They/Them (pronounced “They-slash-Them”), marks the directorial debut of Oscar-nominated veteran screenwriter John Logan (Skyfall, Hugo, The Aviator, Gladiator), who brings his own script to the screen with his queer take on the slasher genre. As a lifelong committed horror fan, Logan had longed to see himself represented in the genre. “When I was growing up, queer characters were for the most part non-existent”, Logan tells The Queer Review, “which sort of leaves an aching void in your life when you’re trying to connect with a story. Or if they did exist, they were victims or jokes and that was a horrific thing because I love horror movies. I kept wanting a queer character to not be a metaphor, I wanted them to be a hero. So that’s what I wrote. I wrote the movie I wished that I’d seen when I was 13.”
Taking his rich knowledge of classic horror movies such as Friday the 13th (featuring They/Them star and executive producer Kevin Bacon), Logan wanted to queer the genre by setting the film at a remote conversion therapy camp. “It was about looking at the tropes of the slasher movie and trying to slant them. It’s a camp in the middle of the woods, where you’re isolated and vulnerable. There’s a masked killer that’s stalking, but because this is a twist on the slasher movie, the killer is killing the bad counselors who deserve to be killed and the queer kids are the heroes.”
In the thick of the horror, there are also some fun and touching scenes of queer bonding, something Logan felt was essential. “The film tries to present the entire gay experience and that includes exuberance and joy. There’s a certain point where the character of Jordan, played by Theo Germaine, is very low and they are cheered up by the song F**kin’ Perfect (Perfect) by P!nk. The reason it’s that song is because I know how much it would have meant to me when I was 12 to have someone say to me, ‘You’re f’ing perfect just the way you are’. For me, it’s the most uplifting and moving moment in the movie because it’s something that I wished for so desperately and I know that there are kids out there who are going to see this movie and it’s going to mean the same thing to them”.
With a diverse range of LGBTQ+ characters portrayed by an LGBTQ+ cast, Logan wanted to ensure that the film felt as authentic as possible. “I’m a 60-year-old gay man. I’m not nonbinary, I’m not trans, and so I worked really closely with Scott Turner Schofield and GLAAD” shares Logan. “Then I worked with the actors themselves. I was like, ‘Tell me what I don’t know. Tell me how you speak. Tell me how you see the world. Tell me what frightens you. Tell me how you respond to things.’ There was very open communication between the actors and myself. They were mostly responsible for the authenticity of their characters. I took dictation and took notes well, but they brought themselves to it to such a passionate degree that it made my job easy in a way.”
Emmy-nominated actor, writer, and producer Scott Turner Schofield—who founded the training and consulting company Speaking of Transgender in 2022—was embedded in They/Them even before production began. “I was brought on while John was finishing writing”, Schofield tells The Queer Review. “I helped with the transgender and nonbinary pieces of it and some of the queer cultural pieces. Then I trained the crew to make sure that these amazing people could shine as bright as they needed to on set. Everybody was an ally, but so many people in our crew quit their jobs on other shows to work on this film because they’re queer and they wanted to be a part of it. All of the hands that came into making this were so careful. On set, Theo named me ‘resident vibe checker’. I was there to make sure that the cast were okay and to hold space to make sure that everybody had what they needed to keep doing their jobs and feeling great about it, because the subject matter that we were dealing with was really hard.”
“It was amazing”, Austin Crute who plays the musical-loving Toby tells The Queer Review. “I have never been on a set with so many LGBTQ people in my life! It was all so cohesive and fun and it felt transparent. We were all triggered in different ways, but we could all come together talk about it.” Darwin Del Fabro who plays the reserved Gabriel agrees, “Because the majority of our cast was queer there was a common language that we all spoke that helped us to bond. We knew and understood and respected each other and that’s beautiful. It’s something that I wish I’d had more of earlier on in my career, but the world is changing and we’re here to celebrate that.”
As a horror fan themselves, Theo Germaine who plays trans nonbinary character Jordan, who is attending the camp in order to legally emancipate themselves from their parents, admits that they had initial concerns that They/Them wasn’t going to be frightening enough. “I am so into the genre and I was like, ‘I need everything to be as scary as possible!’ At first, I was like, ‘It’s not scary enough!’ Then I was like, ‘No, this is actually really terrifying’. I really like the balance of everything. It’s really scary and it’s an allegory, and it has a dissociative element to it too because all of the characters are dealing with being gaslit. It’s also empowering at the same time. I like that stew, that gumbo that is this movie. It’s such a good mix.”
“I think we all owed John our stories because he was so thoughtful in including all of the characters”, shares Anna Lore who plays Kim, a young woman struggling to accept herself as a lesbian. “Monique plays Veronica, who is a bisexual character, and for me growing up I didn’t have any bisexual representation at all in media. Stephanie Beatriz is the first person I remember being really out and really proud to be bi. So to be included and to be seen in this community has just meant the world to me.”
Cooper Koch, who plays Stu, a gay high school jock wrestling with internalized-homophobia, concurs. “Growing up in a society where you’re told that you’re not the norm is hard, it’s a difficult journey. Then being an actor, there’s a whole other layer of struggle on top of that. I’m so grateful and honored to have the opportunity to tell my own story and to tell a queer story.”
“Authentic representation is so important”, adds Monique Kim. “This is a film that I wish had existed when I was growing up. I didn’t see myself on film until 2020 in Alice Wu’s Netflix film The Half of It. That’s my whole life basically. So I’m excited for the queer youth to finally get to see themselves as the heroes of a story and we’re taking queer fear seriously, which it needs to be.”
Kevin Bacon, who plays camp owner and head counselor Owen Whistler, says part of the draw of being involved in They/Them was the film’s setting. “I’ve known John Logan for many years and I was really touched when he described it to me. He knew about the horrors of conversion therapy, but he wanted to take that idea and rather than make a film that might have been dismissed as a moral tale, he wanted to put it in a genre that has the possibility of reaching more people. So it’s a horrible idea stuck into a horror movie.”
“I loved what John was saying about the real life horrors of gay conversion therapy”, adds Carrie Preston, who portrays Owen’s wife, camp “therapist” Dr Cora Whistler. “This still goes on in this country. Every year thousands and thousands of people are subjected to it and most of them are minors. That is a really terrifying thing. The script has great characters in it for young LGBTQ actors and John took great care to assemble this incredible cast. It’s always been one of my missions as an actor and a director to be a part of and help foster projects that bring to light the LGBTQ condition.”
“I knew these camps existed”, Kim adds, “But I did not know to what extent until I started working on this film. There are thousands of kids a year who go through this and only 25 states have outlawed conversion therapy. This is a real issue that we need to bring awareness to and we’re doing that through a very fun slasher movie. Hopefully it’ll bring empathy to people who are not in the community and hopefully they will become allies if they aren’t already.”
“The statistic that really shocked me”, shares Lore, “is that kids who go through conversion therapy have nearly double the rate of attempted suicide. I hope that when people watch this film, and have this new awareness, they will understand that it is much more dangerous to try to change who someone is than to let them be who they are”.
By James Kleinmann
They/Them premieres on Peacock on Friday, August 5th 2022.
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