Megan’s Development in But I’m a Cheerleader (1999)
By (student has chosen to remain anonymous)
For this essay, I chose the film But I’m a Cheerleader. This film tackles a lot of important topics, but it’s also just entertaining to watch. It’s about a girl named Megan who gets sent to conversion therapy, but she’s convinced she doesn’t need it because she thinks she’s straight. This film deals with topics like homophobia and conversion therapy, but it’s also filled with various characters that have distinct and interesting storylines. The story also involves a really beautiful romance that made my heart melt.
The reason I’m excited about this film is because of Megan’s development throughout it. Starting off in a state of denial, she grows and learns to accept herself. It was extremely heartwarming as a queer woman to watch this film and see the main character grow in that way, as well as the romance that bloomed as a result. This film does a beautiful job of handling topics like homophobia, conversion therapy, and sexuality as a whole.
A significant portion of the cast of this film is LGBT+. They each have different lives and stories. The diversity within the cast made the film feel less like a token gay story because we get to see several. A specific scene that expresses this very well is one where the main cast goes to a gay club. They get driven there by two older gay men who take in LGBT+ kids and give them a place to stay. In this scene, you get to see various LGBT+ characters, including the main cast. It’s shown how the characters interact and express themselves when they’re in a space where they’re surrounded by people like them and free to be themselves.
The contrast between this scene and the characters’ behavior in the conversion camp plays a big role in driving through the point of this film. The main character, Megan, is a firm believer in the program throughout the film, but in this scene, she starts to let loose and learns to accept herself a little bit more. A quote that has stuck with me since I first watched this film was when Graham, the main love interest said, “You are who you are, the trick is not getting caught.” These characters are doing their best to survive the situation. Pure survival though, is exhausting and they needed an outlet. That’s where the club scene comes in.
These kids have little to no power at the conversion camp. The adults around them have taken control over their daily lives, choices, and their whole identities. According to Yale’s film analysis guide, “Camera angle is often used to suggest either vulnerability or power”. There’s a particular scene that exhibits this concept by using the same camera angle twice. The scene has Megan sitting in a chair facing the group and it’s shot from a high angle. This is the scene in which Megan is properly introduced to the group and told that she has to admit to being a homosexual. The angle of these shots shows Megan in a position where she’s completely at the mercy of the adults that run the conversion camp.
This is a common theme throughout the film. All of the main kids, Megan especially, are at the mercy of the adults in their lives. They gain the courage to fight for their freedom throughout the film. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, US National Library of Medicine, “Psychological control has traditionally been considered a negative form of control in that it affects the child emotionally, stifling their ability to establish emotional links with others, the development of their personal identity, and their autonomy.” (Barber BK) Some representation of this concept is the character Graham and her parents. Graham is very standoffish and sarcastic. She seems determined not to form connections. Near the middle of the film, we get introduced to her parents. They’re controlling and refuse to let Graham back into their lives unless her “affliction is fixed.”
Discrimination is a common topic in this film. A large part of the plot centers around characters that are forced into conversion therapy, because their families hate the fact that their LGBT+ and want it “fixed.” Homophobia is a key topic in this film. The characters not only fight against the adults in their lives trying to repress their identities, but they also fight internalized homophobia.
This film only has a rating of 39% on Rotten Tomatoes.com. Audience member Matt P.’s remark is typical, “This movie had potential, but stereotypical characters and a flat storyline stifle its development.” This film has a variety of characters all with different stories. Some of them do follow stereotypes, but there’s more than just one type of gay person in this film. The main characters all have distinct and individual personalities. Of the main cast, there are about six LGBT+ characters. The film’s storyline may fall flat according to some people, especially because of the attempts at satirical humor. The thing about the plot though, is that it follows a very real line of events that happen to a lot of LGBT+ people around the world. The romance and humor aside, this film brings to light what a lot of people suffer through.
I chose this film because I hold it near and dear to my heart. But I’m a Cheerleader was one of the first LGBT+ films that I watched after coming to terms with my sexuality. Now, this film isn’t new, it came out in 1999, before I was even born. Despite its age, it’s still relevant to this day. Kids are still being sent to conversion camps by people who claim to love them. As someone who grew up in a very conservative, Russian household, this was a very real fear for me. My family still doesn’t know and I don’t plan on telling them. Now, when I watched this film, I watched Megan go through the same steps that I went through. From internalized homophobia to acceptance, to pride, and finally to anger at all the people who dared try and change who she was. Watching Megan’s story gave me hope and at the point in my life, that hope was what kept me from suffocating from my life. But I’m a Cheerleader is a story about conversion therapy, homophobia, and finding the power within yourself to accept who you are. The stories and characters show different sides and situations, making it ultimately more real and relevant to more people.
León-Del-Barco, Benito, et al. “Parental Psychological Control and Emotional and Behavioral Disorders among Spanish Adolescents.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health,MDPI, 12 Feb. 2019, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6388244/#B15-ijerph-16-00507.
P, Matt. Review of “But I’m a Cheerleader” directed by Jamie Babbit. Rotten Tomatoes, 01 Nov. 2011