The film Boy Erased tells the story of Jared Eamons, the son of a Baptist preacher who is sent to a church-supported gay conversion program after being outed to his parents his freshman year of college. The film is based on Garrard Conley’s memoir of the same name about his own experience.
Only 13 states and Washington, D.C. have banned the practice of conversion therapy — Wisconsin is not among them. Earlier this year, the Milwaukee Common Council approved a ban of the practice, and momentum behind similar legislation is growing in cities throughout the state.
Nearly 700,000 people between the ages of 18 and 59 in the U.S. have undergone conversion therapy, such as the boot camp portrayed in Boy Erased at some point in their lives, according to a recent report from the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles.
"The emotional and physical damage, psychological damage, that is happening to these children is not happening in the past. It’s happening right now," says film contributor Ryan Jay. "In addition to it being an important movie, you know we're talking about some pretty big horrifying topics here that are destroying people's lives, it's still an incredibly entertaining movie."
Starring Lucas Hedges as Jared Eamons, Nicole Kidman as his mother Nancy, and Russell Crowe as his father Marshall, the film was a passion project for the film's director, writer, producer, and actor Joel Edgerton.
Edgerton notes he was initially reticent to make the film as a director who is not a part of the LGBTQ community. However, he knew that when he read the book "there was such a hopeful aspect to the story that someone needed to make the movie." He soon began research as a producer, then creatively got involved with writing the screenplay and it "snowballed" from there.
"I realaized that maybe one of my qualifications was just how passionately obsessed with his story I was," says Edgerton. "But I had [Conley] as a partner and I had his respect and had his seal of approval every step of the way and shared him in the process."
Although Boy Erased depicts one perspective of a harmful experience for Jared, the film is careful not to judge any character or institution in particular.
"I think that we're all human and we make choices based on the information and education that we have and belief system that we have, and what if you find out that that is leading you to cause somebody damage when you otherwise thought you were trying to help or do something out of love?" asks Edgerton.
Kidman's character truly stands for that potential of change - a mother who initially was complicit in sending her son to a program, but soon realized the harm it was inflicting. "She is a great example of a regular suburban hero and worth watching the movie just to identify with that," says Edgerton. "Because it's OK to make mistakes, what I'm curious about is what a person does next in order to examine and rectify that."
"I was glad to have a film where you could really see this mother and son relationship, see the complications with this father brilliantly portrayed by Russell Crowe," adds Jay.
Jay notes that there's a lot more to explore in Boy Erased, but the story being told through Edgerton's writing, the performances, and the powerful visuals and scenes depicted can be a springboard for further conversations.
"I feel like, regardless of what your personal beliefs are or where your faith lies or who you know in your community, you can't walk away from this movie and not want to talk about it with someone," he says.
Edgerton says he'll always be curious to know how any director would have handled the project, but he's "proud that I've been involved, I'm proud of what its become and what it stands to do."