Juvenile Instructor » Book of Mormon Stories that my youtube tells to me
 


Book of Mormon Stories that my youtube tells to me

By: Stan - December 12, 2013

Check this out: Epic Book of Mormon Movie Trailer

It was uploaded to youtube by on Jan 9, 2009.

Here’s what she has to say about it:

“If the Book of Mormon was ever made into an epic movie, this would be the trailer for it. I made this video montage out of many different movies put together to represent the different characters in the Book of Mormon. The scene of Nephi represents when he is getting the plates from Laban. The scene of Alma the Younger represents when he and Amulek are captured and the believers are going to be thrown into the fire, but he is still bold and unafraid. The last scene is of Joseph Smith entering Carthage jail before his martyrdom, for he gave his life to bring this record forth.
*This video was made for those of us who believe the Book of Mormon to be true. If you do not agree, then don’t watch! I made this video for my own personal enjoyment. I own no rights to the movies contained therein.”

Here’s what I have to say about it (and a few other things):

Imagining the past, particularly when it is a heroic past, often seems, for many, a lot like looking into a mirror–a magic mirror (mirror, mirror, on the wall…). If Mormon artists have had the world virtually open to them in imagining what the Nephite race might have looked like, they have often tended to depict them very much in terms of their own likenesses, that of their own cultural group or ancestry–or at least, an idealized portrait of what they would like to look like (or would like their menfolk to look like). While the Scandinavian artist Arnold Friberg (born in Illinois to Scandanavian immigrant parents) seems to have taken Nephi’s self-description as being “large in stature” to heart as a prescription for all Book of Mormon heroes—creating very muscular, hyper-masculine individuals—they also often take on a rather Scandinavian, or at least Euro-American look—sometimes even Wagnerian (see Moroni’s horns).

 

This trend becomes particularly noticeable when a Nephite figure is juxtaposed against Lamanites. Though he typically only depicted Nephites in his Book of Mormon scenes—in keeping with much of the earlier tradition—one exception is his painting Two Thousand Stripling Warriors.

In this image the Nephite Helaman is pictured upon a horse, above his Lamanite foot soldiers. Several racialized features come into focus in the scene. Helaman has a reddish beard, wears armor and shirt sleeves, and a cloak. Though the skin of his forearm is slightly bronzed from the sun, a lighter farmer-tan is apparent right at the hem of his sleeve. The Lamanite soldiers—“stripling,” as the Book of Mormon describes them, yet also large in stature—on the other hand are bare from the waist up. They are all fairly uniform: brown skin, black hair, no facial hair. The positioning of the figures makes it clear who is in charge of directing whom—an arrangement in keeping with the Book of Mormon narrative (Helaman was in charge) but which is also reflective of the profile of Church leadership at the time (and to a degree, still in the present) and contemporary attitudes shaping the missionary program in “Lamanite” lands. And it also happens to correspond with who has power over visual representation.

A more recent example of imagining present “selves”—if the self happens to be white, Euro-American Mormons in the U.S. (until fairly recently, the major demographic)—back onto the Nephite past is a recent youtube clip (which you probably just watched) titled “Epic Book of Mormon Movie trailer.” Uploaded by supermom6kids (a username that captures something fittingly “essential” to typical Mormon identity) with the explanation that “If the Book of Mormon was ever made into an epic movie, this would be the trailer for it,” the clip is a video montage of scenes taken from recent Hollywood blockbusters overlaid with supertitles identifying famous actors—usually Hollywood hunks—as Nephite prophets and warriors.[1] The film Troy (2004) was apparently most useful for imagining (fantasizing) what Nephite men might have looked like, with Peter O’Toole (Priam) identified as the Book of Mormon character King Benjamin, Eric Bana (Hector) as Mormon, and Brad Pitt (Achilles) as the Book of Mormon warrior extraordinaire, Captain Moroni. A scene from the siege of Troy, a battle between the Achaeans and Trojans, is also depicted with the implication that it can easily stand in as Nephites versus Lamanites (even though both sides in the scene are wearing armor, contrary to most descriptions and depictions of Lamanites in warfare). Further, Mel Gibson (playing William Wallace in Braveheart, 1995) is pictured as Nephi, Russell Crowe (Maximus from Gladiator) as Gidgidoni, and Richard Gere (Lancelot in First Knight, 1995) as Helaman.

Lamanites are only identified in one scene, in what appears to also be a clip from Troy, depicting a rather non-descript, uniform regiment of heavily armored, shielded soldiers marching forward, identified as Stripling Warriors. In keeping with the text itself, as well as Friberg’s painting, they are imagined as a group, monolithic and devoid of any individuality—good guys, but still quite unlike the rugged individuals our Nephite heroes are.

