The New York Times had an interesting article on the LDS Church’s relationship with Hollywood, and how they’re making inroads:

The typical B.Y.U. student doesn’t seem like a natural fit for Hollywood. Mormon culture tends to see the entertainment industry as both a reflection of and contributor to our “morally bereft society,” as one alumnus put it. Many of the students I met rarely, if ever, watch R-rated films and could name the handful of exceptions they had made. One 27-year-old junior remembered seeing the Civil War drama “Glory” in high school. Another was working part time at a company in Salt Lake City that cleaned up Hollywood films and released family-friendly versions on DVD. Recently, the student told me, he digitally replaced a cigarette in a character’s hand with a pretzel.

The B.Y.U. program is designed to be a similar kind of ethical counterweight: it’s trying to unleash values-oriented filmmakers into the industry who can inflect its sensibility. “Without being preachy about it,” Adams told me, “if we can add something to the culture that makes people think about being better human beings — more productive, more kind, more forgiving — that’s what we want to do.”

That’s really a smart thing on the part of BYU (and, by extension, The Church). It’s part of a larger thing, which I’ll get to in a minute, but entertainment is a great example of using institutions to further not just the religion, but the culture the religion stands behind. The same extends to any cultural movement, really.

It’s noteworthy that this project isn’t about making movies by Mormons for Mormons. It’s Mormons influencing films for mass consumption.

There is actually a cottage industry for Mormon-to-Mormon entertainment. I was introduced to it when I lived in Deseret. I was, by and large, unimpressed. But then, why would I be? I’m not the target audience. I am not particularly religious. Though I share concern about sex in entertainment, I like a lot of the dark and morally complex stuff that is anathema to a lot of Mormon entertainment. But… I do like a fair number of “family” movies. I can imagine a lot of movies from the Book of Mormon that would interest me[1].

brighamcityRichard Dutcher’s Brigham City walked the line pretty nicely. On the face of it, it’s a movie about a Utah town[2] that is faced with a serial killer. Mormonism plays a role in the film, but it manages to place it in a context that is engaging for gentiles. The movie did not have all that much success because it was tagged “an LDS film” and was an indy film to boot, but as a blueprint for introducing the faith and worldview[3] without overwhelming people who are not particularly interested in seeing “a Mormon movie.”

Aside from the LDS Church itself, this is something that conservatives in general should take to heart. The LDS Church, of course, has BYU and conservatism is not top-down enough to have much in the way of formal institutional support. But interested parties can invest in Liberty University’s film school. Those Catholic colleges that are still actually Catholic colleges can improve. This should be more of a priority than it has been[4], and shifting in this effort could easily pay dividends.

If you want to reach minds, create art. The best way to do that is to create artists and cultivate their works.

I found this by way of Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, who wonders why the Catholics don’t have their own BYU.

[1] Though, for non-Mormon audiences, it might be better to put a bit of a veil over it to allow for more creativity and be a little less off-putting to those people uninterested in attending a 90-minute sermon. (Note: it won’t work if it’s a 90-minute sermon, veiled or not.) Not as thick a veil as Battlestar Galactica, necessarily, but I’d guess there would be some reluctance within the church to get too fictional while purporting to be a reflection of a work from God.

[2] The City of Brigham, not Brigham City which you can find on a map. I know this because not a single person in the movie complains or comments about the terrible, terrible odor from that town. Oh, plus the county name is different.

[3] Not all of which was flattering. There is a scene where hero sheriff goes house-to-house. The words “search warrant” are not mentioned. And yet that was not entirely incredible, as I am not sure who, in a town full of Mormons, would actually demand the sheriff (who is also the local bishop) produce a search warrant. And non-Mormons would be outnumbered.

[4] Bitching and moaning about popular culture doesn’t actually constitute making it a priority.

Category: Theater

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9 Responses to Mormons in Hollywood

  1. Something I find interesting about my own reaction to your blog post is that I kind of look forward to the type of LDS-inflected entertainment you describe, even though I’m far from ever being a Mormon. But I was very skeptical, at least as a knee-jerk reaction, of a similar from Liberty University.

    Also, I wasn’t familiar with Battlestar Glactica’s relationship to religion. Not that I’ve watched the new version or remember the old version all that much. Is it meant to be a Christian thing?

    • Abel Keogh says:

      Pierre — There’s a lot of Mormon mythology and influence in Battlestar Galactica. It’s stronger in the (campy) original series but a lot of it came through in the new one. If you’re familiar with some of the more “odd” Mormon beliefs, you can pick up on them.

      • Thanks for the response, Abel. To truth tell, I’m not all that familiar with Mormonism, other than the American History 101 discussion of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, the migration to Utah, and the debates over statehood. (All of which I know only in the “broad brush strokes” version.)

        • Abel Keogh says:

          Google mormon influence battlestar galactica and you’ll get an overview of what was taken from Mormon beliefs and put into the show. The newer one took a lot of other Christian beliefs and story lines and integrated them into it too.

    • trumwill says:

      Wikipedia has a reasonably good run-down on the connections between BSG and Mormonism.

    • trumwill says:

      I would be interested to know what kind of art does come out of Liberty. I could imagine a lot of it being very, very bad. That might be my own biases speaking, however.

  2. Abel Keogh says:

    The Mormon-to-Mormon industry has come a long way since I was a kid. Sure, it still only appeals to Mormons but the quality of what is being produced is 100 times better than what is was 20 years ago.

    It was really this cottage industry that got a lot of the Mormons writers, artists, and actors interested into more mainstream areas that the NY Times article mentions. Many of them grew tired producing things for a niche audience. They wanted to take their creative ideas the next level. The Mormon -to-Mormon cottage industry served as the training ground for many of these people to take the next step to the big leagues.

    • trumwill says:

      That makes a sense. And is good for everyone involved. Mormon-to-Mormon film gets content, but many get to move on to speaking to the masses.

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