Hard issues in the Church and the FEAR FACTOR

Darius Gray and I showed our film Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons this weekend in Boise, Idaho. We had a good crowd and were quite well-received. But some of the information I got afterwards was interesting. Several talked about inviting friends who had asked, “Is it sponsored by the Church?” The underlying question in their particular cases was, “Is it going to be uplifting?” The mother of one potential audience member was quite nervous about him going to see it. I have no idea how many people did NOT come because of the “fear factor.” One person told us, “If you had shown it twice, the second crowd would have filled the theater, because the first crowd would have reassured them.” (The film is ultimately uplifting, I think, though it sugar-coats nothing.)

Our objective has always been bridge building, but we do understand how nervous our subject makes people. I don’t know that we can change that. We do succeed in opening a space for civil conversation.

But here’s where I make a confession: Through our wonderful webmaster at the Genesis Group’s website, I have posted the BCC comments about the priesthood revelation. I chose NOT to put any up which had a negative cast. Though I told my husband about one of the posts, which recounted the poster’s experience of watching a newly ordained Black deacon pass the sacrament to white members who refused to accept it from him, I deleted that portion from the post. Call me a hypocrite, but readers of our newsletter know prejudice first hand and don’t need reminders. (Now, we wouldn’t mind a repudiation of past folklore…) I wanted the tone to be celebratory—especially for this issue of our Genesis newsletter.

Please don’t feel bad if we didn’t choose your post, BCCers. And now I feel free to tell a bit more about what will happen on June 8th, 2008. It’s all on the Genesis website. We know who is likely to preside, but will hold off on announcing that. Plans can change. Music will be provided by the Genesis choir, the Divine Heritage choir, the Respecting Our Culture choir, and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.


  1. Margaret,
    The SFBFF website still doesn’t have the schedule posted. Do you knoow when it will be showing?

  2. Showing of the doc:
    Saturday June 14th at 2:00 p.m. at San Francisco’s Museum of the Diaspora

    I understand you might have a conflict because of the time slot. If you don’t, I’d love to see you.

  3. Oh, since the Genesis website isn’t in my post, I do need to mention something very important about the commemoration of the priesthood revelation in the tabernacle:
    WE (meaning Genesis) didn’t initiate it. The Church did. This is all a Church-sponsored program–which is wonderful. I do know what’s planned, and it will be a phenomenal evening.

  4. I sure wish I was there for the commemoration events. That sound fabulous! Here is the genesis website, for those interested.

  5. I don’t think it will conflict. It will just be a long day. See you then.

  6. Margaret, do you know if it will be broadcast or recorded?

  7. Jonathan is referring to the commemoration. There has been talk about satellite broadcast. The last I heard, there are no plans for that. But again, things can change.

  8. Thanks for the headsup on this, Margaret. I’ve already put in my request for tix.

  9. Matt W. says:

    IS there a contact at BYU TV we can write and beg that this be broadcast?

  10. This is not a BYU production. This is THE CHURCH. If you are related to President Monson, do call him.

  11. “Is it sponsored by the church?” Heaven help us all.

  12. Matt W–I didn’t mean to be flippant. I also don’t think it’d be wise to inundate Public Affairs with requests for broadcast. They like to make their own decisions. Maybe we could use BCC to place bets on whether or not it’ll have ww broadcast. I’ll bet Steve Evans a mean in Seattle that it WILL be broadcast. (I honestly don’t have any special information on that.)

  13. Mean=meal

  14. Noting the irony and dominating this blog:
    Note that I express concern about someone who has to know if our film is “sponsored by the Church” but that I then say how wonderful it is that the Church IS sponsoring the commemoration. Seems ironic, but it’s not so much.
    Church sponsored movie: Plan on something which has gone through correlation and is absolutely aglitter with sugar.
    Church sponsored commemoration of the priesthood revelation: The Church IS PAYING ATTENTION to an extremely difficult issue–one which is much easier to leave to the ages. This is acknowledgment as well as celebration, and it’s wonderful.

