About The Production
It took almost a decade for Garrard Conley to face his fears and start writing
about his personal relationship with conversion therapy. Not unlike many
survivors of traumatic experiences, Conley was held hostage by feelings of
guilt, embarrassment and remorse for something he had no control over. With the
help of new forms of social media, Conley began reading countless personal
accounts of other conversion therapy survivors. Conley knew then and there that
sharing his story was no longer an option but a necessity. Taking control of his
fears, Conley channeled that energy into completing his story Boy Erased: A
Memoir of Identity, Faith and Family. Published in May 2016, the response from
the LGBTQ community was immediate. Garrard was able to do something that had yet
to be accomplished. He put a face, name and voice to the atrocities of
conversion therapy and in doing so, helped throw out a lifeline to other LGBTQ
youth and adults who were also experiencing the same struggles.
Unbeknownst to Conley, his memoir also began a journey of its own. The book
first found its way into veteran producer Kerry Kohansky-Roberts and Anonymous
Content's founder Steve Golin's hands. Kohanksy-Roberts recounts "finishing the
book in what seemed like seconds" and immediately recommended the read to Joel
Edgerton. Edgerton was intrigued enough to give the book a read and just like
Kohansky-Roberts, he quickly found himself unable to put the book down. "It was
like peeking into a window you weren't supposed to reach and then seeing things
you had only heard whispers about," says Edgerton. Like many of us, Edgerton
hadn't been personally exposed to conversion therapy. Veiled as a safe space and
religious enlightenment experience, conversion therapy is closer to a cult-like
detention center, a place where children and adults are told that there is
something wrong with them and that they can be "cured" from their sinful ways.
Within a few weeks, Conley found himself sitting across from Joel Edgerton at
a cafe in Brooklyn. Not knowing if he was the right person to adapt Conley's
memoir for the big screen, Edgerton decided to give himself some time to think
about the right thing to do. Before he knew it, he had written his first draft
of the screenplay. Edgerton found himself sharing early drafts of the
screenplay with Garrard for feedback and advice. With Conley's constant support,
advice and suggestions the film was green-lit and ready to cast.
The filmmakers were adamant about not painting any of the characters as
heroes or villains. They knew that in order to portray this film accurately, the
characters had to represent what they were in real life - complex people
struggling with their own beliefs. In order to do so, the filmmakers put
together a wish list of sensitive actors- Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, Russell
Crowe, Joel Edgerton - not realizing that their wish list was kismet.
When reading Conley's memoir for the first time, both Kohansky-Roberts and
Edgerton couldn't get Lucas Hedges out of their minds. Both knew that Hedges was
a beautifully sensitive actor and saw him as someone who had the ability to hold
the screen, even without words. A perfect Jared. Before officially taking the
role, Hedges reached out to Conley. They talked over the phone and decided to
meet for a leisurely walk around Dumbo in Brooklyn. Conley recalls that Hedges
immediately connected with the material and genuinely sought to understand his
experience. Hedges even showed Conley his copy of Boy Erased which was
completely marked up - sentences had been underlined, words highlighted and his
own personal notes penned in the margins. Conley knew Lucas was going to take
great care of his story.
Once the filmmakers had their Jared, they needed to find his parents - Martha
and Hershel. Finding two people that could portray such strong, polarizing
characters was not going to be an easy feat - or so they thought.
Jared's mother Nancy, played by Nicole Kidman, holds a pivotal role in this
film. As the wife to a Baptist minister and mother to a child she loves very
much, Nancy finds herself stuck in the middle of the very difficult decision to
do what she thinks is right for her son. Within the film, Nancy silently allows
the men to decide what to do with Jared, even though she knows in her heart that
it isn't right. When she sees the turmoil, confusion and depression that this
therapy is imparting on Jared, she knows she has to take a stand. Through this
conversion therapy process, Nancy grows from the role of chaperone to Jared's
accomplice in escaping. Leaning into this maternal role, Kidman beautifully
portrays the agony that Nancy is going through with a simple maternal love,
uncomplicated nature and real dignity. Edgerton says, "I love when a parent
protects their child, regardless of they physical stature. Both Martha and
Nicole shared that similarity. Watching Nancy's strength emerge from her
fragility is extremely empowering."
