Conversion Therapy and Marvel Action Heroes

By Dianne White Crawford Signal Contributing Writer “Boy Erased” (Limited Release) This is a film that illuminates the insidiousness of conversion therapy. The film follows the life of main character Jared Eamons, portrayed by the brilliant Lucas Hedges. Based on the memoirs of author Garrard Conley, writer, actor and director Joel Edgerton brings to life a story of faith gone wrong. Jared Eamons is a young man who loves his minister father Marshall Eamon, portrayed by Russell Crowe and devout mother Nancy Eamons, played by Nicole Kidman, but discovers he is gay. Confessing one’s sexual orientation to a non-religious family would be very hard but confessing it to his Arkansas pastor father is even more difficult. Heartbreakingly, Marshall forsakes his responsibility as a father and sends Jared to a for-pay church-supported gay conversion therapy program. In other films, conversion therapy has been shown as ice baths and electroshock therapy. However, the conversion therapy depicted in this film is more subtle, deceptive, manipulative, mentally damaging and dangerous. The performances are excellent. Ms. Kidman, Mr. Crowe and Mr. Hedges inhabit their roles flawlessly. Their mastery of their craft is too good for them to ever let the audience catch them acting. When Mr. Crowe talks as Marshall Eamons, every word is heartfelt and troubled. When Ms. Kidman ponders what’s really going on during the secret conversion therapy sessions that her character drives her son to and from, every shot of her eyes reveals fear of the truth battling a growing need to know what the details of this “therapy.” Mr. Hedges is Jared — true, honest, real — a young man reconciling a life raised in a church that sees homosexuality and life as a gay man a sin. Mr. Edgerton consciously refuses to insert any cinematic flourishes in this film. There are no special lighting effects or overly dramatic soliloquies. Mr. Edgerton and the cinematographer leave the entire film, until the last few frames, in shadow with the background often brighter than the foreground. The low light, washed out effect removes any manufactured passion from the screen. The audience is just left with the characters, dialogue and action to speak for itself. I debated with myself while watching most of the film whether this low lighting choice was a good idea. I prefer vivid images and clever shots, but I understand intellectually that to adorn this film with any cinematographic ornamentation would be seen as an attempt to overly vilify the practice of conversion therapy that needs no assistance being vile. The power in this film is its desire to understate wickedness. It is easy to excoriate those that use the Bible as a weapon. It is better just to place on camera these profane charlatans who sell the myth of conversion therapy to families desperate for heterosexual children. This is an important film and a good one. DVD recommendation: “Black Panther,” 2018 (Available to rent or buy on Prime Video) Adaptations of superheroes, comic books and graphic novels have been driving the movie theatre box office for a few years now. Where the financial success of a film was once measured in tens of millions, it’s now hundreds of millions. Beyond that, these enormous productions are pressured to make political and social statements… providing the hope of which real-life leaders seem to fail. This latest from Marvel and director Ryan Coogler, carries all of that plus the expectations of an entire gender and race. It’s a heavy burden for a comic book character, however it seems, regardless of one’s perspective, it’s likely the film delivers, satisfies and, oh yeah… entertains. The bar has been set so high for action sequences and special effects, that we take the great for granted and only speak up on those that falter. What allows this film to take its place among the best of the genre is a combination of story depth and the payoff for showing us a world we haven’t previously seen. The cultural aspects of the (mythical) African country of Wakanda are not only interesting, but the setting itself is breath-taking. An explosion of color, texture and technology blended with intriguing and multi-dimensional characters bring the film to life and draw us into this wonderland of tradition, culture and humanity. It seems ridiculous to speak of a comic book film in these terms, but the number of talking points raised during its runtime are too many and too varied to discuss in this format. What we can make clear is that it’s cool to watch an entire movie where people of color and women are strong, confident, and intelligent. Chadwick Boseman has played Thurgood Marshall, James Brown, and Jackie Robinson and here he takes on a fictional icon in King T’Challa/Black Panther. He perfectly captures the pensive nature of a King balancing tradition with the needs of his people to evolve and transition. His chief adversary “Killmonger” is played terrifically by Michael B. Jordan as a man out for revenge and power. For most movies this head to head battle would be enough… but not this time. Lupita Nyong’o (Oscar winner for “12 Years A Slave”), Danal Gurira, and Letitia Wright play Nakia, Okoye, and Shuri respectively; a group of three of the strongest women you’ve likely ever seen on screen. Nakia is the love interest, but also carrying out her own humanitarian missions, while also proving to be beyond adequate as a soldier. Okoye is the ultimate warrior and absolutely loyal to her country, while Nakia (T’Challa’s sister) is the ultimate technology whiz, and one with the zippiest zingers. Any of these characters could be the basis for a standalone movie, but together they elevate this to something much more than a couple of dudes in sleek suits fighting. Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Sterling K. Brown, Angela Bassett and Forest Whitaker are all contributors, and Andy Serkis is a frenzied standout in an all-too-brief turn as Klaue. The strong cast delivers even in the few moments when the script lags. In fact, the only piece of this puzzle that didn’t seem to fit was the traditional hand-to-hand combat to determine the next king. Why is it that a nation so advanced still relies on primitive courses of decision-making? Perhaps this is merely commentary on our society, though providing a more intellectual solution would have been in line with the rest of the story. The world of Wakanda is stunning. The costumes are sleek, colorful and fascinating. The characters are multi-dimensional. The action sequences are top notch (armored rhinos!). The cinematographer is Rachel Morrison, who recently made history by being the first woman to receive an Oscar nomination for cinematography (“Mudbound”). It’s these factors that allow Mr. Coogler’s film to achieve the level of importance that most comic book films wouldn’t dare to strive for. On top of everything, it accomplishes the one thing I demand from these type of movies… it’s quite fun to watch.