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Mormons are oppressed and mocked on television. We are not alone.


Under the banner of heaven. “Keep soft.” “Murder Among Mormons.” “LuLaRich.” “More Mormons.”

The five series above are 2021 or 2022 series that aired on TV. All five cast Mormonism in an unflattering light in some ways — “Banner” being the worst of the lot by casting Mormonism as a religion that “breeds violent men.” As the only partially fictionalized series in this docuseries, “Banner” takes huge liberties with 19th-century Latter-day Saint history.

The other entries are more nuanced, but all highlight darker aspects of the Mormon faith and its culture.

In ‘Keep Sweet’, it’s the terror of polygamy in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a breakaway sect that gained notoriety for the forced marriage of teenage girls during Warren’s reign. Jeffs, the band’s prophet.

In “Murder Among the Mormons,” it’s the 1985 bombings orchestrated by forger Mark Hofmann. As this documentary shows, leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were among those deceived by Hofmann’s deceptions.

In “LuLaRich,” active Latter-day Saints are the perpetrators of lies and fraud, as the couple who founded the leggings company LuLaRoe are shown gleefully scamming their employees and customers even as they let him quote passages from the Book of Mormon, the book of faith. fundamental writing, at corporate events.

Same “More Mormons“, arguably the most emotionally sensitive of the bunch, still conveys the underlying message that it’s nigh on impossible for anyone to be loving, LGBTQ-affirming and true to themselves while still being a member of the church.

The past two years have been difficult for Latter-day Saints on television.

A reporter recently asked me if we live in another “mormon timereferring to the national review that focused on Mormonism during Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential race. It’s possible. It seems like every decade or so the general public remembers that Mormons exist, and then they don’t like us very much. Before 2012, it was the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City that shone the spotlight on us – sometimes in a flattering light, but often in a negative light.

For me, the question is: is the current wave happening to us more than to other denominations? Are Latter-day Saints targeted by religious persecution, as some members claim? These people are deeply sensitive (and hurt) to unflattering portrayals of our religion on the small screen, and they cry foul.

I can understand the sentiment, but put the recent wave of attention in some context. In particular, let’s put it in the context of two trends that are happening simultaneously in America.

First, there’s just been an explosion of television content over the last five years or so. It’s not just that there are more docuseries about Mormonism; is that there are more docu-series, period.

In fact, this whole genre is exploding. It used to be that a documentary filmmaker would work for years to create a roughly two-hour film that would get limited theatrical distribution—often, in small urban art houses rather than megaplexes. Now the same filmmakers have the ability to reach much larger audiences on streaming platforms – and have more hours of content. A docu-series can last four, six or even eight hours.

The public reacted. IndieWire reports that by 2021, documentaries and docuseries had grown to account for 16% of all Netflix original content. On HBO, it was 18%; on Disney+ and Amazon Prime, it was a quarter.

The second trend is the rise of non-religion and ex-religion in the United States. According to Pew, in 2007 only 16% of Americans said they had no religion. By 2021, it had nearly doubled to 29%.

The fastest growing religious segment in America is made up of those who profess no religion.

In the context of these two trends, it is important to realize that it is not just Mormonism that is being criticized. Catholicism is seeing the worst of its dirty laundry aired in public: the sexual abuse crisis that the church has covered up for years. Thousands of children have been molested by priests, and they tell their stories in docuseries such as “Procession(Netflix, 2021), as well as dramatizations such as 2015’s “Spotlight,” which won the Best Picture Oscar.

Evangelicals haven’t been doing well lately either. While “Jesus Camp” (2006) is perhaps the defining documentary of the entire genre, more recent additions have included “Family,” a 2019 Netflix production that examines the outsized and shadowy role some evangelical Protestants have played in conservative politics.

And let’s not forget”Tammy Faye’s eyes,” a 2021 dramatization of the rise and fall of TV’s much-mocked and cosmetically enhanced televangelist.

Orthodox Judaism has also had its turn: In addition to the 2017 feature “Disobedience,” a host of series have depicted the strains of life in closed and deeply conservative Hasidic communities. “One of Us” and “My Unorthodox Life,” both from Netflix in 2021, follow former members as they try to make their way in the world after leaving their faith. These were perhaps informed by the huge success of Netflix’s 2020 hit “Unorthodox,” based on Deborah Feldman’s 2012 memoir of the same name.

As a viewer, I was disturbed by the jugular additions Netflix made to Feldman’s story. In the series, the main character, Esty, flees to Europe and is pursued there by an armed Hasidic thug who is determined to put her online. It’s a ridiculous, gratuitous subplot that isn’t anywhere in Feldman’s book.

“It’s scary to give someone your story for the screen because you can’t control it” she told the New York Times. You can repeat it.

If Mormons are persecuted on television, then they are in good company. Religion in general comes under scrutiny, especially its more conservative expressions. Given the trend lines of people leaving religion in large numbers, we can expect this to continue. I’m aware of at least two new docu-series on Mormonism, and I’m sure more will follow.

It’s safe to guess that future portrayals of our faith might be even less flattering. Consider AP’s recent investigative reporting on how The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has long covered up child sexual abuse and encouraged bishops not to report it to police.

It is hard to remember all the good the church does in the world, which is considerable, when faced with the reality of how many times it has done wrong.