Meet the Mormons was filmed for use in LDS visitor centers, but in a surprising move it was released in U.S. theaters on October 10th, and was seen by a substantial number of people–mostly Mormons, and many there from encouragement by leaders or local organizers to attend the opening weekend and convince theater owners to keep showing it for at least another week. Reactions to the film itself have been genuinely positive when evaluating it as a tool for visitor center guests, but it has been almost universally panned were one to judge it as a “documentary.” It is more of an introduction to Mormons as a Christian tradition that centers on family and service, and it completely avoids mentions of Joseph Smith, the Restoration, or anything that is typically seen as unique or controversial.
But is there more going on? Did the filmmakers (and church leaders who were in charge of final decision making) really intend this film to be primarily a proselytizing film? How aware were they of the LDS (especially North American) audience as they presented its six stories of people for whom Mormonism has been a wonderful blessing? Whether intentional or not, panelists Jody England Hansen, Brian Whitney, and Michael Barker, along with Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon, see the film as perhaps a tool in helping LDS members shift their perception from Mormonism as a primarily Western church with mostly white, middle-class members, to a multi-racial and international church–even a world religion. Included in this signaling is paring down of the gospel message to its basics: be Christlike, serve others, enjoy fellowship in a caring community. Before diving into this wider framing, the panel discusses the film and its reception, including controversies and critiques from those who struggle with the decision to release it commercially or to use church resources on it when there are so many more pressing issues for which they could be used.
Please listen and then share your thoughts in the comments section below!
Elder Holland Introduces Meet the Mormons, YouTube, 7 October 2014
Robert Kirby, “Now Meet the Real Mormons,” Salt Lake Tribune, 12 October 2014