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Brokaw: ‘Under the Banner of Heaven’ looks at an infamous Utah murder

By Francine Brokaw - Special to the Daily Herald | Apr 26, 2022

Courtesy Michelle Faye/FX

Andrew Garfield appears as Jeb Pyre in a scene from "Under the Banner of Heaven," which premiers Thursday, April 28, 2022, on FX.

The seven-episode series “Under the Banner of Heaven” is inspired by the Jon Krakauer best-selling true-crime novel. It dissects the 1984 murder of Brenda Wright Lafferty and her baby daughter in the Salt Lake valley. The story looks at how religions can be hijacked by fundamentalists who distort the basics of religions to their own beliefs.

The producers and cast recently met virtually with the media to discuss the show and the beliefs, whether structural or distorted, within fundamentalist offshoots of religions.

Series star Andrew Garfield explained, “I think questions of spirituality, questions of faith and doubt, questions of how to live one’s life, questions of the meaning of life, and I think, maybe even more vitally, living on a knife-edge between life and death. It’s only there that I think that I we start to really get into what we are doing here, what we are doing here in the time between action and cut, what we are doing here in the time when we are breathing and incarnate on this earth.”

Creator and producer Dustin Lance Black acknowledged, “I grew up in this (Latter-day Saint) faith, I grew up devout in this faith, and at least half of my family is still very active in this faith. So I really like what Andrew just said, that this is about a pursuit of truth.”

He added, “And many times, particularly in very challenging times, we see people move to the extremes, to the fundamentals. And in this case it’s this family, who was faced with a very tough time in Utah, who are Mormon, first turned to fundamentalist constitutionalism and then to fundamentalist Mormonism. And we start to see and understand the dangers of leaning into the fundamentals, into the deep histories of anything.”

When executive producers Ron Howard and Brian Grazer were asked what drew them to this project, they were eager to explain. “I’m always intrigued by family stories, family dynamics, groups of people in general trying to accomplish something, but family stories always resonate with me,” Howard said. “And here’s a story about on the one hand a very remarkable, high-achieving group of people and yet their lives transformed in a very tragic way. And so this was sort of a story of transformation that I felt could happen to a lot of people in a lot of faiths, because at the end, as Dustin was just saying, you know, I mean, it’s so much about the way our human belief systems can be distorted and manipulated to justify acts of oppression and violence.”

Grazer chimed in, “I also like stories, if they can be honest, that are cautionary tales about the dangers of extremism, and this definitely is all about that. And that idea, that theme is transferable to so many things that are going on in our world today in a larger scale.”

While the issues of religion are front and center, Black wants viewers to know the show makes a clear distinction between modern, contemporary members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and fundamentalist sects. The project “brought me closer to some people within the church and, 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.'”

He is adamant that the show makes a strong distinction between mainstream Mormonism and fundamentalist Mormonism. “But for the most part, I think, if the truth shall set you free and this is a church that claims to be ever-changing, why are we afraid of the truth? Why are you afraid to look closer? And when is the church going to change? That’s the question. That’s the real question,” Black said.

“Under the Banner of Heaven” premieres Thursday on FX.

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