Friday, June 18, 2010

8: The Mormon Proposition

The documentary, 8: The Mormon Proposition was released in Salt Lake City today. I actually had the opportunity to see it a week ago at the LGBT film festival, "Damn! These Heels!" It actually got a very good review in the Salt Lake Tribune today, which you can read here. While I think the movie is generally well-made and worth seeing, I didn't really agree with everything in Sean P. Means' review.

This review by George Lang is more in line with my impressions of the film. While I thought the film made some very valid points about some of the somewhat underhanded things I felt the church did in the fight for Prop. 8, I also felt the film was not very even-handed in its portrayal of the LDS Church, and I also felt the film made some fallacious inferences that made me suspect the credibility of the film as a whole.

I completely believe that the LDS Church was heavily involved in the Prop 8 fight, and I also believe they did much to hide or disguise that involvement, which I found to be dishonest and underhanded and actually made me lose some respect for the way the LDS Church dealt with it. And, truly, I don't think the LDS Church should have gotten involved in the fight at all. I also think some of the things local leaders and certain ward members did (particularly in California) were mishandled and wrong. I was upset with the LDS Church quite a bit when the whole Prop. 8 thing was going on. So I get the anger. I get the annoyance. I get the frustration.

That being said, to me the film feels extremely biased and doesn’t feel objective at all. And maybe that was the point, but I don’t think it does much to build bridges or create useful dialogue or endear gay-rights opponents (particularly Mormon ones) to the gay rights cause. And maybe that isn't the point (although some of the filmmakers were at the showing I saw and claimed that they did want the film to be a tool to help bring opponents to the side of gay rights; so if that is the point, I think the film may bring some, but alienate others, particularly Mormons). But really, I feel all the film does is rile up the people who are already on the side of the filmmakers, and if the goal is to help create a dialogue, I'm not sure it has succeeded.

In my opinion, the film often feels like a political ad where scary-sounding music and quotations taken out of context and blurred and grainy black-and-white images of the politician’s opponent are used to make the viewer see the opponent in a negative light. In this case, the Mormon Church is the opponent.

That being said, I did like the human-interest angle the film took, using a very sympathetic gay couple as the face of what happens to individuals when rights are denied. And as I have stated, I do think some of the methods the LDS Church used were somewhat underhanded and less-than-honest, so I think some very valid points were made. I also, like many gay people, was very upset and troubled with my church’s involvement in the issue at all, and I do, indeed, believe, that it was largely due to the LDS Church’s influence in the matter that the measure ended up passing. I also think it’s fair to show the negative history the LDS Church has when it comes to the issue of homosexuality. So again, I get where the anger comes from, and I can understand why the filmmakers would choose to deal with the issue from the angle in which they did.

But it equally troubles me when the filmmakers portray the LDS Church in the same fear-mongering manner which gay-rights opponents used in their commercials regarding gay people and the issue of gay marriage. It troubles me when a quote from a Mormon General Conference is taken out of context and made to sound sinister. Or when a quote is taken out of context from the book, In Quiet Desperation, and made to sound like Stuart Matis’ parents were overjoyed that their gay son killed himself when, in fact, they loved their son very much and that the quote really referred to a peace they felt that their son was freed from some of the anguish he was feeling in his life due to his personal struggles with his religion and his sexuality. I’m not saying the LDS Church doesn’t share some blame in his suicide; I’m just saying the quote inferred something very different from how I believe it was intended. I also find the film suspect when it infers that the anti-group America Forever is sanctioned by the LDS Church when, in fact, the LDS Church has denounced them and, to the best of my knowledge, the founders of the group are not even LDS themselves even if they infer they are.

In any case, I did have mixed feelings about the film, and it also did not help that an angry lesbian kept shouting profanities every time a leader of the LDS Church said something she didn’t agree with. Like I say, I get her anger, but I didn’t feel her method of expressing it was particularly useful.

I also found it interesting that the producers of the film espoused that the film’s message was that of love and that they hoped it would inspire gay people to bring their Mormon family members to it and that it would hopefully bridge a gap. Well, I’m sorry, but many Mormons hold their religion in as high a regard as gay people hold their rights, I know many members of the LDS Church who would likely be offended to see their church attacked in the way it was in this film and certainly wouldn’t help bridge a gap for them. Like I said, I have mixed loyalties and mixed feelings about the film. I am just as equally troubled about the LDS Church's methods in regard to this situation as I am about some of the rhetoric that paints the LDS Church more unfairly than perhaps they deserve. Or maybe it's that I think that even though there may be just cause for gay-rights proponents to attack the Church, it would have been nice to see them take a higher road than some of the people they are attacking.

I did find it interesting that I heard a gay couple commenting on having similar feelings about the film that I had. I do stress that I think the movie is definitely worth a view, but I do think at times it’s just as heavy-handed as a Michael Moore film (whose opinions I sometimes agree with, but he still goes overboard and too far at times).

