Review of ‘8: The Mormon Proposition’
“This is not about attacking the church. This is about taking a stand for what is right.” – Linda Stay, former member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and mother of a gay son who was married to his life partner in California.
I’m going to be completely honest: A small part of me was hoping I would hate this film, “8: The Mormon Proposition.” As a former Mormon (in fact, a direct descendant of church founders), as well as a staunch advocate of gay rights, I became increasingly worried in the past several days that my recommendation of this film might be too quickly dismissed on the grounds of my prior loud and outspoken “No on 8” bias. I worried I might do a notable disservice to the same-sex marriage collective, and, more importantly, to the larger gay rights community, by throwing my support behind this film, only to later have that support exposed by someone or another as merely blind fealty to an emotional political cause.
So, in the hours leading up to the pre-release of the Hollywood premiere, I secretly began wishing this film would be weak, either logically or cinematically. I began hoping I would spot all sorts of fissures through Emmy-winning director Reed Cowan’s theses, fissures through which I could punch all sorts of potent critical right hooks and escape having to defend my predetermined inclinations.
I wanted an easy way out.
Reed Cowan didn’t deliver. An easy way out, that is.
And I’m left admitting what I was afraid I would have to admit from the very beginning:
8: The Mormon Proposition is easily one of the most powerful documentaries to straddle both mainstream success and the successes of the more independent critical peripheries in literally years. The official Sundance Selection of 2010 is merciless in its authenticity and brilliant in its execution. It will be available in precisely nine days in select cities across the nation, as well as on various On Demand straight-to-television services, and I highly recommend you watch it at your earliest convenience.
Shoot. That’s not going to make this whole task much easier.
The film, narrated by Dustin Lance Black, Academy Award-winning screenwriter of “Milk” (Black was on hand for Q & A at the Hollywood showing), interrogates the Mormon Church’s substantial involvement in the “Yes on 8” campaign in California in 2008. Cowan utilizes publicly available financial records, internal church documents, present and former church member interviews, and video and audio statements from church leadership, in order to expose a remarkably sophisticated coordinated offensive by church leaders in Utah against the gay and lesbian community in the golden state.
Some of the most striking statistics presented by the film have already been released to the public and independently verified by outside auditors. For instance, although Mormons make up less than two percent of the state of California’s population, they contributed more than 71 percent of the funding to the “Yes on 8 Campaign,” which also happened to be one of the most expensive campaigns in American history. In 2008, Proposition 8 was the most expensive race in the country, excluding the presidential battle.
Additionally, somewhere between 80 to 90 percent of the initial door-walkers for the “Yes on 8 Campaign” were members of the Salt Lake-based church, according to admissions from one of the campaign’s own strategists in The New York Times.
The film also publicizes church memos, as well as video documentation from church president Thomas S. Monson, directly and assertively interjecting themselves into the Proposition 8 debate. It re-plays video clips from past church presidents, as well as from political and social leaders from the faith (such as Utah State Senator Chris Buttars, who labels the gay community “the greatest threat to America I know of” in a casual off-the-cuff insult). Nuclear proliferation? Nope. Al-Qaeda? Nah. Global Warming? Of course not. A few thousand gay marriages? Armageddon.
Some critics, while generally still favoring the film, suggested it presents a “one-sided” interpretation of the debate. However, while the old cliché – “there are two sides to every story” – certainly remains true, when it comes to issues of civil rights, even the very opportunity to tell one particular side of the story has often historically been lopsided and uneven. When one side of the debate maintains a fierce grip on the money and the bully pulpit, it usually wields the more powerful bullhorn as well. In some ways, this film is merely a relatively humble counter argument to the incredibly potent forces that propelled Proposition 8 to victory.
Lastly, a one-sided representation doesn’t make the facts disappear.
Let’s say – for the sake of argument — that it’s overcast and stormy outside, and I step out my front door and proudly declare: “it’s bright and sunny!” I’m not, in reality, creating a “fair and balanced” assessment of the situation simply because I’ve tossed another opinion into the ring of debate.
I’m just plain wrong.
In the same way, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints cannot escape the facts. They cannot escape the dollar signs. They cannot escape the words of their own prophets nor the deeds of their own members (all of which beg the question of the organization’s tax-exempt status).
This film does not overtly attack Mormonism as a faith. But it does ask the church to be held accountable for some serious questions of fundraising and politicking.
And that’s more than most people are willing to talk about.