Written by Tristan Torgersen, Madison Drew Daniels, Kevin Bessey, and Tyler Clark
Images courtesy of IMDB.com Believer
First, a little background on Believer and the star of Don Argott‘s documentary.
The star is musician and front man Dan Reynolds of Imagine Dragons. Reynolds grew up a Mormon as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He has taken center stage as an LGBT ally and advocate for change among the Mormon community following a 2015 policy that prohibits children of same-sex marriage couples from being baptized and from fully participating in church ordinances and rituals (such as baptism, entering temples after the age of 12, blessing the sacrament, etc.). A great resource in understanding that change can be found here in an interview with apostle D. Todd Christofferson, a Mormon apostle who interestingly enough, has a brother who is gay.
To provide some context, there has been some serious beef between the LDS Church and the LGBT community. For a great example, check out these two articles from opposite sides of the spectrum from Daily Dot and Mormon Newsroom’s Official Statement on it. This is not the place for a full detailing, but needless to say the LDS Church and its members and members of the LGBT community distrusted each other for years following Prop 8. I can recall being in California in that time, and it was as confusing as it was saddening. The history of LDS Church and LGBT issues runs deep.
All four of us writers are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (called LDS, Mormon, Latter-day Saints interchangeably) and have grown up in the faith. We all come from different backgrounds, viewpoints, and experiences, so we wanted to be able to review and discuss Believer and shed some light on it for those who haven’t seen it yet, and those who had and wanted to read more about it.
Tristan: First off, I’m glad there’s four of us getting to talk about Believer. For anyone wondering, HBO NOW is offering a 1-month free trial, so there’s no excuse to not see it. I think there’s a lot to digest and talk about. Before digging in though, I will say I really enjoyed it and it was impactful. Like the title suggests, I really think he is a modern-day Moses. He has parted the sea of confusion, anger, ignorance, and brought the story of LGBT Mormons to the screen in an emotive and poignant way.
Kevin: I agree with you Tristan, I think there’s a lot going on in this documentary in terms of impact and quality. And, I think that volume is best addressed by a group with different perspectives, albeit all Mormon perspectives. Before we dig into our nitty-gritty opinions on Mormon Utah’s treatment of gays, I think we should start with the quality of the documentary.
Madison: Quality is great. Rather than being an expose about the Church, I liked the more intimate look into the life of a rock star who struggles with his own feelings regarding his culture, his religion, and those he knows are suffering around him. Plus I liked that it pulled in Tyler Glenn of Neon Trees and displayed that there are many ways to react to this one issue. But I think it did a really good job at illustrating that there are real people suffering within our culture and our duty to love is more important than our duty to be right(regardless of whether or not you think the Church is right or wrong).
Kevin: I think that the biggest selling point of Believer is the seemingly authentic look into the life of Dan Reynolds and the breadth of emotional suffering covered. I loved hearing different stories from those affected by the issue. Even the tie-in of his assistant’s brother’s suicide seemed so fitting for the overall emotional impact of the story. But, I also feel that documentaries have a duty to show some really good statistical evidence. And, I don’t think that this documentary did a great job of that. It was definitely more tilted toward that ethos/pathos side and didn’t touch very well on the logos. I’m also an economics guy, so I might be the only person here who is underwhelmed by the lack of statistics.
Tyler: I can understand where you’re coming from. But the statistics are there. At least they were referenced briefly. They did show the titles of some articles that studied the alarming rates of suicide in Utah. In fact, in the summer of 2016, I was an intern with Dialogue journal. I remember editing an intensive academic article about the climbing rates of suicide among LGBT youth in Utah. I remember thinking, “why is no one talking about this? Where’s the outrage?” I think this documentary is a much-needed reaction to those statistics that have been flying under the radar for years. I think the real importance of this documentary is in the anecdotal evidence that gets overlooked. What Madison said is really important as well. Believer shows why it’s more important to listen and understand with love than it is to get defensive and respond.
What Believer Did Well
Madison: Ok so we’ve had our first reactions. What did Believer do well? I’ll reiterate that its greatest strength is in turning numbers and statistics into real people. As alarming as rising suicide rates are, those are real kids with real families and real friends, not just numbers.
