When I hopped on the phone with The Miseducation of Cameron Post director Desiree Akhavan after I saw the movie on opening weekend, we both stopped each other in our tracks. I startled her when I told her I’d grown up in an evangelical Christian world almost identical to the one portrayed in her film; and she startled me when she told me nothing had changed about her approach to the movie during the 2016 election. Then we both said, “Of course.” Of course I, a lesbian teen suffocating in the closet with absolutely no pop culture representation to show me the way, would grow up and become a professional queer TV and film critic. And of course she, a second generation Iranian-American immigrant whose parents moved to New York following the Iranian revolution, wouldn’t have needed the rise of Trumpism to convince her a film about the politics of evangelical Christianity is still relevant.
There’s something special about being a queer critic talking to a queer filmmaker — and vice-versa, I suppose. There are lots of of courses. And these conversations are rare. Most queer films, especially the ones that succeed in the mainstream, are written and directed and produced and edited by men. And the same goes for queer film criticism: men, men, men.
“It’s weird when you release a film and read reviews by a bunch of older dudes who are like, ‘I don’t get it.'” Akhavan tells me.
“Right,” I say.
“Right,” she says.
“Because it’s not for them,” we say in unison.
The feeling I get when I’m talking to Desiree Akhavan is the feeling I got when I was watching Cameron Post: that I can relax because she gets it, that I don’t need to explain myself or be on guard, that we’re speaking the same language rooted in shared queer pop culture experiences (or lack thereof). It’s nice because it’s uncommon, but it’s also nice because pop culture is how Cam relates to the world, too.
When we’re discussing some of the more baffling reviews Cameron Post received, I tell her she’s somehow managed to miss out on the go-to men usually lean on when they’re writing about queer women’s films — comparing them to Blue Is the Warmest Color. She laughs, and then groans. “It’s probably because I am on record about how much I hate the sex in that movie!”
I assure her every queer woman hates the sex in that movie. She’s pleased, but not as pleased as when I tell her how authentic the sex in Cameron Post is. It’s the first time I’ve forgotten to feel weird watching women have sex with each other in a movie theater with men, probably because nothing about the way the sex is filmed is for men.
“Good,” Akhavan says. “I want to prove that money can be made off of women’s sexual stories. It’s not just a queer thing. It’s about women receiving pleasure, and giving pleasure. It’s still completely taboo.”
It’s not queer desire that’s still taboo. It’s queer women’s desire. “The Guardian just did this piece about how there are so many films like Call Me By Your Name and Love, Simon that get these big releases,” she says. “Why aren’t we seeing queer women’s stories being backed and celebrated in the same way?”
Because our culture is terrified of women’s sexuality, we both say. Of course, we both say.
She laughs. “But I believe if we stick it out, we can prove money can be made off of women’s desires for each other.”
So far she’s right. Even though it took two months for Cameron Post to find a distributor after it won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance earlier this year — something Akhavan drily calls “surprising” — the film has exceeded expectations at the box office. It had the highest per screen average of indie films when it opened at two theaters in New York City, will land on 73 screens this weekend, and is ultimately eyeing 250 screens for its full run.
“That’s such a clear example of an audience’s engagement determining the future of a film,” Akhavan says, “If our opening weekend was low, that wouldn’t have happened. But people showed that there was an audience and a demand out there. You can go online and request a film. The actions audiences take have a tangible result. If this movie does well, it won’t be as hard for the next woman to make her movie.”
I’m always glad to talk about queer sex on-screen with another queer woman, but my favorite part of Cameron Post was how it treated the queer kids at God’s Promise. It didn’t make them into the butt of any jokes. Yes, the movie is funny (very, very funny), and at times rightly scathing in its critique of evangelical Christianity, but the queer teens themselves are treated with so much respect. Which was, of course, on purpose.
“These supporting characters can be hilarious in some ways, but we wanted each of them to have a full story. We did a pass of the script from each perspective,” Akhavan tells me. “It’s about giving dignity to all of your characters. We held with Helen singing karaoke for a good long time, for example, because I wanted to show how serious she is about it. When she prays before she sings, it seems funny, but when we hold on her, it’s like, ‘Oh, she prays because she cares.’ It’s not a joke.”
