Reed Cowan knows this well. As a gay Mormon, he’s experienced discrimination and abuse, and as a filmmaker, he’s received death threats for “mocking God”. Cowan originally planned to make his documentary about gay teen homelessness and suicide in Utah, but as the events of Proposition 8 and the Mormon Church’s covert involvement became known, he knew what the real subject would be.
8: The Mormon Proposition is a riveting and incendiary condemnation of the Mormon Church’s more barbaric practices and attitudes. Targets include the Church hierarchy, captured on recordings and in letters laying out a detailed battle plan to derail marriage equality, first in Hawaii and then in California, as well as strong arm techniques used to compel members to donate to the anti-gay legislation. The scenes of homeless youth and accounts of teen suicide are still included, but they come late in the film, more as a way to show the harsh and unforgiving church tenets that tear families apart. The hopeful story of newly married Tyler Barrick and Spencer Jones is contrasted with the crazy musings of folks like Utah State Senator Chris Buttars, who likens gays to radical Muslims and accuses them of engaging in “pig sex”.
The film is narrated by screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, who won an Oscar for Milk, and his passionate delivery combines with personal accounts of Mormons like writer Carol Lynn Pearson to create the perfect wake-up call. If Fox News, the Mormon Church and other equally overreaching religious leaders can inflame the right wing to enact travesties like Prop 8 and the recent Arizona Immigration law, it seems only fair that 8: The Mormon Proposition returns the favor.
I wanted to hear from Cowan now that his film is reaching a broader audience after its buzz-worthy premiere at Sundance; it opens in theaters on June 18 followed by a DVD release on July 13. He challenged audiences to let the film spur them to action.
NC: Your film really stirs up a lot of anger in people that a church would focus so strongly on denying the rights of non-members (since the Mormon Church doesn't accept homosexuality in its followers). What did you hope to accomplish with the film? What can viewers do to fight back against this kind of campaign?
RC: I would hope the film would stir up more of what the bible calls “righteous indignation”. What I mean by that is that I think anger is an empty emotion unless it is not channeled in to something substantive and positive. We have to learn from the history that is Prop 8. And we have to be stirred up to action through a healthy dose of indignation. What can viewers do? Simple. Don’t spend your money where it will end up being used against the equality of all people and don’t elect people who hold bigoted views. Also, demand that the IRS hold accountable any religion or 501(c) (tax-exempt organization) who participates in politics such as the Mormon Church did.
NC: A fellow reviewer (who's Catholic) felt that you let the Roman Catholic Church off the hook for their work to pass Prop 8. Here in Arizona, the Bishop sent around a video to be shown during church services telling parishioners to vote for our version (Prop 102). What was your opinion of other churches that overstepped the separation of church and state?
RC: All churches who cross the boundaries between church and state are up for examination and criticism as long as our nation desires a democracy and not a theocracy. For years, Mormon leaders have intimated that they were invited to join a coalition and I believe hid behind Catholics and their leaders. I'm proud that our film vindicates good Catholics who have been pushed out in front by Mormons — and as a result took heat. The fact is, Mormons organized the coalition. And they let Catholics take the fall. I have heard from thinking Catholics who appreciate the record being set straight. True, Catholic leaders have fought against marriage equality. But they were not the leaders of the crusade.
NC: What is the Mormon Church's reaction to the film?
RC: Their leaders are on record saying they haven't seen the film, but that it lacks truth. I think that's strange. "We haven't seen it, but look elsewhere for truth." We held seats for Mormon leaders in every screening of the film. So far, none have taken us up on it. Additionally, we have asked Mormon leaders to articulate what is inaccurate about our film so that we can perhaps reflect more accuracy. So far ... Mormon leaders have not done that.
NC: What have you heard from GLBT Mormons and other viewers about the film?
RC: Tears of gratitude. Some of the most poignant reactions can be seen at the 8: The Mormon Proposition page on Facebook.
NC: What is your personal stake in the film and the events it depicts? How has your life changed since playing at the Sundance Film Festival (in Utah, no less)?
RC: It isn't about my personal stake. It's about the interests of my children who are being raised in a same sex relationship that is not protected by the laws of this land. My life has changed in many ways. Most of all, I feel like I've become a man because of this. Meaning, I always heard people talk about that time in life when you take notice of the fact that you have come of age, become a man. This fight has done that. It has set me apart from the religion of my birth, from my family ... and set me on a path of fighting for what I believe in: equality for all.
NC: What will you tackle next? What is the next stage of the equality fight?
RC: Well, for now I'm doing all I can to make sure that 8: The Mormon Proposition is the best it can be for the audience who deserves it. As to the next stage in the equality fight, I predict some shifts. I predict some of the mainstream gay advocacy organizations will either change radically or be replaced by a youth-driven grass roots approach.
on DVD from Amazon.com.
Interview by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.