Kevin: This was probably the best non-rockumentary documentary in terms of music. Hans Zimmer and Imagine Dragons are definitely a match made in heaven and the music tied extremely well into the emotional story of the documentary. Also, I was fascinated by the relationship between Dan Reynolds and his wife. I think this documentary inadvertently showed us how relationships can shape our passions and what we are willing to fight for. Side note: Their relationship did not seem healthy to me, which makes sense as they are getting divorced, as announced by Reynolds on Ellen.
Tristan: I felt like Believer did a fantastic job at bringing a personal story to an otherwise factioned argument and discussion. I may be unique in this(I doubt it) but I feel like, with social media and the dominance of news and discussions on it, issues become more of a hot topic with social commentary than actual reality. Again, maybe I’m the only one that feels this way. Seeing Dan Reynolds at The Trevor Project in Los Angeles, at advocacy groups in Utah, at the LoveLoud festival, and seeing all those interviewed and involved, it made the issue at hand a matter of people, not blog posts. That was the aspect that I saw Believer do the best, make a human connection and experience the focal point of such a hot topic and contested issue.
Madison: Also, Kevin, couldn’t agree more about Hans Zimmer and Imagine Dragons team up.
Tristan: I couldn’t stop listening to Skipping Stones (which I included at the bottom of this article), it was such a great song. And yes, the music throughout the whole doc was great.
Tyler: Couldn’t agree more. The music was phenomenal.
Places Where Believer May Have Been Lacking
Kevin: What do we think could have been improved in this documentary? My answer is probably pretty obvious coming from me. The statistics were not that well represented. The documentary starts with a reference to the suicide rate and follows it up with, “But we don’t really know how many teen LGBTQ+ youth are committing suicide in Utah.” Then later John Dehlin references that same statistic and uses a correlation argument. Besides that, there weren’t many statistics, which is not customary for this type of documentary. I feel like other documentaries such as A Place At The Table, American Drug War: The Last White Hope, and even The Red Pill who do a much better job at presenting their statistical arguments.
Madison: I’ll agree with you, Kevin. Its strength was showing real people, but it didn’t seem to show the numbers (even though they do exist). A pet-peeve of mine, though, is when complex 3-dimensional issues are portrayed as simple and 2 dimensional. I was little worried that Believer was doing this. Utah’s youth suicide rate is alarming and needs immediate action, yes, but I’m not sure there is one single underlying cause. There is a lot going on with depression and suicide and I’d hate to betray its complexity by laying all the blame at the feet of the Church. This is a holistic communal issue that should be laid at the feet of every citizen in the state of Utah, the Church included. In our own ways, we are all responsible for it just as we all need to be a part of the solution. And I don’t like that it portrayed John Dehlin’s excommunication as simple as it did. While I disagree with his excommunication, there was a lot more going on than just his TEDx talk.
Kevin: Madison, I totally agree on the suicide front. I’m not homosexual. But, I definitely had some intense suicidal thoughts while I lived in Utah, as addressed in my song “We’ve Got Time.” Once I moved back down to Vegas, I have almost completely escaped that. I don’t know what’s going on in that community, but it’s definitely more than the judgment of homosexuals.
Tyler: I think it is important to note that the statistics we do have on LGBT youth suicide rates are incomplete because of how often kids kill themselves before coming out to anyone. The actual number is likely much higher.
Tristan: I think trying to figure out the suicide epidemic in Utah is especially murky at the moment, and things like the recent study on altitude’s effect on mental health bring complexity to the issue that Believer is bringing up. And to clear it up, it touches on suicide, it is not a documentary on suicide by any means.
Why Should You Watch Beilever?
Tristan: I’ll take this first. I watched it with one of my best friends who came out three years ago. He and I met freshman year at BYU nearly 10 years ago, we served in the same mission and were paired together for six weeks, were roommates for a few years back, and now hang out every week since I moved to LA. Watching this with him was as emotional as it was impactful. I know why he has chosen to not be actively engaged in Mormonism, and I get it. I also see how his experience differed from many of those in the documentary and how the range of feelings and repercussions can be so varied. We both loved it though, and have shared with many friends in and out of the Mormon faith as something everyone should watch.
