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|The PBS Documentary|
Apr. 29th, 2007 at 10:54 pm
We are pleased to present the following guest post written by Margaret Young:
I was interviewed a total of four times by the Helen Whitney crew in preparation for the upcoming PBS documentary—twice in person and twice on the phone. I was never interviewed on camera, but my co-author, Darius Gray, was. I found every interviewer (all female) to be bright, interested, well-prepared, personable, and easy to talk to.
The word “balance” was the touchstone for everyone involved in the documentary. My impression was that the interviewers had developed real respect for Mormons. Granted, they had curiosity about our curiosities, and it was clear that this documentary would not be a missionary tool, but I thought that we might actually recognize ourselves in this one, rather than feel we had been caricatured. I still think we will, though we will have to acknowledge some warts. (It wouldn’t be a balanced piece were that not the case.)
One of the interviewers mentioned an LDS family in Colorado they had spent a lot of time with. The family had many children—ten or twelve, I forget which. Education was a huge value, and several of the grown children (male and female) had attended Ivy League schools. In the course of the interviews, one of the children was diagnosed with cancer. The interviewers were particularly intrigued by her faith as she faced her diagnosis, and almost in awe (it seemed to me) of the way the family coped with the illness. I hope that family got interviewed on camera and that their interview made the final cut.
My involvement was simply to give some background on the LDS Church and race issues. Armand Mauss was also interviewed, though not on camera. From all I’ve seen, this issue seems to be a side-dish, not nearly as important as polygamy and the Mountain Meadows Massacre (which seems to be getting a lot of attention—I would say undue attention.)
I have heard about what the documentary does with the race issue, and have heard that my co-author has only one line from his interview in the final cut—his quoting of an awful thing John Taylor said years ago about Blacks and the seed of Cain. (And if that is the case, and Darius Gray is boiled down to one damaging quote, I will be sorely disappointed, because it will minimize him.) I hear African American convert (and frequent lecturer) Betty Stevenson gets more camera time and that she does beautifully. I will be eager to see if McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine is quoted. Several interviewers mentioned it to me.
From press releases, it seems that women’s issues, gay issues, and historical issues (MMM much more than race) will be the foci for the controversies, but I am quite sure the discoveries Helen Whitney’s crew made about Mormons will paint a picture many of us will be okay with.
That said, I have a little experience in documentary-making now, and I know what an edit can do—how a cut here or a cut there can define a whole bias. Or not.
Knowing the power of edits in a fresh and rather frightening way, I am slightly nervous (only slightly) by the rumor that Helen Whitney was told to re-edit so that the piece would be less “pro-Mormon.” Editing decisions can easily change a pro-Mormon piece into something very different. Nonetheless, reports I’ve heard from my more liberal friends (who’ve seen large snippets) call the work “balanced and fearless.”
We’ll see. I know that when I had my last interview a year ago, the interviewers expressed deep respect for everyone they had met within Mormondom—or on its outskirts. I’m happy to have many important issues addressed. I hope to recognize Mormonism as I know it on April 30 and May 1. My family and I will definitely be watching.