  15. If this film is ever screened in Seattle, I’d like to know.

  16. I don’t think it is necessarily the subject that made people nervous. There are a number of LDS people who are wary of anything that doesn’t have a church copyright.

  17. Count me as another potential Seattle attendee.

  18. Patricia Lahtinen says:

    Jonathan, didn’t you say it might be shown in Seattle in June? I will DEFINITELY be there! And we’ll have a Bloggersnacker afterwards, right?!

  19. Sorry, but we didn’t get into the Seattle International Film Festival. Afraid we’re too much of a niche film. We’ve gotten some good national attention, so we are actually fielding invitations to other festivals, but we won’t be going to Seattle. Dang.

  20. Mark B. says:

    When are you coming to New York, Margaret?

    Or can you show the film the weekend of July 4 in Provo?

  21. I can’t believe someone refused to take the sacrament from a black deacon. Wow. If true I hope the Bishop talked to them. Of course one should avoid leaping to judgment since people don’t take the sacrament for many reasons. (I’m not making a judgment on the story – I don’t know anything beyond that passing comment. I’m just saying.)

  22. Mark B. says:

    A “passing” comment? C’mon Clark, you couldn’t pass that one up?

  23. Patricia Lahtinen says:

    Margaret, what if we rented a theater and held a special screening? I’m pretty sure we could do it here on Bainbridge Island at the Lynwood Theatre for $500… Surely it can be done in Seattle as well.

  24. Steve Evans says:

    Patricia, I think it has more to do with the costs and difficulty of obtaining rights from the authors of music and art featured in the film than just the prospect of finding screens. It’s nice to offer though!

  25. There might actually be a way, Patricia. We can look into it. Apparently, there’s a new Smithsonian exhibit in Seattle–maybe something to do with African American history? I don’t know much about it, but I was told they might be willing to sponsor or help sponsor. We were sponsored in Boise by the Black History Museum and by BSU. Not Church involvement. (But we had a second screening at someone’s home which included all sorts of church folk.) We would really like to go to Seattle. Darius’s sister lives there, and she is so proud of what he’s doing–though she’s a non-denominational pastor. She loved the fact that _Jet_ magazine did a story about the film, and called Darius to be sure he had seen it.

    Mark B–are you suggesting we show it at the Class of 73 reunion??? Right.

  26. I’m not sure if it was what you were thinking about, Margaret, but the Northwest African American Museum just opened up in March of this year.

  27. Katherine says:

    Um, I tried to put in a request for tickets, but the e-mail bounced. Anyone else have this problem?

  28. That’s it, Jonathan. I think our host at Boise’s Black History Museum has already given our names to the NAAM. But supportive phone calls couldn’t hurt…

  29. Katherine, you have to be black to get tickets. We have formatted the Genesis newsletter to recognize complexion and to bar whites from ordering tickets until June 7th at 10:00 p.m. We will then release the color hold and you can get a seat–at the very back of the tabernacle.

    Or you could see what the Church has posted on its site (I haven’t checked) and look at “upcoming events.”

    p.S. Remember, I don’t do smiley faces.

  30. Swisster says:

    You know how LDS people outside of Salt Lake celebrate July 24th in their own way (Primary parades, treks, firesides)? How about some local ward-sponsored commemoration of the revelation? Would any ward do that kind of thing? I too hope this meeting will be broadcast for the rest of us. I want to see Nobody Knows even more, however.

  31. Margaret, the 1st paragraph of #29 is priceless. Simply priceless.

  32. Margaret,

    The NAAM actually has an LDS sponsored family history library in the museum, staffed by LDS volunteers Wed – Sat of each week. Our former stake president was very involved as the regional PA rep in helping this to come about.

    Let me talk to some of the PA folks and see what they know about it, and if they would like to get involved.

  33. Visitor says:

    # 29 : I haven’t laughed that hard in a while. I hope it was meant to be humorous!

  34. Margaret, we just called a new PA Director in our stake. I will talk with him and see if there is any way we can use our contacts at the Freedom Center to work out a showing here in Cincinnati. If you have any suggestions I can pass on to him, please e-mail me.