An obvious problem with this sort of representation is that is seems to claim all that is good and heroic in the past as belonging to white people (and white men in particular). Anyone whose racial features might actually be at least semi-representative of an ancient American past is made to either depict a bad guy or a side-kick to the real (Hollywood) story–a rather European tale (Troy, Rome, Camelot) imposed on ancient America.

One clip is particularly interesting for its possible implications. It is a scene from the film Last of the Mohicans. Though the view quickly pans right to focus on Daniel Day Lewis—playing, in the film, the white scout Hawkeye, or Natty Bumpo (Leatherstocking) in Cooper’s novel—who is identified as the Nephite prophet Alma the Younger, the scene is initially focused on actor Wes Studi (Cherokee), who, in the film Last of the Mohicans, plays Magua, a Huron scout, surrounded by other members of the Huron tribe.

 

Here Studi/Magua, dark-skinned with scalp lock and red feather, surrounded by fierce Huron warriors with shaved heads and scalp-locks, is made to stand in as the quintessential, imagined Lamanite warrior. However, Supermom6kids explained on the youtube site that “The scene of Alma the Younger represents when he and Amulek are captured and the believers are going to be thrown into the fire, but he is still bold and unafraid.” For those familiar with the Book of Mormon narrative, this scene took place in the city of Ammonihah, which was inhabited by apostate Nephites at the time.  Thus, if we interpret the scene allegorically, the Huron represent not Lamanites but apostate Nephites here. Interesting then that she chose Last of the Mohicans rather than Troy again, or something else. But if the typical binary Nephite-Lamanite (white vs. indigenous American) racialization could potentially be blurred here, and might rather be depicted as white-on-white violence (still problematic), or something else entirely, instead the typical scenario is reified and racial difference is still the salient feature for identifying good guys and differentiating them from bad guys when it comes to visual representation. It is, in effect, made all the more stark. Thus, actors depicting the Huron/Iroquois are chosen to depict the unbelieving children of Lehi—whether Lamanite or Nephite—at their fiercest and most “savage.” If good Nephites are imagined as white, Euroamerican males posing as battling Greeks and Trojans, Roman gladiators, medieval knights-in-shining-armor, and mythic Scottish freedom fighters, Lamanites and unbelieving Nephites are either pictured as a non-descript collective monolith fighting for the Christian cause (good, converted Lamanites) or as North American Indians.

Ironically, and doubtless unwittingly, having Natty Bumpo stand in for Alma the younger and Huron warriors for Lamanites/Nephites hits rather close to home, with implications that are surely unintended. Which gets me to my point, which is not simply to make fun of Supermom6kids or Arnold Friberg or, more generally, of Mormon art. It is rather to suggest that when we make racialized portraits of an imagined ancient American past, we ought to think through some of the implications of that representation. For art is a lie that might tell us truths about ourselves we’d rather not know. But then again, perhaps is its most valuable function. To reflect back to us things about ourselves, as a community—attitudes, ways of thinking about others—that , when critically reflected on, we might not be so comfortable with.



[1] “Epic Book of Mormon Movie trailer,” uploaded by supermom6kids, January 9, 2009, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2PGVH_mSDNE&feature=related (viewed April 26, 2011).

Share and enjoy:


4 Comments

  1. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that video before, Stan. Weirdly fascinating. In addition to the racial overtones of this all, I was also struck by the faux-trailer’s reliance on violence in emphasizing the central theme(s) of the Book of Mormon’s narrative — almost every scene he chooses from some other Hollywood blockbuster is one in which the characters are at war, preparing for war, chopping someone’s arms off, etc. That also holds true of the final scene taken from the church’s D&C video included, in which JS enters Carthage Jail to await his imminent martyrdom.

    Comment by Christopher — December 12, 2013 @ 9:21 am

  2. Joseph Smith has crazy eyes in that clip.

    Comment by Amanda — December 12, 2013 @ 8:48 pm

  3. Yes, hyper-masculine Hollywood violence. How inspiring.
    Of course, it sort of fits. It reminds me of a sunday school class comment I heard years ago when a young man said he used to think the Book of Mormon was boring until he started reading it and, hey, there’s some great stuff in there! for example: Coriantumr chopping off Shiz’s head (followed by a sputtering headless push-up), Ammon dis-arming the sheep scatterers, and Nephi lopping off Laban’s head. You know, the good stuff.

    Comment by Stan — December 12, 2013 @ 9:24 pm

  4. Yeah, there’s all kinds of crazy Shiz in there.

    Comment by Christopher — December 12, 2013 @ 11:30 pm