Under the Banner of Heaven is not your typical true crime thriller.
The new FX/Hulu show is adapted from Jon Krakauer’s best-selling 2003 book about the murder of a young woman and her child by Mormon fundamentalists.
“There’s a call to action in this show you might not get in every true crime thriller,” series creator Dustin Lance Black told the Knockturnal on the red carpet in Hollywood. He listed some of the tough questions the show examines: “Why are women in every religion in the world treated as less than men? Why is that? How long are we going to abide by it?”
Black, who grew up Mormon but has left the faith, believes he brought special insight into portraying the Mormon community. He said, “I think it’s a deep dive investigation of fundamentalism. The world right now is turning back towards fundamentalism — whether that’s the constitution or a faithful text. This show in its investigative thriller nature says very loud and clear that the turn towards fundamentalism is dangerous”.
Sam Worthington, who plays a fundamentalist Mormon, spoke on his experience filming in Utah and what he believes is the take away from the show. He said, “I’ve been to Salt Lake before. I’ve talked to a lot of Mormons and know Mormons. To me this is a TV show about the radicalization of religion. It’s not necessarily an expose on Mormonism.”
Executive producer Ron Howard echoed Black and Worthington’s assessment of the show’s message. “This is a cautionary tale,” said Howard. “This is a reminder of what can happen. It’s an example of basic tenets of a faith being distorted in an individual’s minds and fundamentalism used to rationalize violence.”
Howard made a distinction between some of his well-known previous films like “Apollo 13” and “Hillbilly Elegy” and his latest project. The former films are “celebrations” and “inspire and remind us of what’s possible.” The latter, on the other hand, is a “tragedy.”
The project has had a long-gestation period with many false starts. Howard said he optioned Krakauer’s book around a decade ago with plans to make it into a movie. But the roughly two hour time constraint didn’t fit the vision. “We were undercutting what made the book so effective. We were having to leave out dimensions of the story. And as it became more narrow it became a lot less powerful,” he said. “We were leaving so much creatively on the table we began to think of it as longform and decided to take it to FX. [FX chairman] John Landgraff and company embraced it. Then we began to really fulfill the potential of Krakauer’s great brook.”
“Under the Banner of Heaven” stars Worthington, Andrew Garfield, Daisy Edgar-Jones, Rory Culkin, Gil Birmingham and Wyatt Russell. It premieres on Hulu April 28.