Midway through the run of the FX/Hulu miniseries “Under the Banner of Heaven,” many of the show’s critics are missing a major point about how Latter-day Saint history led to the infamous Lafferty murders.
I have to agree with series creator/showrunner/writer Dustin Lance Black – many of those critics haven’t actually watched the miniseries. They’re criticizing Jon Krakauer’s book, which “inspired” it. And the book leaned a lot more heavily into an attempt to draw a straight line from 19th-century violence involving church members to the horrific 1984 murders of Brenda Wright Lafferty and her 15-month-old daughter, Erica.
I’m not a big fan of the book. I’m no historian, but in my opinion, Krakauer molded the narrative to fit his sketchy theory.
The miniseries includes flashbacks featuring Joseph Smith, Emma Smith, Brigham Young, Orrin Porter Rockwell and other historical figures, as well as events like the Haun’s Mill Massacre and the Mountain Meadows Massacre. And, at least through the first five (of seven) episodes, that’s the weakest part of the show — if only because it tough to follow unless you’re already familiar with the history.
The case Black is making is that the church’s history led to attitudes among many (if not most) male members that women are second-class citizens. And that those attitudes — built through a century and a half of LDS history — were part of the thinking of the killers, Ron and Dan Lafferty.
Ron and Dan were members of the church before their excommunications. And their attitudes intensified after they became fundamentalists.
Certainly, many will disagree with Black. But the most devastating part of the “Under the Banner of Heaven” narrative is the low-key misogyny we see in so many of the male church members. And that, for those of us old enough to remember the mid-1980s, seems so true to the period.
And not all that different, in many ways, from what we see today.
French fries forbidden?
If you’re looking for proof that Latter-day Saint beliefs aren’t fully understood, look no further than TV Insider critic Matt Roush’s review of “Under the Banner of Heaven.”
Full disclosure: I’ve known Matt for decades and I both like and admire him.
But … in his review, he wrote that fictional Latter-day Saint detective Jeb Pyre (Andrew Garfield), is “clearly not so pious to be above breaking some minor LDS rules, as he sneaks a few bites of Bill’s fries.”
What? French fries forbidden, like alcohol and coffee? I must’ve missed that memo.
A manacled Mormon missionary movie?
If you think “Under the Banner of Heaven” makes Utah look weird — and, yeah, it does — how about a movie about an LDS missionary from Utah who was kidnapped by a woman, chained to a bed and raped?
WestEnd Films released a statement that it will produce a comedy titled “Saints v. Sinners,” which will star Freddie Highmore (“The Good Doctor”) as Utahn Kirk Anderson, who claimed he was abducted by Joyce McKinney (to be played by Maisie Williams of “Game of Thrones”) and her male accomplice in 1977.
Although the announcement says that the film will go into production in 2023, the film has yet to be sold to a distributor … so it’s not definite that it will actually be produced. If it is, I hope it will be more coherent than the statement released by director Tim Kirkby (“Fleabag,” “Veep”): “I’ve never read a more no-holds-barred fever dream of a script that whisks the reader on a journey of sex, obsession, and rock and religion like ‘Sinner V. Saints.’ Obsessive, first love is a magnificent premise, and sprinkle on top a killer true story involving abduction, quirky supporting characters and the era of free love, and you have a cocktail of something very potent. It is a pleasure to roll around in the world of our anti-heroine Joyce McKinney.”
The script is by Jill Hoppe, who has no other credits to her name, and is based on the book “Joyce McKinney and the Case of the Manacled Mormon” by Anthony Delano.
The story was previously chronicled in Erroll Morris’ documentary “Tabloid.” McKinney sued Morris over the doc; her suit was dismissed.
Gabby Petito movie will film in Utah
Only part of the real-life drama played out in Utah, but the Lifetime TV movie “The Gabby Petito Story” is scheduled to film here this summer.
It will tell the story of the disappearance of 22-year-old Petito, which became a national media sensation. She and her fiance, Brain Laundrie, traveled cross country together in the summer of 2021. On Aug. 12, 2021, they were stopped by Moab City police officers after witnesses reported the two fighting and hitting each other. Petito last spoke to her mother on Aug. 25; Laundrie returned to his parents’ home in Florida on Sept. 1; Petito’s body was found in Wyoming on Sept. 19; Laundrie’s remains were found in Florida on Oct. 20, along with a written admission that he had killed Petito.
Thora Burch, whose acting career includes roles in “American Beauty” and “The Walking Dead,” will make her directorial debut and play Gabby’s mother, Nichole Schmidt. Casting is underway for the other roles. According to Lifetime, “The Gabby Petito Story” — that’s a working title — will air “later this year.”
Lifetime also announced that it is developing several other TV movies about “violence against women who may not have had the same media attention as Gabby Petito, including three movies about Black women — Carlesha Freeland-Gaither, who was abducted in Philadelphia in 2015; Adriane Fields, who survived an attack by a man known as the “bathtub killer” in Arlington, Texas, in 1995; Beatrice Weston, who chained in a Philadelphia basement from the ages of 10 to 19.
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