Making sure the dynamic between Nancy and Marshall read organic was crucial.
Marshall Conley, lives a godly and sheltered life. As a Baptist preacher who
cannot see past what he considers a literal interpretation of the Bible,
Marshall struggles with the "choice" he thinks his son is making to be
homosexual. Playing Marshall, Russell Crowe brings an authenticity that is often
hard to watch. He has an incredible sturdiness and yet a real sensitivity. Crowe
approached the role with a level of compassion and a personal foundation
stemming from his love for his own son. He brings a sense of empathy to
Marshall's position, regardless of whether you believe he is right or not. In
order to prepare for this role, Crowe made an unannounced visit to Conley's
church in Mountain Home, Arkansas. Sitting in the back row, Crowe listened to
Conley's entire sermon and methodically took notes. Connecting on a deeper level
allowed Crowe to become Marshall, rarely coming out of character even during
cuts. Both Crowe and Conley grew up with similar belief systems and backgrounds.
Doing what he thinks is right, Marshall is the driving force behind Jared's
decision to attend conversion therapy.
Aware that Sykes was going to be the hardest character in the movie not to
villainize, Edgerton wanted to do a fair amount of research before he began
playing him. He set up lunch with John Smid, the head of Love in Action (LIA),
the program Garrard attended. Although Smid ran LIA for many years, his initial
introduction to Love in Action was as a student. John quickly moved up through
the ranks and became the central figure of conversion therapy. The irony that
someone identifying as ex-gay controlled therapy sessions for other LGBTQ
individuals was not lost on Edgerton. "When I first realized that many of the
staff identified as ex-gay, it fascinated me. It was a cycle of abuse," says
Edgerton. The filmmaking team went back and forth on possible options for actors
to play Sykes, but they always came right back to Joel Edgerton. Tackling
directing and acting was a huge feat but Joel did it without skipping a beat. As
Sykes, Edgerton manages to walk the fine line between a man who was responsible
for heinous actions and someone who was also a victim. Joel seamlessly and
beautifully shows what the reality is really like within conversion therapy.
In order to help carry out Edgerton's vision of Conley's story, piecing
together the right creative team was imperative. Months prior to casting,
artistic collaborations were already in full swing between the producing team
and veteran creatives, Eduard Grau (Director of Photography), Chad Keith
(Production Designer), Trish Summerville (Costume Designer), and Kim Santantonio
(Department Head - Hair). Giving justice to the film adaptation of Boy Erased
meant that the creative team had to take inspiration from both Conley's memoir
and Edgerton's screenplay in order to give audiences the truest representation
possible. Using real family photographs and lengthy discussions with Conley and
family also helped guide the team in the right direction.
On a project such as Boy Erased, the entire creative team needs to be
emotionally connected to the material. Director of Photography, Eduard Grau's
vision was to keep the film raw and realistic, beautiful in its simplicity. Grau
used natural night whenever possible and also utilized stain glass lighting in
many of the group therapy scenes. This realistic and often uniform vision was
carried on throughout production design, location selection, hair & makeup and
costume design. In regards to production design, Chad Keith was tasked with
creating the impossible - natural, neutral, uniform sets that also allowed the
audience to physically feel the uneasiness of the location. Having only a
handful of different sets to work with, Keith brought a naturalistic/muted color
pattern allowing for the story to be at the forefront.
