I recently attended the preview of Freetown, a new Mormon genre movie about—you guessed it—male missionaries. I was hoping it would be a quality film—and it was—but I didn’t hope to see anything I hadn’t seen before. I’ve seen a lot of movies about male Mormon missionaries already (God’s Army, The Other Side of Heaven, The Best Two Years), not to mention the fact that I know a bunch of Mormon missionaries in real life and served alongside dozens of them when I was a missionary myself.
However, Freetown managed to bring something new to the genre that I personally hadn’t seen yet: it is not an American story. It doesn’t take place in the U.S., nor does it document an American missionary’s culture shock as he adapts to living in a distant land. With one very short-lived exception, Americans are not in this movie. Let me repeat that: this Mormon movie is not about Americans! The movie takes place in Liberia in 1990, at the beginning of a civil war. It centers around six native Liberian missionaries attempting to escape their war-torn country.
I think that the opportunity to see our faith through the lens of another culture; without a familiar, American character to use as a cultural translator/crutch; is reason enough for American Mormons to see this film. However, I should warn our feminist readers that, in keeping with Exponent tradition, I applied the Bechdel test to Freetown and it failed miserably. To pass the Bechdel test, a film must:
- have at least two female characters
- who talk to each other
- about something other than a man.
This movie didn’t even make it through Criterion Number 2. I never once saw two female characters speak to each other over the course of this film.
To the filmmakers’ credit, the few female characters who did make appearances were portrayed as strong people in their own right and not as mere props for the men. However, these appearances were always short and most scenes had no women at all.
Of course, as any Mormon knows, the real-life rules governing male missionaries don’t leave a lot of room for incorporating women into their lives. The film promotional materials boast that Freetown comes from the makers of the Saratov Approach (also about male missionaries) and Saints and Soldiers (about male soldiers), so it appears that these filmmakers have specialized in movies about Mormon male characters in masculine situations absent of women. There is nothing wrong with them choosing to specialize this way, but if you already feel satiated on stories of Mormon masculinity from Sunday meetings, Freetown may not be the best way to spend your entertainment dollars.