‘Under the Banner of Heaven’: Mormon Church Cooperated With True Crime Show

The new FX series Under the Banner of Heaven premiered this week. Some Mormon members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints are not happy about it. Based on the true crime book by Jon Krakauer, Under the Banner of Heaven investigates the murder of Brenda Lafferty (Daisy Edgar-Jones) in the LDS community. Although the show dredges up bad memories, series creator Dustin Lance Black says he had some cooperation from the Mormon church.

'Under the Banner of Heaven': Brenda Lafferty (Daisy Edgar-Jones) competes in Miss Twin Falls
Daisy Edgar Jones | Michelle Faye/FX

Black was on a Television Critics Association panel for Under the Banner of Heaven on March 29. He explained how he consulted members of the Mormon church while making the show. New episodes premiere Thursdays on Hulu.

‘Under the Banner of Heaven’ showrunner Dustin Lance Black grew up in the Mormon community

The Oscar winning screenwriter of Milk and the TV miniseries When We Rise, Black has written about healing within his own Mormon family. Making Under the Banner of Heaven allowed Black to revisit the church.

“It’s brought me closer to some people within the church,” Black said. “In fact, a couple people within church leadership, because I did go to the church and I did say to folks in the church, ‘Hey, if you have anything about the book that you would like corrected or have some input, call me.  I’m open to having the conversation.’””

Black said that discussing the difficult period and incident reflected in Under the Banner of Heaven brought many people closer together. 

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“For the most part, I think, you know, if the truth shall set you free and this is a church that claims to be everchanging, why are we afraid of the truth?” Black said. “Why are you afraid to look closer? And when is the church going to change? That’s the question. That’s the real question. So no love lost is the short answer, and actually a good many friends made.”

‘Under the Banner of Heaven’ Mormons are not a catch-all group

Having grown up in the Mormon faith, and with many practicing family members still alive, Black knew the material. Black said Under the Banner of Heaven‘s Mormons are a specific subset among which this crime occurred.

We tried incredibly hard to make the distinctions between cultural Mormons, between modern, contemporary Mormons, and fundamentalist Mormons. The show, I do believe, makes those distinctions clear. Is it ever comfortable to have a mirror held up to you and to your beliefs? Likely not, but I think that there is something to be learned. And in fact, there perhaps are changes that could take place within the faith and within the communities, that this show might better the faith and these communities. So if the truth is offensive, I think some people may be offended. But I also think that once we are empowered with truth, once we have good information, we can make better decisions, and I hope that’s what comes of this show.

Dustin Lance Black, Television Critics Association panel, 3/29/22

This era of Mormonism isn’t so distant

The events of Under the Banner of Heaven occurred in 1984. Nearly 30 years later, Black said the world is in such a state for fundamentalism to rise again.

“We are in a time right now, the whole world has faced great difficulties, stress and strain, a feeling that we are not moving forward, we’re moving backwards,” Black said. “There’s clearly world conflicts that are deeply concerning. And in times like this, people often turn to God. They turn to heaven and unfortunately, when they go back to the fundamental rules, which are mostly incredibly outdated, we get in trouble and you see a turn towards violence and misogyny. So we are in one of those times right now where there is the danger of people turning back to political, legal, historical, and religious fundamentalism. This is a cautionary tale about how that happens, and it examines those steps.”

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