Pray Away is a powerful look at the “pray the gay away” movement. The documentary looks at the effects of conversion therapy. It also examines the rise of the Evangelical movement and Exodus International, in particular. Exodus was the largest organization the practiced conversion therapy. The film also looks at the comfort church can bring.
As expected, there are plenty of interviews. The archival footage shows “ex-gays” confront their issues to become heterosexuals. Watching these moments have a twofold effect on the audience. The first is the obvious disbelief over how this was ever seen as legitimate. Some moments look silly while others are downright funny.
The other part is more subtle but much more interesting. Pray Away shows a comparison of the people after they were “cured” and what they look like now. It is an interesting contrast as all of them look much more relaxed and happier. Pray Away is not a one sided documentary. There are those who are now proudly gay. One of the women who was converted is still married to her husband and identifies as bisexual. The film definitely takes a side, but it does a good job of showing different lives. Things actually start with Jeffrey McCall who has started his own ex gay group. Arguably, he is the most interesting person in Pray Away. He seems less interested in converting people and more concerned about getting people to share his beliefs.
There are people representing different sides in Pray Away, but the most powerful images are saved for those who went through the conversion therapy. Homosexuality was often explained away as a result of sexual abuse (or, hilariously, the occult.) Ironically, sexual assault is a part of the conversion of Julie Rodgers. She was pressured to use a sexual attack as part of her speech during speaking engagements. Before long, she was burning herself.
Pray Away is an often emotional look at gay conversion therapy. Though it is nowhere near as prevalent as it once was, its effects are still felt. For some, the scars will last a lifetime. The documentary only scratches the surface, but perhaps this is best. It is an ugly part of America that should be left to the past.
Pray Away comes to Netflix August 3rd
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