Friday, October 06, 2006

Latter Days (and God's Army) raises an interesting question

In 2003, the LGBT film festival in Washington DC (see blog entry for reelaffirmations below) presented Latter Days, from TLA Releasing and Funnyboy Pictures, directed and written by C. Jay Cox, as a closing night event. We got to question the director from the audience.

The story of the film, about a Mormon missionary Aaron (Steve Sandvoss) who finds that he is gay while on a mandatory, self-paid mission, then gets ex-communicated when found out (but not before attempted aversion therapy) is well known. About three fourths through the film, Aaron has a confrontation with his mother (Mary Kay Place) in their Idaho home. The mother clearly resents the fact that he would abandon his family. The film expresses the Mormon point of view that the boy owes his family and church loyalty for bringing him up, and that he must pay back a social debt before going out on his own.

The Mormon missionary program is shown in even more detail by a Mormon-produced film itself, God's Army (2000, Excel/Zion Films, dir. Richard Dutcher), from the church's point of view. It is very clear that the Church believes that this debt exists, as in one scene where Elder Allen (Richard Brown) is told by a church elder that he must spend two years doing things for other people (but he will proselytize).

Coming back to Latter Days, I wonder what kind of issues a sequel (a "Latter Days 2") could explore if it were made. If Aaron does well in LA on his own, it's easy to imagine him setting up a website or even making an indepedent film that embarasses his church and his family. Could that lead to legal consequences for Aaron? I wonder, and at least the question poses a good question for a screenwriter. (I add that someone would have to acquire permission to sell a script based on an existing "franchise.")

Some people feel "defamed" when another family member announces that he is gay. They may feel that the person has "rejected" his own blood. Can one person's voluntarily revealing personal facts about himself (as on a social networking site, personal site, or even book or movie) become the target of legal action if another family member feels that his or her "privacy" is invaded? That sounds like a good one for the lawyers. My guess is that it is not, that a person's right to present himself trumps the indirect effect on others, unless he goes beyond what is reasonably necessary to present himself or herself the way he or she chooses. The question seems potentially confounded by several factors, such as the deep sense of insult people with some religious convictions feel when psychologically trampled, and moreover the ease with which people under "free entry" can promote themselves (or, as Ashton Kutcher says -- next blog entry -- "their work" on the Internet). From looking up legal websites, though, it does not seem that these things matter -- yet. The law, however, is likely to change as the problems posed by the Internet become better known. Here is a typical legal reference from a reputable source, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association.

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