  35. Margaret (and everyone else, cuz I’m real nice like that),

    Here is a link to my post on the Boise experience. Or you can just click on my name. Thanks for such an enjoyable weekend.

  36. I just read your post, Sol. Some truly provocative questions–and beautifully posed.
    Thank you so much for coming and supporting us.

    News on the San Francisco Black Film Festival–our time slot has apparently been changed. I was told by phone that it would be 2:00 on 6/14, but the schedule (which I just received via e-mail) says we’re at 12:30 p.m. 6/14. (Canadians will not be able to attend because there is no 14th month.)

    So what happens when we tell people that Richard Dutcher is our executive producer? Is that the sure sign that they shouldn’t come? Or is it the sure sign that they SHOULD?

  37. Margaret, I wasn’t going to bring up Dutcher, but I have heard some push back from some people who find out about his connection. They just assume it is a “new” project “of his” and is “out there” somehow.

  38. 12:30? Now I can’t make it. I guess I’ll have to fly somewhere.

  39. molly bennion says:

    Margaret, I am so sorry SIFF didn’t take you. Their loss; you’ll find another way. I can’t find any info about a big enough viewing room at the new NAAM; any of you other Seattleites know if they have a suitable room? It’s in a large decommissioned school building so maybe there is an auditorium or lunchroom space they could have used. Patricia’s idea is a good one (Hi, Patricia!), but going to Bainbridge will add a difficult cost for some. To stay closer to the population base and cut those ferry charges out, I have left a detailed message for the Landmark Theaters’ rental director. If we had enough time to spread the word, I think we could fill the Egyptian, or at least the Harvard Exit, and I would be very happy to front the rental cost. I also think Seattle North might be interested in hosting a showing; that’s where you and Darius spoke, Margaret. How do you feel about showing the film in stake centers or atmospheric antique theaters? Shall I follow up with either?

  40. I had the same experience in inviting folks, sol. Not a single person that I personally invited actually showed up. (But I was pleased to look around and see from my Stake a High Councilor and his wife, as well as our Stake Relief Society President and her husband!) As silly and flimsy as it sounds, as I invited people, it was reassuring to me knowing that one of the filmakers is a faculty member at BYU. It shouldn’t matter, but it does.

  41. The Dutcher connection:
    I was actually counseled by someone to distance myself from Richard. I would never do that.
    He was actually concerned that his name might harm the film’s success within the Church, but I have no concerns about that. If someone assumes that this is some apostate venture because it includes Richard’s name, they probably shouldn’t come.

    I find the issue raises a few dilemmas, none of which I can’t answer by the simple fact that I believe in loyalty, and it would be an act of betrayal to delete the name of the man who shot some of the best interviews in the film and who LITERALLY saved it by donating a whole lot of time when somebody attempted to derail the whole project, and who has never received a dime in compensation.

    Richard’s name has come up, and at least once I was deeply troubled by how somebody referred to him. Not troubled in the sense of “Gosh, could Richard’s name be a liability?” but troubled that a card-carrying Mormon would refer so demeaningly and reductively to his brother. I ended up making a little speech about who Richard really is (not the apostate caricature), how much he has done for the film, and how much I love him and his wife.

    You can buy anything in this world for money, and you can sell out your friends. I won’t do that. Nor will Darius.

  42. Molly–simply because it’s Seattle, we would be amenable to a lot of things. We really want to get there. I haven’t spoken to Darius about it, but he has a lot of family there, and I know he wants them to see it.

  43. I apologize for dominating this conversation, but I’ve got to say something more about our decision to KEEP RICHARD’S NAME–though he himself was nervous that he might damage the project after his public departure from Mormonism. (I believe his name is still on the records.)

    Years ago, Darius heard Toni Morrison talking about Nazi Germany. She asked, “I wonder sometimes, if the trucks came for us [Blacks], would our neighbors do anything? I’m afraid some would merely watch.”

