Andrew Garfield’s ‘Under the Banner of Heaven’ Embroiled in Controversy Ahead of Premiere

Andrew Garfield’s new limited series Under the Banner of Heaven premieres April 28 on Hulu. It’s based on the true story of the gruesome 1984 murders of Brenda Wright Lafferty and her 15-month-old daughter.

Oscar-winning writer Dustin Lance Black admits that the subject matter makes it “not an easy show” to watch. And just days ahead of the premiere, the series is embroiled in controversy because of its portrayal of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Under the Banner of Heaven star Andrew Garfield at the series premiere on April 20, 2022, in Hollywood, California, wearing a blue suit
Andrew Garfield | Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic

Andrew Garfield’s new limited series is based on a real-life murder case

Garfield’s new series Under the Banner of Heaven is based on the 2003 book of the same name by Jon Krakauer. It covers the murder of Brenda Lafferty — who was a member of the Mormon church — and her infant daughter Erica. They were killed by Brenda’s brothers-in-law Ron and Dan Lafferty, who were fundamentalists.

After Joseph Smith founded the Mormon religion in the 19th century, a group of fundamentalists broke away to form the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or the FLDS. This is the group that still practices polygamy, and it has much more extreme religious views compared to those in the LDS church.

This rift between the LDS and the FLDS has been going on for decades. And it’s what led to Brenda and Erica’s murders.

‘Under the Banner of Heaven’ is embroiled in controversy

The book and the series dive into the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the FLDS split. Many church members have spoken out against the book, including Mike Otterson, the church’s former director of media relations.

“Krakauer’s portrayal of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is utterly at odds with what I — and millions like me — have come to know of the Church, its goodness, and the decency of its people,” Otterson said back in 2003, per Utah’s ABC4. “This book is an attempt to tell the story of the so-called fundamentalist or polygamous groups in Utah and to tie their beliefs to the doctrines and the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The result is a full-frontal assault on the veracity of the modern Church.”

Black — who left the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in his teens — said he’s not happy with how the Deseret News (a Utah newspaper owned by the church) negatively portrayed him in a recent opinion piece. It claimed he was “angry” and selling “fear and resentment.”

At a panel discussion in Salt Lake City after screening the first two episodes, Black said he feels “a different emotion than anger.”

“You know, I grew up loving this church. I grew up loving my Mormon family. Most of my family still lives within a 20-mile radius of here. I still appreciate the warmth and love that I feel when I’m here,” Black said, per The Salt Lake Tribune.

Black says there are ‘good Mormons’ on the show

Garfield stars as the main detective on the case: Jeb Pyre. He’s a fictional composite character who represents numerous law enforcement officers who worked the real case.

In response to the backlash about the series, both Black and Garfield noted that there are “good Mormons” featured — including Brenda’s family and the family of detective Pyre.

“I think that’s a really beautiful, sensitive portrayal of this … kind of everyman, modern Mormon family,” Garfield said. “And I can’t imagine anyone being upset by that aspect of the show, personally.”

“Oh, get ready,” Black warned.

Under the Banner of Heaven premieres Thursday, April 28 on Hulu.

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