Other films I saw at the festival, by the way, were Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work. Joan Rivers’ comedy has never been my style. I often find her comedy dirty or offensive. She has every right to do what she does, and I will freely admit she was a groundbreaking comedienne, but her style isn’t my cup of tea. I also feel like she emanates a lot of anger and ugliness, and I freely admit that I feel she has become a parody of herself. So I was delighted that this documentary allowed me to get to know Joan Rivers as a human being and actually made me feel some empathy and compassion for her. It also helped me see her in a whole different light and made me feel that my judgments of her were not wholly correct.

The movie itself was actually quite funny and touching, and I loved seeing how insecure and alone Joan Rivers is in many ways. I don’t know – I just saw a beauty in Joan Rivers that her exterior had caused me to miss. I was grateful for that. The movie is very much worth seeing.

I also saw a lesbian-themed movie called The Owls, which I found very disjointed and somewhat pointless. I didn't care for it. Maybe it would have hit me differently if I were a lesbian; I don't know.

I saw a film starring James Franco called Howl, which was about the life of poet Allen Ginsberg. I actually found it quite interesting and also liked its themes about censorship and allowing people to express themselves. It had a great cast, including Franco, Jon Hamm, David Strathairn (a personal favorite of mine), Mary-Louise Parker, and Jeff Daniels. It was a little different, but I enjoyed it.

Then I watched a documentary about William S. Burroughs, one of Ginsberg’s contemporaries. It was interesting that the man who introduced the film talked about how he had been surprised by how crazy, perverted, and drug-addled Burroughs had been, but that’s not what I got at all. In spite of his faults and flaws and hard exterior, Burroughs was revealed in the film as having more insecurity, love, and compassion than he might have appeared to have. It’s always interesting to me that two people can see the same thing and yet find two completely different meanings. And perhaps that's how people will feel about 8: The Mormon Proposition as well.

The final film I saw was a really funny zombie movie called Zombies of Mass Destruction which actually masked a deeper theme about tolerance and judging others. I thought it was hilarious, and it was actually my favorite film that I saw.
I wanted to see some other films on Sunday, the last day of the festival, but I was tired, and I ended up getting invited to watch the Tonys at a friend's house. I enjoyed hanging out with friends, but the Tonys themselves were kind of blah this year.

It was fun to go to the festival, and it made me think of how my life has changed and how comfortable and happy I am to be a gay man. Years ago I would have been petrified to attend something like that for fear that someone would discover my secret, but now it feels so natural and comfortable.

I actually like being gay. I like being who I am. When I think of years past when I hated myself or when I was constantly guarded; when I think how afraid I was that somebody would discover the truth about me; when I think about how alone I felt; when I think of the guilt and unworthiness I felt simply for failing to be what I thought I was supposed to be; when I think about how uptight I was; when I think about how I used to wish I were dead; when I think about the stress and worry it was causing me to think that I would be disappointing my friends and family; when I think about all the conflict and angst I felt; when I think about how I never felt like I could say what I really felt; when I think about the tears I shed and how I felt like a failure as a follower of Christ, and then when I look at how comfortable and happy and peaceful and free I feel now, I am so happy to be who I am. Years ago I would have given anything not to be gay. Now I think that even if Heavenly Father appeared to me today and told me he could make me straight, I would decline his offer, I think.

Anyway, those are my thoughts for today.


Sean said...

While I haven't yet sen 8: The Mormon proposition I would be interested in knowing how your personal bias my also contribute to how you percieve the film.

I have noticed that those who still hold their Mormon upbring close to their hearts articulate how the film was a little unfair in its presentation of the church. As well as those who weren't LDS outraged that any "'Christian' religion" would do such things.

Perhaps the movie is more successful than anyone could think - it being a more accurate reflection of ourselves and where our loyalties lie... To a controlling religious institution, or to the betterment of humanity.

Gay LDS Actor said...

You may very well be right, Sean. Because I still do hold Mormonism close to my heart, I freely admit that my own personal biases certainly played a role in how I perceived the film. I think it's hard to watch anything objectively without letting our life experiences and biases get in the way.

I'm also not sure it's so black and white as "a controlling religious institution" vs. "the betterment of humanity." Sounds like there's a bit of bias there as well. I certainly concede that there are many things the LDS Church does that are controlling, but I also think there are things it does that have helped humanity quite a bit. On the flipside, I think there is much that goes on in gay activism that serves humanity very well, but I would also say I have seen some actions that hurt humanity, in my opinion. I have a hard time thinking in terms of black-and-white or extremes. But perhaps I have misinterpreted your statement.

Joned Rahadian said...

I have to watch it myself. I'll download it somewhere...