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Did you Meet the Mormons?

This past weekend, we noticed that Meet the Mormons was at the Dollar Theater (actually it is $1.50), so we went to see it.  (I admit it–we don’t like to pay the higher prices.)  I walked into the theater, and it was nearly sold out.  A recent article said that Utah County is 84% Mormon (I couldn’t find it, but this one from 2012 says it was over 80%), so it was a good bet that nearly everyone there was Mormon.  It made me wonder how well the movie did, and how many non-Mormons saw it.

According to a box-office tracking website, the movie has pulled in nearly $6 million as of December 2.  The website is very interesting, because it shows that the first 2 days (Friday and Saturday) of release, it made $2.4 million.  However on Sunday (when all good Mormons were not in the movie theaters), it made a paltry $65K, just 2.5% of the previous 2 days total.  It spiked again on Monday night (Family Night) to $692K, a 95% increase over Sunday.  So, the overall first weekend of the movie (Friday-Monday) was a pretty impressive $3.2 million, which is more that half of the total receipts of the movie, and good for 11th best movie that weekend.

I’m wondering if the Sunday receipts are a good indication of how many non-LDS viewed the movie?  What do you think?  Do you know any non-LDS that went to the movie?  If so, were they invited by LDS or did they choose to go without any prompting?

I kept digging into the box office numbers.  It opened in 317 theaters, and due to the good opening weekend, it was in 333 theaters the following week.  However, rather than the $3.2 million that first week ($7917 per theater), it made just $568,409 (just $1707 per theater), and the following week it was slashed to 128 theaters where it continued to decline.  The weekend before Thanksgiving, it was a measly $16,301 for the week, but did pop up to $18,939 on Thanksgiving weekend, the busiest movie weekend of the year.  Now a month later, it is in the discount theaters, so I’d say the movie is basically over, although I wouldn’t be surprised to see it in Utah County for another month.

Movie review website gave it mixed reviews: 1 star (out of 5) because 8 of 9 people panned the film.  However, the audience showed that 91% of people liked the film.  (Is this more evidence that movie critics are way out of touch with audiences?)  Some of the interesting comments included

  1. “Breaks the shocking news that LDS members ‘come in all sizes, shapes and colors’ and ‘love God and believe he has a plan for all of us. Is this news worth $10.50 a ticket?”  {No, that’s why I waited for the discount theater, but then again, I rarely pay $10.50 for ANY movie.  That’s why I wait for most everything to come on Redbox or Netflix.}
  2. “the movie might have started by examining its straw-man conception of the audience.” {The movie goes out of its way to show that not all Mormons are white men from Utah.}
  3. “the church’s most basic tenets – and controversial aspects – are elided completely” {Yup}
  4. “Nearly nothing in Blair Treu’s kindly public relations film illuminates the practices or beliefs of the church” {Yup}
  5. “Would you go out of your way to see an infomercial that was more than an hour long?” {Yup, and so did $6 million worth of people–did anyone see it multiple times?  I don’t think it was worth that.}

As to that last comment, I thought that the opening lines sounded very much like an infomercial, and it was a bit of a turn off.  However, I did like the stories.  I’m about to give a bunch of spoilers, so if you don’t want to know about the movie, you should stop reading now, but here is a link to the trailer if you’re interested.

It got me wondering about who the intended audience is:  Mormons or non-Mormons?  Obstensibly, it seemed to follow the “I’m a Mormon” campaign, and highlight minorities and break down some stereotypes.  But then again, if Mormons were to watch this, then there were some stories that aren’t stereotypically Mormon either.

The first story was about a black Mormon bishop from Atlanta, Georgia (to combat some quotes from people on the streets of NYC that said Mormons were racist–see we’re not racist–we have black clergy now!)  I don’t remember the guy’s name, but he seemed like a cool bishop, and they showed him conducting Sacrament meeting, and showed him leading a bunch of white teens in some hip hop dancing–the bishop had some moves!

Then they showed Ken Niumatalolo, the football coach at the Naval Academy.  I had not heard of him (even though I’m a huge football fan), and they highlighted his role as a primary teacher (10 year olds) on Sundays, as well as his decision not to hold practice on Sundays (although his assistants can hold voluntary workouts if they want to.)  Ken has led the Naval Academy to the Commander in Chief’s award (given to the Army, Navy, or Air Force football team with the best record against each other), which he has won 4 times in his 7 years as coach at Navy, and the movie showed President Obama awarding the trophy in the White House, probably in 2013.