Tyler: I agree that everyone should watch this movie. Maybe we should have talked about this earlier, but I also feel like this documentary is less about suicide rates in Utah than it is about Dan Reynold’s struggle with his community. It does raise important issues like suicide, the ostracization of LGBTQ+ people, etc. But in the end, we get a glimpse of how hard it can be to be a part of a community that has its flaws. Reynolds could have left Mormonism at any time, but he chose to stay with his community and be a force for positive change. I think everyone can relate to that to some extent.
Madison: Bingo. Dan’s struggle provides a model for other people, Mormon or otherwise, on how to cope with living in a flawed community. That is why I think everybody should watch it. I think it is so important to show that it is OK to wrestle with complex issues inside of the things we care about most, like our religion. I was texting my sister who had also watched Believer to see how she reacted. She said that she felt she needed to be an advocate for LGBTQ+ even if she didn’t know how she felt about the issue herself. And that is exactly the feeling Believer left me with — I need to be an advocate for those on the margins of society. What can I do to help? How can I lift the burden of those who suffer? I felt I needed to be part of the change. And if I’m making a documentary, that is exactly the feeling I want to create in my audience.
Kevin: I think you guys are hitting the nail on the head. I think it’s also important for those who may need to understand inclusivity to watch this film. Honestly, I think the Church itself does a pretty good job of being inclusive especially here in Las Vegas. The fact that the Church gave its stamp of approval to this type of festival is huge! I think other groups who have policy or doctrine that don’t allow for homosexuality could look at this documentary and the church as an example. I think the Republican party, in particular, could learn a lot about loving its homosexual constituents from this documentary. Most LDS homosexuals that I know have come out to overwhelming support from their LDS community. I know a lot more Republicans with political aspirations that are afraid to come out because they fear judgment. Some who have come out to me have been told by other friends that they should absolutely never come out. I don’t know a lot about what that does to someone’s psyche. But, I don’t believe that that judgment is positive.
Tyler: At one point in the film, Dan Reynolds calls Tyler Glenn to apologize for not being more available as a friend after Glenn came out as gay. He then asks, “What can I do now?” I think that’s the quintessential question of the movie that Madison touched on. And I think it’s the question we all have to ask ourselves after watching it.
Madison: Final thoughts? I thought Believer succeeded in delivering a message that is both emotional and deeply human. No matter how you feel about these complex issues, our responsibility to care for those in our community is more important than our desire to be right. It is crucial for us to lead with real love, not loving platitudes when working out the LGBTQ+ and Mormon dilemma.
Tristan: Watch it. I want all of my friends to watch it, think about it, do something about it, and become more mindful of LBGTQ issues and support. I’m not asking for guilt-tripping or anything like that, but to take the message of Believer to heart and turn outward in love. Love loud and listen intently.
Kevin: On a scale of absolutely sucks to extremely entertaining and thought-provoking, I think this film gets a solid enjoyable with a great call to action.
Tyler: My final thoughts are that I want to give Tyler Glenn a hug. Everyone should see this movie.
Listen to Skipping Stones below, and watch Believer!
Let us know what you think!
What can you do now?
Check out The Trevor Project
If you or someone you know is LGBTQ, be sure they have the Trevor Lifeline in their phone and on hand. A listening ear saves more lives than you know, and everyone needs to have this on hand.
The Trevor Project Lifeline: 866-488-7386
Also, check out TrevorText
Text the word “Trevor” to 1-202-304-1200
Available Thursday and Friday 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. ET
Standard messaging rates apply
And there is Trevor Chat which is available 7 Days A Week, (3pm-10pm ET / Noon-7pm PT).
ALSO, buy tickets and go to this year’s LoveLoud Festival!
Proceeds are donated to charities like the Trevor Project for LGBTQ Youth.
July 28, 2018: Tickets Available Here!