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New film ‘Boy Erased’ explores the ‘self-hatred’ dealt by gay conversion programs

“Boy Erased,” a new film based on a memoir by Garrard Conley, tells the story of a young man who is forced by his parents to attend a gay conversion therapy program. Jeffrey Brown speaks to Conley about how his own experience grappling with religion and sexual identity influenced the film, and with Joel Edgerton, its director.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Our fall film series continues tonight with a movie tackling the controversial topic of gay conversion therapy.

    Jeffrey Brown has our look.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    "Boy Erased" is the story of just that.

  • Lucas Hedges:

    I think it's true about me.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Efforts by fundamentalist Christian parents to have their son's sexual orientation erased through so-called gay conversion therapy.

    Nicole Kidman stars as the mother, Nancy Eamons. Fellow Australian Russell Crowe is her preacher husband, Marshall.

  • Russell Crowe:

    With my beliefs, I may have set myself up to lose you.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    On learning that their son, played by actor Lucas Hedges, is gay, they force him into a kind of reprogramming treatment facility aimed at changing his sexuality and behavior, an attempt, in their eyes, to move him out of sin.

  • Actor:

    Now, this may be the toughest, but most rewarding 12 days that many of you will ever face. But we have just one task, to bring ourselves back to God.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Gay conversion therapy has been widely discredited by mainstream psychologists, but is still practiced. This account is based on a memoir by 33-year-old Garrard Conley.

  • Garrard Conley:

    I wanted to show how this was a cultural moment that was part of a larger, you know, kind of bigotry that's in the country.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    It took 10 years and distance from his family for Conley to begin writing.

  • Garrard Conley:

    Especially in memoir, it's incredibly important to paint characters, instead of caricatures. So, I never wanted to approach any of the characters in it, you know, my mom or my dad, or even the counselors or the other people there at the camp with me, I didn't want to paint them with a heavy brush.

  • Russell Crowe:

    We cannot see a way that you can live under this roof if you're going to fundamentally go against God.

  • Garrard Conley:

    Almost every aspect of growing up in that town felt controlled in some way.

    The church is sort of the central place where everyone gathers together. This is what you do. This is what you say. My father used to walk out of movie theaters if someone cursed.

  • Joel Edgerton:

    At first, it was about like looking into a window of somebody else's life that was — that was kind of diabolical. And it was all about institutionalized, religious prison.

    I can take care of you.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Joel Edgerton, known for many recent roles, including his portrayal of the husband in the film "Loving," here plays the head of the conversion clinic. He also directed the film and wrote the screenplay.

  • Joel Edgerton:

    What I found out in the book was this incredibly hopeful story about one person struggling. Garrard's story was so full of empathy, considering what he had gone through.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    A high school athlete with a girlfriend, in the film, Jared abruptly leaves college to comply with his family's wish.

    You thought it was right to go to conversion therapy.

  • Garrard Conley:

    Yes, I mean, it's hard to, like, tack it down to one reason why I went to conversion therapy. A really terrible outing experience happened. You know, my father put a lot of pressure on me, and I was really afraid of losing God.

    You know, that was the closest relationship I ever had. Every day, almost to the hour, I would pray to God. So that was a terrifying idea, that, you know, somehow I was going to lose God just by being who I am. It felt like there was no other choice.

  • Joel Edgerton:

    Duress, I would call it.

  • Garrard Conley:

    Yes.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Duress that continues through the weeks Jared attempts to convert.

  • Joel Edgerton:

    Where is all this anger coming?

  • Lucas Hedges:

    Because you're making me angry.

  • Garrard Conley:

    I think conversion therapy operated as a sort of intense come-to-Jesus moment where there's something really wrong here, because, every day, the same hatred and self-hatred is being peddled to me.

    And, you know, how is that connected to God or to Jesus? I don't get that.

  • Lucas Hedges:

    God and the devil are having a bet over me, that one day God will let me in on the experiment he was having to test me.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    "Boy Erased" exposes some of the most painful aspects of conversion therapy.

  • Joel Edgerton:

    Some of the most exposing scenes, for instance, is hearing Sarah having to stand up and read off a piece of paper a sexual act.

    What straight person has to ever go through that, unless they're being cruel to another human being?

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Right, confessing their…

  • Joel Edgerton:

    Confessing in court, for example.

    But I never go to a job interview or an audition, and what happens to me in my sex life becomes — becomes an issue inside the room.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    The real-life Garrard Conley's experience happened 14 years ago. He left his home and now lives in New York as a gay man.

  • Garrard Conley:

    A lot of people, you know, that I have encountered on my book tour, for example, they say, how is this still happening in 2018?

    And they believe that progress is a straight line and that we're already there. And it's just not true.

  • Nicole Kidman:

    I love God and I love my son. For your father, it's a little more complicated.

  • Garrard Conley:

    I mean, it is just so obvious that people are still struggling all over, and not just in the U.S., all over the world.

    And the effects of conversion therapy have traveled all over the world.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    "Boy Erased" is in select theaters now and opening nationwide soon.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Jeffrey Brown at the Toronto International Film Festival.

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