But I’m A Cheerleader (2000)

Directed by Jamie Babbit
Running time 1h 25m
Core concepts this week

romantic comedy

sexual orientation

gender identity


conversion therapy

queer failure

View on Amazon Prime

Film background

But I’m A Cheerleader was Jamie Babbit’s first feature film. The film largely received a poor critical reception from most mainstream media outlets, often because it was perceived as engaging only stereotypes. More recent critical appraisals have considered it more positively, noting its use of satire and camp to critique heteronormativity. LGBTQ media outlets such as AfterEllen and Autostraddle have consistently ranked it one of the best queer films of all time. Initially, the film received an NC-17 rating; Babbit removed some content to earn it a commercially viable “R” rating. Babbit was interviewed in Kirby Dick’s documentary This Film is Not Yet Rated (2000) and critiques the decision-making and demands of the MPAA, noting the sexism and homophobia implicit in much of their commentary.

Plot summary

As the film opens, 17-year old cheerleader Megan (Natasha Lyonne) is subjected to an intervention by her parents and friends, who are concerned that she may be a lesbian. She is sent to True Directions, a conversion therapy camp for teenagers, who are expected to complete a 5-step recovery program in order to rid themselves of homosexuality and reintegrate into society. The program is run by Mary (Cathy Moriarty) and Mike (RuPaul). Megan meets several other teens in the program, including Graham (Clea DuVall), who she befriends. Megan completes step 1 – admitting that she is a lesbian. Soon after her arrival, she discovers two male members of the program, Dolph (Dante Basco) and Clayton (Kip Pardue) making out and screams, leading to Mary waking up to discover them. Dolph is expelled from the camp and Clayton is punished. One night, several members of the True Directions program sneak out to a gay bar, led by former True Directions members Lloyd (Wesley Mann) and Larry (Richard Moll). While at the bar, Megan and Graham kiss, admitting their feelings for one another. Mary finds out about the trip, and requires the True Directions members to picket Lloyd and Larry’s house. One night, Graham and Megan sneak out of bed to have sex, and Mary discovers what they have done. Megan refuses to apologize for her actions and is expelled from the camp. Megan stays at True Directions, fearful of her father’s rejection. Megan joins Dolph, who is staying at Lloyd and Larry’s house, and the two find more acceptance. They hatch a plan to try to get Graham and Clayton back at the True Directions graduation ceremony. Dolph immediately succeeds at convincing Clayton to leave; however, when Megan confronts Graham, Graham is initially afraid to leave with her. Ultimately, Megan performs a cheer declaring her love for Graham in front of the group, and Graham relents. The four of them drive off together. In the closing credits, Megan’s parents are shown attending a PFLAG meeting, suggesting their step towards acceptance of Megan’s sexuality.

Content warnings

But I’m A Cheerleader contains two non-explicit sex scenes, brief underage drinking, and humor about sexuality throughout.


  • Because this is the first week of the course, Day 1 includes the introduction of some course systems and materials we will use throughout this course (student-led scene analysis model, film studies vocabulary, film screening notes). If you plan to rearrange the sequence of this course, you may want to move some of these introductory materials to whatever you choose to be the first week.
  • Throughout the course, secondary texts are listed alongside the day they are discussed in class. For example, the CBS Video on Conversion Therapy is listed as Day 2 because it is intended to be discussed that day. Students should watch this video prior to Day 2’s class.

Materials for this week

Additional optional resources:

As you introduce film studies to students, you may want to share with them the following two resources (or use them yourself throughout the course):

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