Tribeca Film Festival 2020 Review: “Pray Away” A Unique Take on The Horrors of Conversion Therapy

There are numerous movies about gay conversion therapy.

Films such as Boy ErasedThe Miseducation of Cameron Post, and But I’m a Cheerleader have presented gay conversion therapy through dramatic and comedic lenses. There have also been several documentaries about gay conversion therapy; even VICE covered the issue a few years ago. The issue is still topical, for although 20 states have banned gay conversion therapy for minors, people still practice it in the U.S. Pray Away addresses gay conversion therapy from a unique perspective, looking at former members of those groups.

Directed by Kristine Stolakis and produced by Blumhouse ProductionsPray Away addresses the lives of both survivors of the treatment and former leaders and practitioners of the conversion therapy movement. While the film primarily uses Exodus International as a case study for gay conversion therapy, the film does look at other individuals involved in the treatment. Additionally, the film delves into the language and strategies practitioners of gay conversion therapy used to suck people and how they were affected. 

The film’s emotional core isn’t particularly raw, but that is part of what makes it effective and at times, disturbing. Former practitioners talked about their experiences subjecting kids to gay conversion therapy in a casual and disturbing tone. This tone made the interviews’ content accessible, helping educate the audience on the practitioners’ strategies. I found these moments to be the most substantive element of the film. It was fascinating to learn how they were able to attract parents and encourage kids to advocate for conversion therapy. I wouldn’t be surprised if advocacy groups reference this film for campaigns against conversion therapy.

The interviews and use of archival footage are excellent and showcase multiple perspectives. The director draws from news sources such as C-SPAN, 60 Minutes, and even footage from annual Exodus conferences. All of the material is well incorporated and paints a full picture of the damage caused by conversion therapy.

A successful documentary should make you feel like you learned something, and Pray Away certainly does. The film maintains its emotional core while also being informative and understandable. Anyone working in LGBT advocacy should watch this film to learn about how this form of torture can be considered legitimate in the eyes of an uninformed public. 

Pray Away is officially selected for the Tribeca Film Festival. You can find more information about the documentary here.

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