Danforth Discusses Adaptation of Book to Film

Emily Danforth
Rhode Island College Impact

"The Miseducation of Cameron Post," a film adapted from a novel by Emily Danforth, assistant professor of English, met with a packed audience at RIC.

On Sept. 21 Rhode Island College hosted a packed screening of “The Miseducation of Cameron Post,” a film adaptation of the young adult novel by RIC Associate Professor of English Emily Danforth, which picked up the Grand Jury Prize at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. 

This​ is a coming-of-age tale about an 11th-grader in Montana who is caught having sex with a female friend in the back seat of a car and is sent to a Christian boarding school for gay conversion therapy. The school’s mission is to treat teens “struggling with the sin of same-sex attraction.” One of the most poignant moments in the film comes after one of the teenagers engages in self harm. Cameron asks, “How can it not be abuse to program someone to hate themself?” 

Like Cameron, Danforth, was born in Montana a queer female struggling with identity. Although her novel contains autobiographical content from her own adolescence, Danforth did not undergo conversion therapy. That section of her novel was heavily based on research, she said, however she noted that this harmful pseudoscience is still widely practiced. Only ​14 states have passed laws banning the practice.

Following the screening, a panel discussion took place, featuring Danforth; Markus Kirschner, production designer on the film; and Malinda Lo, Boston-based novelist and critic. The panel was moderated by Vince Bohlinger, RIC associate professor of English and director of RIC’s film studies program.​

Emily Danforth
Professor Vince ​Bohlinger (left) directs his first question to Associate Professor Emily Danforth, while Markus Kirschner​ looks on.

During the half-hour discussion, Lo remarked on the literary influence of Danforth’s book, which made its debut in 2012. Named to numerous best-of-the-year lists, “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” has had far-reaching impact on readers, writers and publishers of young adult LGBTQ fiction, Lo said. Prior to the publication of Danforth’s book, there were only about 15 LGBTQ young adult novels being published each year in the United States, and of those books, most were about boys’ experiences, said Lo. Danforth’s novel is unique in that the focus is on a girl’s experience. According to Lo, since the book’s printing, the publication of LGBTQ young adult fiction has increased exponentially.

When asked how her novel made the leap to film, Danforth explained that she had already established a friendship with filmmaker Desiree Akhavan who had read a manuscript of the book before it was published and expressed interest in turning the latter third of it into a film. Danforth admitted that it took a while for her to “adjust to letting go” of her story. “But I knew her [Akhavan’s] work,” Danforth said, “and because she was a queer woman filmmaker, I trusted that she would do something really beautiful with the material.”

Kirschner spoke about the challenges of shooting an independent film in 23 days on a million-dollar budget​​. “Like most independent films, you’re always trying to make more with less,” he said. Kirschner explained how he devised ​patchwork sets to create “literally everything you see on the screen.”

D​irector of the film, Akhavan, in an interview with Digital Spy, spoke about the long-standing bias in mainstream Hollywood around queer sexuality in film. “There’s much less support and less risk taken for equivalent films about women,” she said. The hope is that “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” will pave the way for more movies in that vein.

LGBTQ issues and all issues involving diversity, equity and inclusion are an indelible part of Rhode Island College’s cultural fabric, said RIC President Frank Sánchez ​at the screening. He commended Danforth for “elevating Rhode Island College not just on a national stage but an international stage with this important conversation.” ​