At one point in HBO’s original documentary Believer, Imagine Dragons vocalist Dan Reynolds is warned that he’s going to open himself up to criticism for organising a pro-LGBTQ concert – just not predominantly from the religiously conservative, but LGBTQ people aghast at a cis-gender, heterosexual white man co-opting their struggle. This is slightly unfair, as both the film and the charity concert presented within are born of good intentions that deserve the renewed spotlight this documentary will place upon them.
The worldwide popularity of Imagine Dragons means that millions of people will soon be keenly aware of the homophobia inherent within the Mormon church and the high suicide rate of LGBTQ youth who practice mormonism, thanks to this documentary shining a light on it. The homophobia of certain religions is shamefully overlooked, and in news reports, is frequently concentrated squarely on Christianity and Islam, failing to highlight the prejudice elsewhere – and in that respect, Believer is somewhat vital.
The background to the documentary follows Dan Reynolds, the Imagine Dragons vocalist, who has come to a crossroads in regards to his Mormonism, and the religion’s treatment of LGBTQ individuals. With high suicide rates in Utah among young people likely attributed to this stance, Reynolds (along with openly gay singer Tyler Glenn, a former member of the church) creates the LoveLoud festival, in order to raise awareness of the issue, and change hearts and minds in the process.
There are moments in Believer that are genuinely moving, as we see the emotional torment placed upon those who have had to reconcile their sexuality with their religious beliefs, as well as seeing those who have been excommunicated for simply expressing that being gay is not a sinful crime. But these moments make awkward bedfellows with a documentary that is predominantly aimed at Imagine Dragons fans, with the moving message occasionally proving to be secondary to celebrations of the band’s success.
The initial struggle to get the mormon community to turn out for the LoveLoud festival leads to a number of humblebrags about the band’s usual ability to sell out shows in seconds, and have hundreds of millions of streams and YouTube views – and the band’s popularity seems somewhat disrespectful to mention alongside such a serious issue. Of course, it’s the band’s popularity that is helping shine a light on the issue (and is fundamental in getting this documentary made), but it too frequently becomes the focus, obscuring the emotionally hard-hitting interviews that should be consistently front and centre.
In fact, although Reynolds is central to the documentary due to his star power, it’s hard not to wish that the documentary primarily focused on the festival’s co-founder Tyler Glenn. The former singer of Neon Trees, Glenn was excommunicated from the church following coming out as gay, and still struggles to grapple with his religious beliefs and sexuality to this day – even recording an album about it, titled Excommunicate, that ruffled more than a few feathers in the Mormon community. He’s the emotional centre of the film, and the audience surrogate for LGBTQ viewers. It’s not entirely a problem that the documentary focuses on a straight man when it’s aiming to raise awareness of the cause for what I assume will predominantly be straight viewers, but the best moments in Believer are the ones where Tyler tearfully confesses about his inner conflicts. It doesn’t feel like an outsider waving his ally flag – it feels genuine.
Believer is a necessary documentary, and I hope it continues to raise awareness of the cause, and all subsequent LoveLoud festivals will further combat prejudice and change minds in the Mormon community. It’s well-intentioned and occasionally moving, but hard to talk about without confronting its flaws; missteps that won’t matter to straight audiences being informed of the ramifications of the anti-LGBTQ prejudice in mormonism for the first time. This is a lesson that urgently needs to be taught, no matter how flawed the film at hand is.
All pictures reproduced courtesy of HOB