Columns Jana Riess: Flunking Sainthood Opinion

Dear Mormons, just get over yourselves with this “Deadpool” protest

The “Once Upon A Deadpool” film poster. Image courtesy of Fox

I have a confession to make: I walked out of the first Deadpool movie partway through in 2016, making it the only Marvel-universe movie I haven’t seen (often more times than I care to admit to you).

For me, it was too violent, and the violence was of a sort I generally avoid, where the taking of human lives is regarded as funny. I don’t find that funny.

So even though the movie had many superb points (Morena Baccarin, for starters, and the most hilariously meta opening credits I have ever had the pleasure to watch), I exited the doors about halfway through.

That was my choice. I figured that as a middle-aged woman—I’m 49 years old today, actually—I was not the target audience for Deadpool. And I was right: according to Movio Media, nearly two-thirds of the audience was male, and it also skewed at least a decade younger than I was at the time.

But now a whole slew of Mormons are protesting Deadpool, not because of the movies themselves but because of a poster advertising Once Upon a Deadpool, which hit theaters yesterday for the holiday season.

“Change the Deadpool poster to not mock the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day [sic] Saints,” says the headline.

The petition goes on to call the poster, which appears to depict Deadpool in the role of Jesus Christ at the second coming, “religious discrimination” against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“It is unknown if the picture was used to intentionally mock the Church of Jesus Christ, but it is clear it was copied from the original picture,” claims the protest’s originator.

As of this morning, the petition had received nearly 38,000 signatures.

This is just silly. For starters, the whole premise of Deadpool is about mocking: the main character mocks the villains, sure, but also other superheroes, pop culture in general, the D. C. universe, the Marvel universe, and most of all himself.

So the idea that Mormons are somehow being singled out for particular derision only goes to show how insular and self-absorbed we are. Our people’s persecution complex, it seems, has not lessened even though we are now more than a century past our time of actual persecution.

Moreover, the protest reveals ignorance of the origins of this painting. Although it has been reproduced in the foyer of just about every Mormon chapel I’ve ever been in, the artist, Harry Anderson, was not a Mormon himself but a Seventh-day Adventist. The LDS Church began commissioning works from Anderson, an illustrator for many popular magazines, in the 1960s. This began a fruitful partnership that was the subject of recent Church History Museum exhibit in 2017.

“The Second Coming” by Harry Anderson. Image courtesy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

So it’s a painting by a non-Mormon that is associated in Mormon minds—but not necessarily the minds of the rest of the world—with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I find it unlikely that someone in Hollywood chose this painting because they said, “Hey! Let’s go throw shade on some Mormons today!”

I imagine they chose it because it is an overtly religious painting the presents an apocalyptic theme in a decidedly, um,  mid-20th century way.

But rather than using this moment as an opportunity for self-reflection about why Mormons remain so affectionate about an image that essentially says that only white folks are going to heaven, we instead go on the attack.

What’s particularly ironic about conservative Mormons protesting the film poster is that this film was literally tailor-made for people like them. This is a pared-down, F-bomb-free, less splattery version of Deadpool 2, which was released this summer.

The studio has remixed the movie to remove anything offensive (and, according to this disappointed review, anything that was ever fun about it) and make it more appealing to families who like to see movies together over the holidays. It’s gone from having a Scarlet R on its chest to a more Marvel-typical PG-13 rating.

In short, this is exactly what conservative Mormons always say they are begging for from Hollywood. Hollywood has delivered, and they’re still effing pissed.

I, on the other hand, may venture out to see Once Upon a Deadpool if it’s less graphically violent than the first one. And I have to thank the protesters for bringing the movie to my attention. I hadn’t even heard it was in theaters until I read about their inane effort to make it all about Mormons.

 


Other posts related to Mormonism and film:

“Despicable Me” creator on Mormons, Minions, and “the best calling in the LDS Church”

The rebirth — finally — of Mormon cinema


 

 

 

About the author

Jana Riess

Senior columnist Jana Riess is the author of many books, including "The Prayer Wheel" (Random House/Convergent, 2018) and "The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church" (Oxford University Press, 2019). She has a PhD in American religious history from Columbia University.

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