"The Mormons" is coming!

Yes, "The Mormons" is coming. To your TV, that is. That’s the title of a new four-hour documentary on the Church, airing on PBS on April 30 and May 1. And the Church is already making it very clear that it is the subject of the film and not its sponsor.

From a press release by the Church:

The documentaries – two hours on American Experience on April 30 and a further two hours the following evening on Frontline – constitute what is believed to be the most searching look at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in US television history.

Award-winning television producer Helen Whitney describes it as “a complex film, a respectful film, but not an uncritical film.”

“The Church did not endorse the film. I had total independence,” she said. Church officials had no role in scripting, filming, financing, or approving the content of the production.

A few scholars, including some who appear in the documentary, have seen substantial parts of the program.

Their initial reaction: Church leaders and members are extraordinarily eloquent in explaining the tenets of their faith. The film is not superficial, which is often a criticism leveled at television coverage.

However, some raised concern about what they feel is a disproportionate amount of time given to topics that are not central to the Church’s faith. For instance, polygamy comes in for extensive treatment in the first program, including substantial attention to present-day polygamous groups that have nothing to do with today’s Church. The time devoted to portrayals of modern fundamentalist polygamy seems inconsistent with the filmmaker’s stated purposes of getting inside the LDS experience, and of exploding, rather than reinforcing, stereotypes.

Other scholars criticize what they say is an imbalance in the treatment of some topics, particularly the events at Mountain Meadows in 1857. One said the film provides a distorted and highly unbalanced account of Brigham Young and the Mountain Meadows Massacre alike.

In any case, it sounds like a great program. (If nothing else, it will provide terrific fodder for discussion.) I’ll definitely be watching it, and highly encourage any of you out there with an interest in the subject to check it out as well. Check your local PBS listings for the exact time and station.

Here’s the official website, with a six and a half minute trailer.

2 Responses to “"The Mormons" is coming!”

  1. Of course everyone is fascinated by stories of polygamy–a lot more people will watch. My great grandfather Crandall was a polygamist–married two sisters. As a woman, I deplore polygamy. The women who participated had such faith that the church was true that they agreed to participate. It brought them great sorrow and hardship. Of course, it also brought them a home and children. And people being who they are, there is a lot of abuse of the system, then and now. Well, we’ll see what the program has to say…………..

  2. Richard Bushman’s excellent, excellent biography Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling gives a very even-handed treatment of the Prophet’s additional marriages and the toll they took on his relationship with Emma. Bushman may be active in the Church, but even he lacks a definitive explanation for Joseph’s behavior. I (and I presume he) trust that the commandment came from the Lord, and I’ll leave it at that. Like you, I abhor the concept of polygamy, and am grateful it is not practiced by the Church today. It yet remains one of those “big questions” that I may never understand in this life.

Leave a Reply