    For a man like Darius Gray who has lived the life of a Black Mormon–having deacons maneuver the sacrament tray around him to be sure it didn’t touch him in any way, being called the “N” word his first day at Church as a Latter-day Saint in 1964–for HIM to turn his back on somebody who has given so much of himself to this project and who has a level of spirituality his eager judges rarely suspect, would be a travesty.

    In Boise, at the Museum of Black History, one questioner really railed at Darius, repeating several times, “I just can’t understand how any black man could join a church that said he was inherently evil…” Darius (who had some added health burdens last weekend, on top of his cancer) looked at me, said, “This is mine,” and then stood. We had not been standing until then, but he wanted to stand to bear his testimony–which he did with power. When I reported it to Bruce (my husband), he said, “That reminds me of Joseph Smith rebuking the guards at Liberty jail.”

    One of the great lessons I’ve learned from my black friends comes in the phrase, “I’ve got your back.” We have already met resistance to our books and to the play I wrote. Nothing unusual there. We know all about the nervousness the race issue summons in Mormons. We also know that many, many (including the stake RS president Hunter referred to) are desperate for healing.

    I’ve got the backs of my friends, black and white. And I feel a world of support from the multitudes who’ve got mine. I do not tell people which Church authorities have seen the documentary and fully support it. I keep their names private as a courtesy. But I know they’ve got my back as well. And beyond that–I’m walking with Jesus, and ain’t nobody gonna take me away.

  44. Margaret,

    I thought about the impact of Richard Dutcher when I saw his name in the credits. I figured, depending on the awareness of your audience it could help (Oh, that’s the nice Mormon boy who makes all those nice Mormon movies!) or hurt (Oh crap, that’s the guy who left the church!). Both views are ignorant. Nice Mormon boys are quite capable of producing crap, and someone who left the church is quite capable of producing something worthwhile.

  45. If someone assumes that this is some apostate venture because it includes Richard’s name, they probably shouldn’t come.

    While I second everything you have said, I’m gonna have to respectfully disagree on this point, Margaret. These are the people that need to come to films like this. But sadly, they are the ones who choose not to.
    I want to say it is their loss for missing out on one of the most important films, it is also our loss as a whole when some members of our community refuse to move on.

  46. I don’t think it is necessarily the subject that made people nervous. There are a number of LDS people who are wary of anything that doesn’t have a church copyright.

    Aren’t we being a little harsh w.r.t. the Fear Factor?

    I’ll bet that if I walked into an average ward in my stake and said, “Hey, there’s a movie called ‘Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons'” and it’s free and you’re invited, I’d get a lot of hesitancy. I’d like to think of my stake (borders bbell) as a fairly well-educated, knowledgeable, active one. But without knowing any other background information about the film, I can’t imagine that you’d get a very big turnout.

    What’s the general track record for documentaries and movies about sensitive moments in Church history that weren’t produced by the Church? And strictly from the title, how would one know that there isn’t some Brethren-bashing going on?

    I think there’s fear, and there’s hesitation, and there’s also a LOT of people who just don’t have the time without knowing up front that it’s uplifting.

    {That said, I’m still mad I couldn’t go to the screening in Dallas, being that I was on a plane that morning/afternoon.}

  47. queno,

    Couldn’t we take it the other way and say that a great many members don’t bother to discern for themselves when something does have a church copyright? Or especially if sold at Deseret Book. Maybe the point is that many people rely too heavily on church endorsement and not nearly enough on their own good sense.

    If members of your stake and others are well-educated, knowledgeable, and active, I would think it would be second nature for them to find out what is being taught in their area about the history of their religion. If not by seeing the film, then at least by looking into it. I think we are addressing not only the fear factor, but the inaction related to it. I believe it is called being paralyzed by fear.