The third story was very interesting, showing a Costa Rican kickboxing couple.  The beautiful wife is an amateur champion, and the two of them own a martial arts gym.  She’s definitely not a stay-at-home mom (no mention of the Family Proclamation here.)  This story got me scratching my head a little, because she wasn’t a stay-at-home mom, making cookies and doing laundry all day.  This is not your stereotypical mom, and she didn’t really follow the gender stereotypes of the Proclamation.  Is this for Mormon, or non-Mormon consumption?  She’s breaking all the molds.

They then turned to Gail Halvorson, the Candy Bomber.  I was familiar with his story.  Following the partition of Germany in WW2, the Soviet Union blocked the Western Allies‘ railway, road, and canal access to the sectors of Berlin under allied control. The Soviets offered to drop the blockade if the Western Allies withdrew the newly introduced Deutschmark from West Berlin. In response, the Western Allies organized the Berlin airlift to carry supplies to the people in West Berlin.  After Halvorson dropped his supplies after a mission, he saw some children beyond a barbed-wire fence, and gave them 2 sticks of gum, which the children split in half and then gave the wrappers to other children who sniffed the smell.  Halvorson, so struck by their lack of food, decided to drop his own candy rations to them on subsequent missions, and the military decided to enlarge the program.  At age 92, he still flies airplanes, and re-enacts his candy bombing runs.

Bishnu was the next highlight.  He grew up in Nepal, a very Hindu country, and his family is Hindu.  I wasn’t exactly clear on all the details, but he did attend a Christian school growing up, so he was familiar with Christianity.  He spent some time in America, but was only here for a year, and then returned Nepal.  Sometime in his life, he met the missionaries when he was in Russia, and he was baptized into the LDS Church.  Bishnu has been instrumental in building schools and water purification systems in the remote parts of Nepal.  This was a very interesting story to me, because we hear so little about Mormons in Hindu countries. And in the Bloggernacle we hear so many complain about the lack of transparency in charitable giving. Was this to counter that perspective, at least a little?

Finally, they highlighted what they called “the Missionary Mom”, but she was far from typical.  Her mother gave birth to her when she was 15, and she was neglected as a child, and seemed to follow the same mistakes as her mother, giving birth to her own child at 15 as well.  She gave birth to a second child before the age of 19, but that child died soon after birth.  She met the LDS missionaries, became converted, and decided to move to Utah where she met a great LDS guy who has had his own set of challenges.  He only has 1 leg, but is an avid skier and rock climber.  They seemed to live in a nice, upscale neighborhood (probably in Sandy, Utah–apparently her son played football for Alta High School.)  This same son that she had at such a young age was called to serve in South Africa, and definitely showed how the gospel can change one’s life for the better.

So yes, I think I do agree with some of the comments at the Rotten Tomatoes website, but was pleased with the movie.  (I’m not sure why 91% approved, but there were no comments listed there.)  I never saw the trailer until after the movie, and was struck with the graphic that said “this movie is not about theology.”  I guess the movie critics in comments 3 and 4 above should have seen the trailer, because there was no talk about Word of Wisdom, Family Proclamation, or theology at all–the movie explains nothing about the church.  But in a way, I think it might break down some stereotypes inside the church as well.  The church showed front and center that it doesn’t seem to have a problem with biracial families (Niumatalolo’s family is biracial, as is the Missionary Mom’s son), and the Costa Rican family was not the family you picture when you read the Family Proclamation, with both mother and father working to support their family.  The Atlanta bishop was clearly making hip-hop dance moves, so apparently that’s ok for a church activity.  (I think we should invite him for some lessons in my ward!)

Which makes me wonder–was this movie for Mormons, or non-Mormons?

One comment on “Did you Meet the Mormons?

  1. I think the whole “I’m a Mormon” campaign, as well as this movie, is at least as much for members as for non-members.

    As far as the Sunday movie numbers go, I’ve heard anecdotal evidence of bishops and/or stake presidents telling their congregation that seeing the movie in theaters on Sundays is not a violation of keeping the Sabbath Day holy. So some of those watching on Sunday may have been, unfortunately, members of the church.

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