British filmmaker Tim Kirkby said about the new comedy he is directing, “It is a pleasure to roll around in the world of our anti-heroine Joyce McKinney.” Others have said Kirkby’s forthcoming film will “delight audiences worldwide” and they praised the “witty” script.
What’s the story that promises to so enchant audiences? It’s actually the tale of a woman who allegedly kidnapped and raped a Latter-day Saint missionary named Kirk Andersen.
And here’s something you won’t read in the lighthearted entertainment news about the project: It’s been reported that this same woman allegedly hit and killed a 91-year-old Holocaust survivor who was walking his dog in Los Angeles. She was declared unfit to stand trial and was ordered to a mental health facility, according to the Los Angeles Daily News.
But these details, like so many others, about “our anti-heroine” were omitted from media coverage of the film.
Can’t wait for this “riotous” movie, full of “zany twists,” based on the true story of a Mormon missionary who was, um… allegedly kidnapped and raped. https://t.co/g7TSL0lb6Z— McKay Coppins (@mckaycoppins) May 10, 2022
It’s difficult to imagine how Hollywood ever greenlit a comedy based on a rape. But it seems Latter-day Saint crime stories are a burgeoning business these days. Even after “Murder Among the Mormons,” “Under the Banner of Heaven” and now this new project, “Sinner v. Saints,” there are evidently more in the works.
The horrifying story of Pleasant Grove mother Megan Huntsman strangling her six children in her predominately Latter-day Saint community is now being optioned by Netflix. In 2020, UCP (a division of NBC Universal) announced that the kidnapping of Jan Broberg in Pocatello, Idaho, would also be turned into a true-crime series.
It’s certainly nothing new for Hollywood to treat religious subjects through a tortured lens, but the show “Sinner v. Saints” is taking things in an even more disturbing direction. The director has said he plans to depict the story of “sex” on the big screen, when in fact Kirkby’s story is about rape.
It’s worth wondering where the outrage from the #MeToo movement has gone if a director gets little pushback for such an offensive mischaracterization. Then there’s the issue of McKinney’s mental health, which in itself should be reason enough not to make a comedy film about this story.
There’s no question that the Latter-day Saints are a “peculiar people,” but we aren’t so peculiar that crime should be our predominant representation in pop culture.
Mormons: it would be really cool to have Mormons represented in mainstream movies and TV— gnome chompskys being weird little guys (@nihilists4jesus) May 10, 2022
Hollywood: sure no problem
Mormons: wait no
Latter-day Saint history is full of compelling, human stories that aren’t in the “true-crime” genre. For example, Mauli Bonner produced the movie “His Name Is Green Flake,” which chronicles the story of Black pioneer Green Flake. The film deserves more attention. “The Other Side of Heaven,” Disney’s movie about a missionary who goes to Tonga, and “Jane and Emma,” a movie about the friendship between Jane Manning James and Emma Smith, are other examples of humanizing on-screen treatments.
With a little creativity, Hollywood could produce more films like these, tapping into an audience that’s often disillusioned with how people of faith are depicted on the big screen. What Angel Studios has done with “The Chosen” and other productions offers some proof that the fair treatment of faith can also be commercially viable. And yet, when it comes to Latter-day Saints, the entertainment industry seems determined to keep making either disturbing crime films or deeply offensive comedies. Maybe that says more about Hollywood than it does about the Latter-day Saints.