  48. I don’t know Queuno.
    A few years ago that “Book of Mormon” movie was shown here (south eastern US). Somehow the filmmakers got a copy of the stake directory. They sent invitations to members. The movie was held in the next county in a higher crime area. I can say that the members of our ward showed up in droves. Our family was the only one who I know of that did not attend. I told others in the ward in advance that it was junk and I would not support a movie that made a mockery of the scriptures. I got a lot of this is a “LDS movie” and some calling it a “fireside”. Maybe people have gotten smarter, but I doubt it.

  49. I think if this was announced in my stake on an “official basis” here just south and west of Queno there would be limited response due to simply really busy schedules based on large numbers of children and church responsibilities. You would get a few people there but unless is was screened on a Friday or Saturday night few would attend. Also the venue is really important. Screening in Downtown Dallas is a non starter for most of the region I would wager.

    An “unofficial” screening would get a really really limited response. Due to probably really limited exposure/marketing and those that heard would be suspicious of an anti-movie of some type.

  50. large numbers of children

    Are you anywhere near, say, Eldorado?

  51. 46: We’re talking about the same people who thought “The Mormons” was a smear job and RSR is an antimormon book.

  52. Margaret,
    Do you think this is an appropriate film for young teenagers? I’d love for my big kids to come. I can’t tell you how thrilled I am that you’re showing it in SF!

  53. Jami: I can’t answer for Margaret, but I have seen the movie, and I think it would be great for young teenagers. It is both informative, faith-building, and I think it would keep their attention.

  54. Ditto. Just be ready for a great, intense, and frank discussion.

  55. sister blah 2 says:

    #48–I gave serious thought to shoplifting (or renting and “losing”) the copy of BoM movie at our local Blockbuster. That movie actually made me question the BoM–I’m thinking, gee, plot/characters this shallow and stupid, maybe an uneducated farm boy could have written it himself after all. Heaven help the potential investigator who stumbles on it. /threadjack

    I would think that advertising it as made by a BYU professor would do a great deal to allay people’s fears, but I could be wrong.

  56. Please Sister Blah 2! I beg of you, rent it and lose it! For the sake of those poor little missionaries in your area! Hopefully they won’t be able to get a new one.

  57. Margaret,
    When can we Europeans expect a DVD release?

  58. Aw, I can’t believe I missed it! I would have loved to have been there. Me, not paying attention again. Rats.

  59. Jami, Gideon Burton brought his teenaged son to the film when we showed it at the LDS Film Festival. He talks about their discussion afterwards in the review linked here:
    (I will be 53 on June seventh, and I have no idea how to compress a link to one word.)
    Ronan–We have two more special features to complete. We will film one of them while in San Francisco on June 14th (an interview with Connell O’Donovan about Walker Lewis). We still have to clear two copyrights to the music, and then we will be ready. My guess is late August. Btw, my husband will be in England for a couple of weeks in late July-early August. I think he’ll be in the Oxford area, though he’s still making living arrangements. Let me get Darius’s permission, and maybe I can send a DVD with Bruce and y’all could meet someplace big to watch it. Sound good?

  60. How exciting. I’ll miss seeing it in SF by a month, but I will try and persuade my mom to go. She’s usually pretty good about these kinds of things. She went into the Mission District with a cronie of hers to go see New York Doll for me!

  61. Seattleite of Love says:

    Count me in as someone else who’d love to hear news of a Seattle-area screening. I can’t wait to see the film, and I have a bunch of friends (among them an African-American “friend of another faith” married to a white LDS gal) that I’d like to invite as well.

  62. Years ago, Darius heard Toni Morrison talking about Nazi Germany. She asked, “I wonder sometimes, if the trucks came for us [Blacks], would our neighbors do anything? I’m afraid some would merely watch.”


    Have you read Derrick Bell’s short story, The Space Traders? It’s from his anthology, Faces and the Bottom of the Well. If you haven’t yet read it, get thee to a bookstore, posthaste. It addresses exactly that topic, framed in a way that’s impossible to ignore.

  63. Jami,

    I took my 10-year-old son to the film, and he liked it a lot. Definitely kid- (or teen- ) friendly.

  64. gillsyk says:

    Any chance of this making its way to Arizona, specifically Tucson?