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Interview: Director Desiree Akhavan Talks “The Miseducation of Cameron Post”


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Courtesy of FilmRise/Beachside Films

There are so many serious problems in our world we encounter day after day. To name a few, there is poverty, children dying of hunger, wars that go on for so long that we have become numb and almost feel comfortable with them. This list can go on. Yet, instead of trying to solve all of this, people concentrate on issues like someone’s sexual preference. And I do apologize for being too sensitive but that’s how I felt after watching “The Miseducation of Cameron Post”. I believe there is no other way to react to this.

Cameron Post is a teenage girl (portrayed by Chloe Grace Moretz). Although young, she is old enough to start exploring and discovering her homosexuality. At the prom night, she is caught with her best friend – the Prom Queen. Immediately, Cameron is sent to a gay conversion therapy camp, which is called “The God’s Promise”. In that camp, Cameron makes new friends, tries to understand what she is being told about her same-sex attraction. At the same time, she realizes that all of this is just miseducation, forcing her to be someone she will never be.

As you can imagine, “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” is not a simple film about the gay conversation therapy center that tortures and damages people’s personalities, it’s also about the choices we as adults tend to make without thinking how far that decision can take someone who relies on our sanity and help.

Having the opportunity to talk with the director, Desiree Akhavan, it allows us to expand our horizons within one film, and through her answers, takes us beyond what our ordinary mind can comprehend. It also takes us closer to what we should really know about her film, Cameron Post and her being miseducated.

MOVIEMOVESME: What is it that made you land on the idea of making “The Miseducation of Cameron Post”?

Desiree Akhavan: So, I was writing a book at the time … Well, I mean, I was thinking about writing a young adult novel, and an editor at Penguin sent me the book to read, along with a bunch of other young adult titles.

And I fell in love with it. Instantly was the story about growing up and being a teenager that I craved and never read. It was like a John Hughes film, except queer. It was the only honest story of sexual coming-of-age from a woman’s perspective that I’ve never read. I loved it instantly and I gave it to my girlfriend at the time and she was the one who said, “You have to turn this into a movie”.

MOVIEMOVESME: How was it working with Cecilia Frugiuele?

Desiree Akhavan:  She was very supportive, and she answered any questions we had, and she helped us find research material. But she didn’t write the book, write the screenplay. But she was involved. She came to set. She … I wanted her to feel empowered by this experience, and wanted her to feel like this was a continuation of her project, not just someone taking it and running.

MOVIEMOVESME:          This movie is not just a coming-of-age story or sexuality but also about how the society tries to change people from who they are into who they don’t want to be. I would like you to talk about the pain, the context of the film and the importance of discussing it.

Desiree Akhavan: Well, to me, it wasn’t a story of gay conversion therapy. It was always just about being a teenager, and I think every teenager, no matter who you are, gay, straight, no matter what ethnicity, you hit your teen years, and feel like you have a sickness inside you. And that there’s something really wrong with you.

That’s how I felt, and that’s how everyone I know felt growing up. That was the crux of it. It was capturing that, not necessarily the specific circumstances of conversion therapy. To me, that was a metaphor for something larger, that I think every teen feels. One of the characters says that, “Maybe you’re supposed to feel disgusted with yourself when you’re a teenager.” Like, I very much did feel like that like teenagers feel. Like they’ve got a sickness in them.

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Courtesy of FilmRise/Beachside Films

MOVIEMOVESME: Can you talk about the atmosphere created in the movie?

Desiree Akhavan: Well, it’s about tone. Everyone on set kind of understand the tone of this project, that it was subtle, and supposed to speak to being teenager, and the experience of being a teenager. We wanted to … The tone was the tone of the book, which I thought advanced really beautifully between tragedy and drama. And, to me, that was the tone of being a teenager, that the stakes felt incredibly high and that it always … The drama was as fever pitched as possible, but then the joy and the excitement of meeting people who are speaking your language for the first time in your life, was equally as emotional, and just as shitty as the bad stuff was.

The excitement and the freedom of being young and sexually active, or stoned for the first time in your life, was just as dramatic, in a positive way.

MOVIEMOVESME: Getting the right cast is crucial for any film. How did you manage to get the right people for it?

Desiree Akhavan: Well, yeah. Well, Chloe reached out to us. She had just dropped out of a bunch of projects that she had done, and she was looking to take her career in a new direction. And her team asked to see the script and they liked it, so we met.

And I hadn’t thought of Chloe, for the simple fact that I didn’t think she would be interested in making a film like this, so I thought that she was strictly interested in studio films. But once I heard that she was into it, I got really excited because it was so against type. I mean, I knew she was a good actress. I loved watching her in everything I’ve seen her in, she’s incredibly talented.

But she also had a persona of a princess. A very feminine, very pretty girl, and I wanted to toy with that. I wanted to use that in service of fucking with it, and see what she would feel like as a lesbian coming-of-age, and coming into her own sexually.

And Chloe was game. It was really exciting to watch Chloe step into this. And when we called “action”, she walked differently. She moved differently. She was a new person, and it was really exciting to give her an opportunity to go outside of her comfort zone.

And with Jennifer Ehle, I’d always been a fan, and I had her in mind. I really loved her in, I mean, I always know her from The Pride and Prejudice BBC miniseries. I just wanted a lady who was against type to fuck with Cameron. Someone who seemed completely intelligent, and safe, and someone kind. Jennifer’s eyes are so kind. She’s someone I would put my trust in. The fact that she has these kids in her control is terrifying for that reason specifically, because she’s not a Nurse Ratched stereotype.

MOVIEMOVESME: Why do you think that people care so much about changing other people?

Desiree Akhavan: Because people are full of fear. I think everyone’s operating out of a place of fear so much of the time. That’s it. I just think fear is such a driving factor in that it forces people to judge those around them, and try to put them into neat boxes of how behavior is supposed to be.

 

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