Tom Hanks is a beloved actor to many Mormons for his family-friendly roles and everyman quality. Yet, his recent negative remarks (and hasty retraction) calling Mormons who supported Prop 8 “unAmerican,” and his role as executive producer on Big Love which is about to air the most sacred Mormon ritual on television begs the question: Does Tom Hanks hate Mormons?
Interestingly enough, Tom Hanks was briefly identified as a Mormon (although he was not baptized) when his stepmother Winifred joined the church. However, his father Amos was not interested in the Mormon church, and according to an unauthorized biography, Tom saw this as one reason they split up. Tom stated later that he was no longer a Mormon, and he also believed his ex-stepmother had left Mormonism. Tom made his way through several different religions over time as you can see here.
Speaking of his involvement in the show Big Love, Hanks said (with my parenthetical comments inserted):
The truth is this takes place in Utah (the truth is that it’s a fictional show), the truth is these people are some bizarre offshoot of the Mormon Church (the truth is these are fictional characters based loosely on some bizarre offshoots; but KUDOS for the “bizarre offshoot” remark), and the truth is a lot of Mormons gave a lot of money to the church to make Prop-8 happen (why do I picture someone making air quotes when they say “happen”?). There are a lot of people who feel that is un-American and I am one of them. I do not like to see any discrimination codified on any piece of paper, any of the 50 states in America, but here’s what happens now. A little bit of light can be shed and people can see who’s responsible (is he now talking about the Prop 8 maps that identified donors, essentially putting targets on their backs for gay activists?) and that can motivate the next go around of our self correcting constitution and hopefully we can move forward instead of backwards (I’m not even sure this sentence went forward instead of backwards). So lets have faith in not only the American (not Mormons who are UNAmerican for voting for Prop 8), but Californian constitutional process (so, have faith in Americans, but if they vote wrong, have faith in the constitutional process to correct that).
Then, Tom did a fairly nice reversal of his statement:
Last week, I labeled members of the Mormon church who supported California’s Proposition 8 as “un-American.” I believe Proposition 8 is counter to the promise of our Constitution; it is codified discrimination. But everyone has a right to vote their conscience – nothing could be more American. To say members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints who contributed to Proposition 8 are “un-American” creates more division when the time calls for respectful disagreement. No one should use “un- American” lightly or in haste. I did. I should not have. (I really like the terseness and directness of the last few statements. Apologizers, watch and learn).
Obviously, the reversal of his statements (which was doubtless prompted by those who have a financial stake in his popularity) doesn’t necessarily mean he’s ready for a group hug. So, what are Tom Hanks’ true feelings about Mormons? Here’s a guess:
- He’s an activist for gay rights. Like most of Hollywood, he’s an SSM activist and considers those not ready for SSM to be discriminatory. It’s hard to blame him for his sheltered Hollywood existence, though. When you spend most of your time around like-minded people, you develop group-think. I’m sure we can all relate on some level. In summary: his feelings are pro-SSM, not anti-Mormon.
- He’s spiritual, not religious. He saw his ex-stepmother as flaky (looking at his own religious history I say “physician, heal thyself”) and therefore attracted to Mormonism as a phase; he probably doesn’t take it very seriously as a religion (see: Hollywood).
- He’s an artist. We see Hollywood as a money machine; they see themselves as creative artists, holding a mirror up to the human experience. Tom Hanks strives to make characters (even the polygamous Hendricksons) understandable, human, accurate, and relatable. Showing the Mormon temple ceremony is not being done as payback (although he does resent Prop 8); it’s being done for accuracy and to render Barb Hendrickson more human. And he is just an EP, not a writer for the show (that would be Dustin Lance Black, the gay ex-Mormon who gave the impassioned speech at the Oscars).
So, that’s my view. I’m inclined to cut Hanks some slack. Plus, I somewhat think there’s no such thing as bad press (even all that bad press out there). Not many Mormons watch Big Love, but many do watch Tom Hanks. I think his apology was adequate, and I don’t consider his work mean-spirited (although I hated the mullet he sported in DaVinci Code). It’s a low bar, but high enough for me. Discuss.