Review: ‘Pray Away’ – Conversion Therapy documentary from Netflix, Ryan Murphy & Jason Blum.

Pray Away is the new debut feature documentary from Kristine Stolakis.

Blumhouse Television executive produced the feature; partnering with Ryan Murphy before bringing the film to Netflix. The film was produced by Stolakis with Jessica Devaney and Anya Rous and executive produced by Ryan Murphy, Jason Blum, Jeremy Gold, Marci Wiseman, Mary Lisio, Amanda Spain, Daniel J. Chalfen, Jim Butterworth, Katy Drake Bettner, Johnny Symons, Julie Parker Benello, Patty Quillin, Nion McEvoy, Leslie Berriman, Regina K. Scully and Alexis Martin Woodal.

In the 1970s, five men struggling with being gay in their Evangelical church started a bible study to help each other leave the “homosexual lifestyle.” They quickly received over 25,000 letters from people asking for help and formalised as Exodus International, the largest and most controversial conversion therapy organisation in the world.

But leaders struggled with a secret: their own “same-sex attractions” never went away. After years as Christian superstars in the religious right, many of these men and women have come out as LGBTQ, disavowing the very movement they helped start. Focusing on the dramatic journeys of former conversion therapy leaders, current members, and a survivor, PRAY AWAY chronicles the “ex gay” movement’s rise to power, persistent influence, and the profound harm it causes.

This powerful and thought provoking new documentary does not pull it’s punches as it gives a historical perspective of conversion therapy and the Exodus organisation whilst also featuring those who are still engaged in these harmful activities today.

The film opens boldy by bringing us face to with Jeffrey McCall a modern-day ‘Ex-Gay/Trans’ advocate as he spreads the word of christ and speaks about his ‘conversion’. Depending on your personal views this may well illicit a strong reaction as will many other players in the ‘Ex-Gay’ movement featured in the film.

The thrust of the film is the accounts of the ex-leaders and founders of Exodus and it’s partner organisations and the harmful actions they were engaged in while with the organisation and well as exploring the lasting impact and hurt of their activities. It can be tough viewing at times and the film leaves you to form your own opinions as to wether these heinous actions can ever be truly forgiven. What it does also do is raise awareness of the lasting harm that conversion therapy can cause and it’s message it more important and timely than ever with conversion therapy still being legal in many countries around the world.

Perhaps one of the most moving and impactful stories featured is that of Julie Rodgers who was brought into an exodus partner organisation as a youth by her parents and later was encouraged to become a speaker and youth leader within in the movement; even though she did not agree with everything she was expected to say which led to self-harm and depression; she has since been able to leave the movement and become a gay christian advocate.

Without much bias Stolakis manages to highlight the hypocrisy of the Exodus organisations former leaders who have since admitted to preaching about the Ex-Gay movement while privately having very different feelings that they could not so easily avoid. The film is well-shot with a good use of archive/propaganda footage – without any need for flashy cinematography or animations and instead focussing on the core emotional stories and the personal journeys and reflections of those involved.

5/5A difficult but important and timely film that should be required viewing for those both within and outside of the LGBTQI+ community.

Pray Away premieres at the Tribeca Film Festival on June 16th 2021 before being released globally on Netflix in August 2021

Find out more about the film at which also includes links to resources for those affected by the issues raised.

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