sit and understand and perceive and be able to relate to it.
This interview has been edited and condensed.