Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Black Mormons

Tobi and I went to a screening of the new movie Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons tonight.

One thing that you may not know is that African Americans have been members of the Church since its founding, and that in the 1830's some black men were given the priesthood. The movie included the story of Elijah Abel, a black member of the Church who was ordained an elder by Joseph Smith in 1836. Apparently, there is good documentation that at least seven black men were given the priesthood in the 1830's. The first branch president of Boston was black. The ban against blacks holding the priesthood was only later instituted in Utah by Brigham Young.

The movie is very much targeted at a faithful LDS audience. (It's faith promoting on the whole.) I thought it soft-pedaled the Church's history of racism, but maybe that's what you have to do to keep the movie from being rejected by an LDS audience.

One of the things I liked about the movie was the amount of interview footage of black Mormons who had experienced the ban.

The filmmakers, Margaret Young and Darius Gray, answered questions after the screening. They mentioned that the film will be available on DVD in mid-November. The DVD has 100 extra minutes of historical material, which sounded very interesting.

12 comments:

[kɹeɪ̯ɡ̊] said...

Does it mention the hate-mongering of Mark Petersen at all?

Beck said...

This is very intriguing.

In the trailer, there is a clip of an interview of a man who describes getting down on his knees and feeling the spirit communicate to him and reassure him that he is not "cursed" for being black.

I couldn't help but feel a bond to him as I've had the experience of realizing through the spirit that I am not "cursed" for being gay.

santorio said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
santorio said...

all things considered it lets the church off easy, lamenting the low retention of black members but not saying much about the evil done by church members who justify their racism by church doctine (oh, excuse me, i meant church policy; there now, everything's better, right?)

there was a Q&A at the end of the tuesday night screening and i wanted to ask the filmmakers if they thought that the struggle of african-american mormons had any relevance to morman women or gays. but in the end i decided such a question would detract from the spirit of the evening. i just don't believe that what american women or gays have experienced is at all on the same level as what african-americans have experienced with slavery and segregation

Hellmut said...

The first Mormon my mother met in Wildflecken, Germany, of all places, was an African American soldier in 1965.
The Church has really been screwing with the lives of our brothers and sisters.
The worst part about it is that the Brethren are not learning. They just single out the next group for discrimination.
I cannot quite put my finger on it but domination is important to Mormon leaders.

MoHoHawaii said...

Hey Craig!

The movie completely avoids the issue of interracial marriage. Mark Peterson is noticeably absent.

I can see why they left this out. The movie follows the "milk before meat" philosophy-- it challenges its LDS audience by revealing the historical information about the ordination of black men in the 1830s but largely avoids some of the worst racial theorizing of General Authorities over the years.

MoHoHawaii said...

Hey Beck!

You should definitely get a copy of the DVD when it comes out in November. I think you'd relate to the experiences of the people in the movie. It's sad that even this level of consciousness raising is controversial in some parts of the church.

MoHoHawaii said...

Hey Santorio!

I was at the same screening as you. (I was the guy who asked the question about how the film would be received by LDS audiences.)

I agree with you that in general the film lets the Church off pretty easy. For example, when I was growing up, the priesthod ban was always explained as doctrine, and the Church's position on interracial marriage was entirely omitted.

MoHoHawaii said...

Hey Hellmut!

Bureaucracies put self preservation above all other goals. Often the simplest explanation is the correct explanation.

J G-W said...

Cool! I saw a preview of this movie at Sunstone a couple of years ago. So it's finally out! I want to see it!

Margaret Young said...

I don't know if anyone's still on this thread, but we do hit interracial marriage in special features. We don't hit Mark E. Peterson. But special features comprise 100 minutes of additional information. If you want to buy a copy, go to our website,
www.untoldstoryofblackmormons dot com and push info. That mail comes directly to me. And some of our most intriguing interviews in special features are from a gay former Mormon--and a fine historian.

MoHoHawaii said...

Hi Margaret,

Thanks for posting the update. I'll definitely be buying a copy of this DVD. Congratulations on getting your film out!