Adding to the cinematography and production design aesthetic, costume
designer Trish Somerville's first hurdle was how to distinguish the conversion
therapy students from staff. Knowing that the color blue was going to be a
consistent theme throughout the film, the costume department fitted both "Sykes"
and staff in varying shades of blue. Edgerton's character "Sykes" is almost
entirely seen in button up shirts, various ties and sports coats - outwardly
portraying a non-threatening energy yet not enough to cover up his hatred of
himself and others. Staff costumes continue this uniformed theme with blue polo
shirts accompanied by khaki pants for the men and long skirts for the ladies.
The students, in their own version of uniforms of white crisp shirts, had a bit
more visual leeway - each student was given small nuances that helped portray
them as individuals. For example, "Cameron," the jock of the group, is always
wearing sneakers whereas Jared is always buttoned up and wearing his church
shoes. These differences, albeit small, help visually show audiences that a
uniform cannot hide individuality. The most drastic transformation is that of
"Nancy Eamons" played by Nicole Kidman. Trish Summerville, Kim Santantonio
(Department Head - Hair) and Kim Jones (Department Head - Makeup) collaborated
to transform Kidman seamlessly into "Nancy". Summerville re-created "Nancy's"
signature look of perfectly matched outfits, often hand adorned with rhinestones
and studs. Adding to her already distinctive look, Kidman was fitted with a
custom blonde wig, designed by Santantonio, and her final look enhanced by her
bold make-up designed by Kim Jones.
Within nine months from Kohansky-Roberts opening Garrard Conley's memoir -
Boy Erased was optioned by Anonymous Content, Edgerton had finalized the
screenplay, casting was completed, and production had wrapped in Atlanta,
As cast and crew set onward to new challenges, Edgerton was beginning a new
challenge of his own - piecing together 38 days, over 400 hours of footage, to
create the film adaptation of Boy Erased. With editor Jay Rabinowitz by his
side, Edgerton stayed true to his initial promises to Conley - Boy Erased was
going to shine a bright light on conversion therapy and justice was going to be
brought to Conley's story. As the editing process continued, the soundtrack and
music composition process began. Edgerton reached out to Troye Sivan, who also
plays "Gary" in the film to see if he had any ideas for a title track. Like many
things throughout production, the music fell into place perfectly. The title
track Revelation is a collaboration between Troye Sivan and Jonsi from the
Icelandic rock band Sigur Ro. "Revelation is about self-discovery,
self-exploration and finding inner peace. The song wrote itself in a matter of
hours," says Sivan.
For all involved, telling this story became a necessity, not a choice. With
lives still at stake, every member of the cast and crew knew they were part of
something important and bigger than just a movie. Everyone has a duty to help
shine light where darkness lay. We are all masters of our own fate and as human
beings have the responsibility to right wrongs. We get to choose how
we love, when we love and what we do with our own lives - we don't, however, get
to choose the fates of others.
With all the uncertainty in our world, this film aims to change minds, open
hearts and ultimately save lives. Boy Erased is a love story to everyone who
chooses to show love and kindness despite their differences.
The Current State of Conversion/Reparative Therapy
Currently, 36 states don't have laws against conversion therapy while 14 states
plus Washington D.C. have passed laws protecting LGBTQ youth from it.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, highly rejected LGBTQ youth were 8 times
more likely to have attempted suicide, six times more likely to report high
levels of depression, more than three times as likely to use illegal drugs, more
than three times as likely to be at high risk for HIV and STDs.
The American Psychiatric Association states that the potential risks of
"reparative therapy" are great and include depression, anxiety, and
self-destructive behavior, since therapist alignment with societal prejudices
against LGBTQ may reinforce self-hatred already experienced by the patient.
Many patients who have undergone "reparative therapy" relate that they were
inaccurately told that LGBTQ are lonely, unhappy individuals who never achieve
acceptance or satisfaction.