After watching The Miseducation of Cameron Post and talking at length with the woman who played the biggest role in adapting it to the big screen, that’s my main takeaway: that she knows what it’s like to care. Akhavan made this movie because she cared deeply about Emily Danforth’s book. She makes movies, in general, because she cares about the art of filmmaking. She makes queer movies because she cares about queer women.
When I have the occasional good fortune to talk to a queer filmmaker, they usually tell me they don’t want to be pigeonholed as a queer filmmaker. Desiree Akhavan doesn’t tell me that. She tells me she didn’t set out to be a queer filmmaker, but “you follow what you love.”
The Cameron Post of Danforth’s novel would like that answer, a lot. “I just liked girls,” she says when she’s figuring it all out, “because I couldn’t help not to.”
For more information about The Miseducation of Cameron Post, check out the film’s official website, and follow Desireee Akhavan on Twitter.
Thank you! Desiree Akhavan sounds very, very wonderful, here and in the piece the Guardian wrote about her.
And suddenly it’s simple. Films about queer women. For queer women. By queer women. And it works.
This is a glimpse of the post-kyriarchy world that some people believe we already live in. Maybe it’s really out there, maybe pockets of it are coming closer.
<3 as always
Request a movie to be shown? Huh who knew. I’m on it. this sounds like a movie I need to see on the big screen.
Heather your writing and interview sounded like so much fun. Like you two clicked. Thank you it was fun to read and perfect to wake up to.
I’ve heard that Gathr lets you request films to be shown at your local theater:
I absolutely love this, and love that as a filmmaker she is following what she loves <3
It also brought with it the realization that the film isn't scheduled to play in my city (yet) which is absolutely heartbreaking. Here's hoping distribution expands!
I saw Cameron Post and Disobedience at the Tribeca Film Festival this year (and I wanted to add that at this past Tribeca FF, 46% of directors were female!). Both included a couple of the best queer sex scenes I’ve ever seen. Cameron Post especially, the scene where she makes her friend watch a movie with a queer sex scene just to get her reaction is one of my favorite movie scenes (and book scenes) ever. I was disappointed that Desiree didn’t come to the screening I was at (she was scheduled to) to do a Q&A after, but I hope I get to go to another of her films soon.
I’m so hopeful one of my local cinemas is one of the 250. This book is so meaningful and well written. Love reading how well it was adapted. Yay for queer female directors!
The movie is so wonderful, i wish it was getting better distribution! Im lucky enough to live in a city that is getting it, i wish everyone had the same chance!
She sounds really cool! Cant wait to see more from her!
So much more excited to watch this film now!
Great article Heather! Thank you. Really looking forward to seeing the movie. I really enjoyed the book.
Wonderful interview & I’m so excited to see this movie! <3
Wonderful interview! Such a lovely film by such a smart and talented director. ❤
As a side note, your mention of Blue is the Warmest Color reminded me that one time I casually mentioned to a cis straight guy that Carol was a film that I liked and he then explained to me that it was actually so “boring and depressing” and that the two leads had “zero chemistry” and that Blue is the Warmest Color was much better.
I read a comment:
“You do know that straight male audience shares a sexual preference with a gay female audience don’t you? I assure you that both groups enjoy watching very attractive women in sex scenes.”
on The Guardian interview and I am horrified by the suggestion that my sexuality is anything like a straight man’s. I am infuriated by how wrong and stupid this comment is.
Thank you so much for the interview, Heather! This was a fascinating read and added even more to my love of Cameron Post
I love desiree akhavan, first and foremost. But I also saw this film yesterday at a random south jersey theater, a delightful surprise, and I really loved it. (There were a lot of people there as well, and they were all vocally enjoying the film, another weird, nice surprise really.)
Anyway, I hope it gets more and more distribution. I will go and see Boy Erased when it comes out (and I’m sure it’ll be good), but when that trailer was playing BEFORE this film, I was like… oh, so everyone will probably love that one and they’ll all win Oscars, won’t they…
Just got home from seeing it at the theater and it was so so sooo good and now I’m going back and reading all this Cam Post content that I skipped over bc I didn’t want any spoilers. ?
the portion about respecting each character meant a lot to me. As someone with a strict evangelical background, the battle was often more internal than external. I wasn’t sneaking around in high school, I was praying it away, and for so long i was prepared to do so forever because of my beliefs. This movie is some of the best representation of that I’ve seen.