In 2004, Garrard Conley, a 19-year-old aspiring writer from Arkansas, found himself in an uncomfortable situation. After being sexually assaulted by a student while he was in college, he was inadvertently made aware of his Baptist parents. He was then sent to a gay conversion center in Memphis with an ironic name: Love in Action.
Not surprisingly, the "treatment" did not take.
Years later, Conley wrote a book about this experience. Entitled "Boy Erased", the 2016 Conley Brief has now been adapted as movie starring Lucas Hedges ("Manchester by the Sea") in fictional roles Jared and Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman in Jared's parents. Now 33, Conley spoke to us by phone about the film and his advocacy work. We also met Joel Edgerton, 44, writer and director of the film, who plays a character inspired by the former director of the Ministry of Love in Action.
(This interview was condensed from two conversations.)
Q: Joel, your first film, "The Gift", is a psychological thriller – it's also a coincidence about someone abused by his father, who mistakenly assumed that his son was gay. Are there any thriller-ish elements that drew you into Garrard's story?
Edgerton: Curiously, yes. The reason I opened the book in the first place was the fear of institutions, confinement, kidnapping of my family. I remember kneeling next to my bed when I was a child and praying to never be forced to go to jail. If I behaved badly, my father would sometimes joke that he could always exchange with another child, and that made me so upset. As for the gay conversion, I had this morbid curiosity like this kind of very different prison. Imagine that those who sent you to prison – those who tell you that you are broken – are your own family.
Q: Is it when you understand that the story speaks of both family and gay conversion?
Edgerton: Absolutely. Family history seemed to take over. That's why I decided to make a movie. Jared's parents are those who must undergo their own conversion.
Q: Garrard, what is your relationship with your parents today?
Conley: What they did was put us to a hard test. My father and I are still arguing. He is a Baptist minister. He still has a church. Just a few weeks ago, my dad finally told my mom, "I do not think this therapy works." You think?
Bigotry can be ubiquitous in small towns. Although I am the one who came out, my mother also had an exit, in a sense. After all, she finally saved me. She is a member of this secret Facebook group, the Mama Bears: It's largely Christian mothers who can not openly support their homosexual children, but are trying to develop strategies to change the church from within.
It was also only a few weeks ago that my father's church held a vote to determine if my father should be fired, simply because my mother joined me for the film's promotional tour. In the end, they did not kick him out, but I think they would be happy if he divorced my mother.
Q: Is your mother – or Nicole Kidman's character – the true hero of this story?
Conley: While Joel and I were still discussing the script, I was very firm about the fact that no matter what end he wrote, he had to respect Jared's terms. The conversion must be that of the parents, not that of Jared.
Before writing the second part of the book, I sat with my mother and recorded four hours of interviews. She was married at 16, still very smart, but she gave up a part of herself to raise a family. She is now ovationate at the Toronto Film Festival. She spoke at the Clinton Center. The public was riveted. That's what it's supposed to be. She will now live this second life.
Q: Joel, your character is based on John Smid, the former director of the Love in Action Department who has finally left this gay conversion program and is now living as a homosexual. Did you meet him?
Edgerton: Yes, I visited him in Texas. But I also watched a lot of footage from the time when he still believed that he was right, starting in 2005. He is very charismatic, seductive, like a politician. It made me understand how dangerous his informal rhetoric was. Even if, on the surface, he looks like a big brother, he would use information that he persuaded young men and women to shame them.
We could make a lot more money with this film if we realized Garrard 's "hero and villain" version, if we made love in action this torture room. But this is not the truth. Garrard calls the book a "document" of something that will soon be in the past. The irony is that people like Garrard do not need help; it is the others who need to convert.
Q: Jared takes some time to understand the pernicious effects of Love in Action, which he seems to embrace at first, even if only tentatively. Why is this part of his trip important?
Edgerton: It is important for children, especially children of conservative Christian families like Jared, to be able to identify with him. These children only eat the meal they ate.
Q: What has changed from the book, if any?
Conley: Every time you adapt a book, you lose. I wrote it with a slightly campy – Gothic voice very Southern. But the film, even a plea, must be more objective.
Before now – and before the other gay conversion drama this year, "The Miseducation of Cameron Post", on which I was consulting – every representation of the conversion therapy treated such programs as a joke , as in the 1999 satirical film "Goal I I'm a cheerleader." We've all seen this story before, so I wanted it to be a form of advocacy for people both inside and out. and outside the LGBTQ community.
Q: What is your hope for the film, which has received praise?
Conley: The praise is excellent because it serves to keep the conversation going. My goal is to make the subject of conversion therapy – and the bigotry that creates it – a domestic topic. People are still incredulous when I say that there is 700,000 Americans who have undergone conversion therapy. I want this shock to be something that I will never have to relive again.
Q: If film is a form of advocacy, how do you reach the audience that needs it the most and who is this audience?
Edgerton: This is the frustrating dilemma. We have this conversation all the time. I spoke to a young man who saw him at the Telluride Film Festival. He said, "I would have liked this film to exist at the age of 15." But how not to just preach to converts, so to speak? We do not want to throw God under the bus.
I hope that once the film will be broadcast on a streaming platform, there will be people watching – half of a parent couple of a gay kid , perhaps – who are too afraid to see him in the cinema. . If there is anyone who has found a way to convince the "bad" people to see this movie, I'd love to talk to them.
Q: Do you consider yourself a model, Garrard?
Conley: I definitely did not choose to be that. I only wanted to be a writer, not in the public eye. I find it taxing. But from time to time, I find in my inbox emails that are cries of terror from people reaching out. It is impossible not to feel the sense of responsibility. The other day, I received an email from a man who said he was considering committing suicide, then he saw the trailer for "Boy Erased", which made him want to Carry on.
Boy cleared (R, 114 minutes). At the theaters of the region.