The possibility that the person might achieve happiness and satisfying
interpersonal relationships as a gay man or lesbian are not presented, nor are
alternative approaches to dealing with the effects of societal stigmatization
Putting a Face and a Name to the Practice
Video: LGBTQ "Conversion Therapy" Survivor : "They Got Some Weird Joy Out of
Torturing Children" (HRC)
Medical Associations Comments Against Conversion Therapy
American Medical Association
"Our AMA... opposes, the use of 'reparative' or 'conversion' therapy that is
based upon the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder or
based upon the a priori assumption that the patient should change his/her
American Psychiatric Association
In 1997 APA produced a fact sheet on homosexual and bisexual issues, which
states that "there is no published scientific evidence supporting the efficacy
of "reparative therapy" as a treatment to change one's sexual orientation.
APA opposes any psychiatric treatment, such as "reparative" or "conversion"
therapy, that is based on the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental
disorder or is based on the a priori assumption that the patient should change
his or her homosexual orientation.
American Psychoanalytic Association
"As with any societal prejudice, bias against individuals based on actual or
perceived sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression negatively
affects mental health, contributing to an enduring sense of stigma and pervasive
self-criticism through the internalization of such prejudice.
Psychoanalytic technique does not encompass purposeful attempts to 'convert,'
"repair," change or shift an individual's sexual orientation, gender identity or
gender expression. Such directed efforts are against fundamental principles of
psychoanalytic treatment and often result in substantial psychological pain by
reinforcing damaging internalized attitudes."
American Psychological Association
"The American Psychological Association affirms that same-sex sexual and
romantic attractions, feelings, and behaviors are normal and positive variations
of human sexuality regardless of sexual orientation identity;
The American Psychological Association reaffirms its position that homosexuality
per se is not a mental disorder and opposes portrayals of sexual minority youths
and adults as mentally ill due to their sexual orientation;
The American Psychological Association concludes that there is insufficient
evidence to support the use of psychological interventions to change sexual
The American Psychological Association encourages mental health professionals
to avoid misrepresenting the efficacy of sexual orientation change efforts by
promoting or promising change in sexual orientation when providing assistance to
individuals distressed by their own or others' sexual orientation..."
American School Counselor Association
"The professional school counselor works with all students through the stages
of identity development and understands this development may be more difficult
for LGBTQ youth. It is not the role of the professional school counselor to
attempt to change a student's sexual orientation/gender identity but instead to
provide support to LGBTQ students to promote student achievement and personal
well-being . School counselors recognize the profound harm intrinsic to
therapies alleging to change an individual's sexual orientation or gender
identity (SAMHSA, 2015) and advocate to protect LGBTQ students from this harm."
National Association of Social Workers
"People seek mental health services for many reasons. Accordingly, it is fair
to assert that lesbians and gay men seek therapy for the same reasons that
heterosexual people do. However, the increase in media campaigns, often coupled
with coercive messages from family and community members, has created an
environment in which lesbians and gay men often are pressured to seek reparative
or conversion therapies, which cannot and will not change sexual orientation.
Aligned with the American Psychological Association's (1997) position, NCLGB
[NASW's National Committee on Lesbian and Gay Issues] believes that such
treatment potentially can lead to severe emotional damage. Specifically,
transformational ministries are fueled by stigmatization of lesbians and gay
men, which in turn produces the social climate that pressures some people to
seek change in sexual orientation. No data demonstrate that reparative or
conversion therapies are effective, and in fact they may be harmful."
Pan American Health Organization (PAHO): Regional Office of the World Health
"Services that purport to "cure" people with non-heterosexual sexual
orientation lack medical justification and represent a serious threat to the
health and well-being of affected people, the Pan American Health Organization
(PAHO) said in a position statement launched on 17 May, 2012, the International
Day against Homophobia. The statement calls on governments, academic
institutions, professional associations and the media to expose these practices
and to promote respect for diversity."
World Psychiatric Association
"There is no sound scientific evidence that innate sexual orientation can be
changed. Furthermore, so-called treatments of homosexuality can create a setting
in which prejudice and discrimination flourish, and they can be potentially
harmful (Rao and Jacob 2012). The provision of any intervention purporting to
"treat" something that is not a disorder is wholly unethical."
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