Why the movie “But I’m a Cheerleader” that condemns conversion therapy remains an unheralded masterpiece

Why the movie "But I'm a Cheerleader" that condemns conversion therapy remains an unheralded masterpiece

The words “conversion therapy” are often enough to send shivers down the spines of queer people. Outdated pseudoscience is trying to make a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression hetero, cis “normal.” It is a very dangerous and insidious practice that has led to generations of trauma, self-hatred, violence and suicide. It is also fully legal in 21 states, and partially legal in others.

Recent films have explored conversion therapy, including The Miseducation of Cameron Post, Boy Erased and the horror film The/Them. They are mostly serious dramas dealing with psychological torture, which take place in cold clinical environments. For the first major American film to tackle conversion therapy, Jamie Babbit’s 1999 film But I’m a Cheerleader takes a very different approach. The film is a satirical comedy, camp and conversion therapy keering at any time to create a very funny, exciting and very underrated film.

The film follows Megan (Natasha Lyonne), a high school cheerleader. She’s had a boyfriend for years, but when she kisses him, Megan finds herself thinking about the other cheerleaders, shown through her gorgeous indirect style. One day, he arrives home to find his parents and friends waiting, along with Mike (RuPaul Charles), who works for True Directions.

You see, everyone is very worried that Megan is developing lesbian tendencies, and True Directions, a conversion therapy camp, can fix that. He thinks it’s all nonsense: “There’s no way I’m going,” he says, but sitting in the car driving him to camp makes it clear he has no choice.

Lyonne is wonderful as Megan, channeling a wonderful childlike innocence of a virginal suburban Christian entertainer. There’s a real sweetness to Megan that’s endearing even when she’s abrasive, but what really elevates her character is how But I’m a Cheerleader unfolds. Note the utter terror in his eyes when he reveals he is actually gay, the tears welling up, his lips quivering as he realizes that his family’s worst fear is a reality. Everyone else around her smiles and hugs her, but for Megan this is the worst case scenario.

One of the reasons But I’m a Cheerleader is such an important piece of queer film history is that it hits conversion therapy at every turn. This allows Megan to slowly but surely come to terms with who she is, owning her identity as a lesbian – the exact opposite resolution that conversion therapy aims for, undoing the practice. Crucially, while Megan opens her eyes and figures out her gender identity, her identity remains intact. The big, climactic moment at the end of the film stays close to what it is. She doesn’t have to give up the things she loves as a lesbian.

It seems pretty obvious, but a movie aimed at teenagers was terrible at telling them they don’t have to compromise who they are to be queer; there simply wasn’t anything else targeting that age group with the same message.

The other reason But I’m a Cheerleader is an understated masterpiece, the way it gleefully undercuts conversion therapy at every opportunity, revealing how absurd it all is and not inviting you to laugh at it. Everything about True Directions is nonsense. Instead of the cold, clinical white walls you might expect, every room is filled with vibrant pinks and blues (because gender roles!) from floor to ceiling. The same can be said for girls’ and boys’ clothes. The leader of True Directions, Mary (Cathy Moriarty) can’t even manage to “correct” her son, who is often seen walking around the field. In a hilarious moment, Mary yells at him to put down the drinks and drink like a man (whatever that means). Heck, one of the workers is played by RuPaul, a world famous drag queen, who captures it in a fantastic performance.

The music is also a joke, thanks to instruments such as xylophones to create an almost circus atmosphere. Because the one that most wants conversion therapy is performative theater.

At camp, Megan meets Graham (Clea DuVall), who has fully embraced her existence as a proud lesbian, although she seems interested and willing to change to appease the True Directions crowd. At first the two butt heads – Megan wants nothing to do with homosexuality – but thanks to her relationship and ultimately her romance with Graham, she discovers that there is nothing abnormal about being a lesbian, apart from herself.

When one of the True Directions girls realizes she’s actually straight, it should be a triumphant moment for the conversion camp, but she laughs it off as nonsense: “Look at yourself,” Mike tells her. They don’t believe him because he has masculine features, so he couldn’t be straight. It’s one of the film’s sharpest and most effective critiques: conversion therapy isn’t really about “fixing” or “helping” people. Rather, it is forcing people into pre-defined social roles. As the camp tries to force these kids to live inauthentic and miserable lives in order to promote a heteronormative society, it makes them want to jump each other’s bones even more. It’s funny, twisted and utterly unforgettable.

I guess it’s no surprise that such an unapologetic film was initially slapped with an absurd NC-17 rating, which would effectively destroy the film’s chances of being seen by teenagers, its target audience. The problem was apparently a reference to a woman performing oral sex on another woman, even though the film has references to men doing the same, which remain in the film. In an interview with Variety, Babbitt revealed that he had to change a sex scene (which was far from explicit) because a representative of the ratings board said, “I’m sure there are terrible things going on in the dark.” The message was clear: women who love women should not be seen by minors.

Babbit made changes, and the film was given an R rating, making it still impossible for queer youth who needed this film to actually see it when it was released in 1999.

Even the critics hated it. They were quick to point out that the film’s portrayal of conversion therapy is poor, apparently always presented in the most serious context. What the critics of the time did not understand is the distinct queer sensibility of But I’m a Cheerleader. The film very clearly and mercilessly pokes fun at something as serious as conversion therapy, because that’s how we, as queer people, have learned to deal with tragedy. To say that he does not face the dark side of the situation is completely absurd; just because it’s in vivid colors doesn’t mean the film doesn’t reveal the bitter ironies at the heart of conversion therapy and the trauma it causes people. It’s an unabashedly camp and unabashedly queer film.

Thanks to the MPAA effectively censoring the film from its audience and plenty of scathing reviews (from heterosexual critics, mind you) But I’m a Cheerleader never quite caught on. Over the years, it has become a cult favorite, and queer critics have been particularly kind to the film, acknowledging that it is ahead of its time. With its cast including legends like Lyonne, Duvall, Melanie Lynskey and the awesome RuPaul, I hope this groundbreaking exploration of conversion therapy earns its place as a true classic.

Why is but I’m a cheerleader an 18?

Why is but I'm a cheerleader an 18?

It’s a great coming-of-age film with positive messages for teenagers. Read also : Bad Bunny captivated the AT&T Stadium crowd on Friday. The film has themes of teenage sexuality and romance, with a partial nudity kiss scene.

How old was Natasha but I’m a cheerleader? Clea DuVall and Natasha were friends before production began. The two were driving together and Natasha (then 18) noticed the script in the car and asked if she could be in the movie.

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Where was it filmed but I’m an entertainer? “But I’m a Cheerleader†is a 1999 comedy about a high school student (Natasha Lyonne) who is sent to a gay conversion program when her parents suspect she is gay. This may interest you : ‘Proudest moment’: 3 Northside High cheerleaders make all-state, All-American teams. Page, who accepted the award virtually while filming in Toronto, came out as transgender in December.

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