The Mormons, produced by Helen Whitney

Brian Q. Cannon:
Producer Helen Whitney described her goal in producing The Mormons as communicating “the defining ideas and themes and events in Mormon history that would help outsiders go inside the church.” The first half of the four-hour documentary discusses the prophetic calling and career of Joseph Smith; the coming forth of the Book of Mormon; the Latter-day Saint saga in Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois; and the exodus to Utah. These topics comprise just over half of the script for part 1. The balance of part 1 focuses exclusively upon two perennially fascinating facets of Mormon history: the Mountain Meadows Massacre and the origins, practice, and legacy of polygamy. Equally significant but less familiar aspects of Mormon history in the nineteenth-century West, including colonization and settlement, Mormon-Indian relations, and cooperative economic policies, are not discussed.

Part 2 telescopes the Church’s history in the twentieth century into a handful of vignettes, offering only glimpses of the Church’s past one hundred years. The “Great Accommodation,” or the Church’s embrace of monogamy, political pluralism, capitalism, and American nationalism at the turn of the nineteenth century, is largely told through the lens of the Reed Smoot hearings. The Tabernacle Choir and clean-shaven David O. McKay in his white double-breasted suit are introduced briefly as additional emblems of the new Mormon image as assimilated Americans.The denial of the priesthood to blacks, the development of independent Mormon congregations in Ghana, and the June 1978 revelation on the priesthood are described in the context of the Church’s continuing Americanization. The balance of part 2 focuses on elements of contemporary Mormonism and controversial issues facing the Church: humanitarian aid, missionary work, the family, the temple, and genealogy all receive attention, as do dissent and excommunication, gender roles, feminism, and homosexuality. Even a four-hour documentary cannot discuss everything: the Word of Wisdom, the Church’s auxiliaries, the rise of correlation, and the Church’s educational system are not discussed. The Church’s expansion internationally is mentioned only as it pertains to Ghana. Likewise, core doctrines including priesthood, the Godhead, belief in the Bible, and the relationship between faith and works are neglected.

Purchase this Issue