By Hans Pedersen, July 2018 Issue.
With suicide among Utah’s LGBTQ teenagers climbing at an alarming rate, Believer follows Imagine Dragons lead singer Dan Reynolds as he takes on a new mission to explore how the Mormon Church treats its LGBTQ members.
Directed by Don Argott (DeLorean, Batman & Bill, The Art of the Steal), the HBO documentary sketches out the singer’s early years as a faithful Mormon and, following his marriage to actress Aja Volkman, his dawning realization that his church’s doctrine is flawed.
Reynolds laments how his activities with the Mormon Church, and its emphasis on shame, helped contribute to the oppression of others, especially young Mormons impacted by homophobia.
As he recognizes that homophobic church doctrine is alienating LGBTQ members, and driving many toward depression and suicide, Reynolds is overcome by grief and guilt. Subsequently, the singer makes it his mission to show support for LGBTQ youth and, ultimately, try to change the Mormon church’s nonsensical idea that following one’s heart or expressing same-sex love is somehow shameful.
In the documentary, Reynolds reaches out to fellow musician and openly gay Mormon Tyler Glenn, frontman of the music group Neon Trees. Glenn candidly discusses his own depression in a way that may help save lives and let folks know that nobody is alone.
As scenes unfold, Reynolds asks Glenn to co-host a concert designed to show unconditional love and support to the LGBTQ community, and they attempt to bring their idea for the LoveLoud Festival to fruition. And they soon find themselves heading for a collision with the elders of the Mormon Church.
Reynolds publicly asks for the Mormon Church’s seal of approval for the huge LGBTQ concert being planned, and scenes with the phone calls, tense meetings and radio spots follow. Next, finding a suitable Utah venue becomes a challenge. Obstacles abound for the promoters, and they face the possibility of the event not happening at all.
Sadly, one of the festival organizers is hit by tragic news of suicide in his own family, and it’s a stark reminder about the importance of battling this pervasive epidemic.
Suicide is now the second leading cause of death among teenagers, and many people, like Reynolds, say messages of shame spread by churches are far too prevalent in society.
Argott supplements these events with Reynolds’ interviews with others, including family members of a gay teen who took his own life, underscoring the pain such a devastating act causes. Audiences also hear from gay youth who have been targets of discrimination and were empowered to become outspoken activists, and also from Mormons who were excommunicated for throwing their support behind LGBTQ causes.
Hearing such stories puts Reynolds’ efforts in a greater context as he devotes his energy to a musical solution to the widespread problem. And certainly, the singer is not naive, as he knows the concert is not the entire solution to the problem. But – spoiler alert – through his tireless dedication, Reynolds actually managed to open the door to discussion.
The most jaw-dropping development in the film is the church’s final reaction to the event: The Mormon Church decides not to oppose the concert, opening the way for a massive crowd of LGBTQ Mormons to attend the sold-out event.
Their statement, reads in part, “We applaud the LoveLoud Festival for LGBTQ youth’s aim to bring people together to address teen safety and to express love and respect for all of God’s children.”
The now-annual event is a noble one that will hopefully a build a bridge between the Mormon Church and the LGBTQ teenagers who are still victims of widespread, systemic oppression and homophobia. Indeed, “it’s baby steps” as Reynolds says.
The singer does say he remains committed to his Mormon faith, despite its ideological flaws and moral blind spots. And those who dismiss him as an outsider to the LGBTQ community may be underestimating the alliances that are needed to squelch discrimination.
The story captured in Argott’s 102-minute documentary is a testament to the importance of love and support, and a reminder that we need our straight allies to win the battle against bigotry.
Scenes from that uplifting LoveLoud festival will likely melt your heart, and the song “Believer,” with its crescendo of music rising amid a shower of sparks in concert footage, helps fuel this film’s empowering finale.
The 2018 Love Loud Festival will take place July 28 at Rice Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City. This year’s goal is to raise $1 million for LGBTQ charities. For more information, visit loveloudfest.com.
If you or someone you know is feeling depressed or having thoughts of suicide, reach out for help or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or The Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386.