Kristine Stolakis pulls back the curtain on the “ex-gay movement” in “Pray Away,” a doc exploring how former leaders of Exodus International, the largest conversion therapy organization in the world, have since come out as LGBTQ. A new trailer for the film sees a self-described “figurehead for this movement” reflecting on a secret he was harboring. “My role was to get the message out: homosexuality was changeable. I ached to be loved and to love a man,” he emphasizes.
Described as “awful pseudo psychology,” Exodus’ teachings caused tremendous harm and trauma, leading some members to experience panic attacks and attempt suicide.
“For me, ‘Pray Away’ was a personal journey to understand my uncle, who experienced conversion therapy and its traumatic aftermath after coming out as trans as a child. He spent his lifetime believing that being straight and cisgender was the only way to be psychologically healthy and spiritually accepted,” Stolakis shared in an interview with us.
The filmmaker explained, “It wasn’t until I discovered leaders of the movement, people who claimed that they had themselves changed from gay to straight who were teaching others to do the same, that I understood the depth of his hope and his resulting trauma when he, of course, was unable to change himself,” she explained. “Who are these people who say they’ve changed? Why do they claim this? This was the beginning of what’s become a four-year journey of making ‘Pray Away.’ As time has gone on, the film has become an inside look at the ‘pray the gay away’ movement that I hope ultimately shows the public the harm of the practice, despite the good intentions of many of who were and remain involved.”
Asked what advice she’d give other women directors, Stolakis said, “I have seen time and time again brilliant female directors be taken half as seriously as their male counterparts. In our world, a woman’s ambition is so often seen as unearned bravado or selfishness, and our mistakes are seen as proof that we are unfit for the job — whereas a man’s ambition is seen as leadership, and their mistakes are seen as brave vulnerability. Don’t let that sexism shake you,” she urged. “Don’t internalize that message. It isn’t a reflection on you or the worth of your ideas — it is a reflection of the sexism that remains in our industry. And this judgement, this intimate manifestation of power and prejudice, makes our industry even harder for women of color, for LGBTQ directors, for people with disabilities. You have to jump twice as high, be three times as smart, and make half the mistakes. It’s unfair. Our industry has a lot of work to do to become truly fair and equitable.”
“Pray Away” launches on Netflix August 3.