|Subject:||LEAVING BOUNTIFUL, polygamy film, receives standing ovation|
|Date:||Nov 16 22:57 2002|
|The publicity package for Leaving Bountiful, a documentary
film about the life of Debbie Palmer, a plural wife in the polygamous colony, states that
it is "the story of a woman, raised from a tiny child inside a perverted value
system, who somehow finds the courage...to break free. It is the story of systemic sexual
abuse and the subjugation of basic human rights, tolerated by Canadian and American
authorities because it is cloaked in the guise of religious freedom."
"The earth shall be cleansed with fire." So starts the film of Debbie's life inside Bountiful, British Columbia, Canada. When she was 2, her parents, mainstream Mormons, joined the polygamous community of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Bountiful is described as "a branch plant of Colorado City, the major Fundamentalist Mormon community that straddles the Utah-Arizona border."
Bountiful is located in a valley in southeastern BC, near the US border. Its location increases the isolation and secrecy of the colony.
At age 15, Debbie was ordered to marry leader Ray Blackmore, who was 57. He was married to 5 other women at the time and had 30 children, most of whom were older than his newest wife. Ray Blackmore was also Debbie's step-grandfather.
Two years later, Ray Blackmore died and his son, Winston Blackmore, became Bountiful's ruler. He has 30 wives and 80 children. He is the church bishop and superintendent of the (taxpayer-funded) school, runs the businesses, edits the newspaper and controls the reporting of abuse allegations. Winston Blackmore is also Debbie's step-son. He is described as "all but omnipotent".
During her life in the colony, Debbie was married 3 times and had 8 children. She suffered physical, sexual and emotional abuse. When she saw the same cycle repeating itself in her children's lives, fearing for their safety, Debbie flees Bountiful. In the whole wide world, she knew only one person outside the colony, an aunt who was a mainstream Mormon.
Since leaving Bountiful, Debbie Palmer has become an advocate for the women and children still trapped in the colony. She fights against what she calls "illegal cross-border trade in Canadian and American female children for sexual and breeding purposes."
I was fortunate to attend a pre-screening event for this documentary film a few days ago (which is being broadcast tonight on local TV, as I type). The film is powerful and poignant, sensitively written and brilliantly produced. The story is riveting, the scenery spectacular, the photographer's artistry remarkable. The narrator, a singer, tells the tale in a deep, quiet, melodious voice that enhances its poignancy. Debbie and two of her children are featured and the production team weaves their past and present together as we follow their story of exiting Bountiful physically and emotionally.
Over 100 people attended the pre-screening, shown on a big screen in the local Jewish Community Centre. From the instant the film started, the audience was riveted by Debbie and her compelling story. Utmost respect was indicated by the complete silence in the theatre throughout the showing, other than some tears and some gasps as the unbelievable and tragic story unfolded.
The film opens with Debbie recalling the circumstances of her leaving (she had to set her house on fire, get her children out, pile into the car and drive off into a world they believed was "hell"). "The earth shall be cleansed with fire" is the refrain that kept going through her head. "It was the only way to stop the pain", Debbie said. "The house was saturated with pain." In a classic understatement, the narrator said, "Debbie did not find plural marriage joyful".
The film's writer honours the audience with a factual narrative - no opinions were given, no rants against the church or the system were heard. It is assumed that the audience will "get it" just in the straightforward telling of the tale. And they do.
Audience gasps of disbelief were heard as the numbers of wives and children that men have were mentioned. More gasps as one Bountiful member said that all the children born in a given year are given names starting with the same letter, "so we refer to them as the A's, the T's, the J's." The dehumanizing effect of this was readily apparent to audience members. The impossibly confusing genealogy and "mixed up morality" also brought forth audience reaction, such as when the narrator said that Debbie was a sister to her own step-mothers and that girls were married to their step-fathers.
Early on, a group of young females is shown singing "My daddy is the best man in the world..." which looked and sounded sweet but foreshadowed something dark, and the audience sensed this. Toward the end of the film, after we have heard and seen the abuse, despair and sense of hopelessness, this clip is shown again, young girls smiling as they sweetly sing "My daddy is the best man in the world." This time, there was a profound silence as viewers contemplated the horror of the reality behind the image.
In a brilliantly understated way, the writer brings out the many levels of abuse in Bountiful's lifestyle: females living in complete subjugation to church leaders and other males (specifically their fathers); young girls being ordered to marry much older men, who may be close relatives; a female's only worth being measured by being a quiet, submissive, obedient, good sister wife with many children; complete absence of choice in every matter; widespread abuse - physical and emotional abuse, sexual abuse including incest and rape, spiritual abuse - being commanded to obey the prophet, ask no questions, relate to god through the prophet only, taught to believe that the only way into heaven is through polygamy etc. After the screening, an audience member sensitively asked Debbie what effect her traumatic experiences had had on her concept of "a Father God". Debbie paused, then in a quiet, dead tone of voice, she repeated the words, "Father God", paused again and then gave an indirect response. The implications were profound.
Debbie says the watchword in Bountiful was to "keep sweet, absolutely sweet and obedient to the prophet and to your father." She was "willful" and asked many questions. Her mom died when she was 6 and Debbie had a tough time fitting in willingly to commune life. She had been taught that her only worth was as a plural wife with numerous children. If she didn't obey, she would be "useless to the kingdom of god and the prophet and a shame to my father." For females, the emphasis in the colony is on "celestial marriage and homemaking." Their only goal is to be "the perfect sister wife." Debbie says "one day you're in school and the next day you're a wife." The marriage ceremony consists of their small hand being placed in their imminent husband's hand, in "the patriarchal grip". And that's it.
At one point, as a test of her obedience, Debbie's husband gave her newborn child away. Having no other choice, after an appeal to the prophet and her father who both counselled her to be obedient to her husband, Debbie acquiesced. A few weeks later, her husband brought the child back, saying she had passed her test.
The film goes on to recount Debbie's story of being forced to return to live in her father's home after the death of her first husband (as women and children are not allowed to live alone) and her second marriage to an abusive husband. He was so abusive that, remarkably, the prophet granted her a divorce from him. But as a single woman in the community for the second time, Debbie felt that she was a total failure and she descended into depression and attempted suicide, caused by her life's circumstances and her overwhelming feelings of unworthiness. Then Debbie is married again, miraculously, to a man she actually loves this time. They enjoy their relationship for a time but it also sours (among other horrors, she was reported to the bishop for having sex with her husband while she was pregnant - this is not allowed). After ups and downs, at one point, Debbie's husband cruelly sexually assaults her. Eventually, fearing for her children's safety, Debbie flees to her aunt on the outside, her father's sister.
Debbie's aunt cries as she recalls the events, stating that to true believers Debbie no longer exists, you do not exist as a person away from the group. By leaving the colony, her aunt says, "Debbie was throwing herself into the depths of hell...and that was _better_ than where she was."
Scenes from Debbie's present home life were shown, including the graduation of one of her daughters. Her current advocacy work includes intervening and supporting women and children who are struggling with all these issues. There was a scene where a mom and some children were staying at Debbie's house and the children were getting ready to go on a court-ordered visit to their father. One of the young boys opens the door to his grandmother who has come to pick up the children. He repeatedly yells, "I'm not going to see Daddy, I'm not going to see Daddy", as the children cluster in the hallway and one backs up the stairs. The grandmother's voice is heard responding, "Has the devil got you? Satan's got you." Then, to the women, "These used to be nice children, what have you done to them? Satan's got them." One of the women (maybe Debbie?) replies, "They are STILL nice children." To the children, the grandmother repeats, "Satan's got you." Audience reaction was stunned disbelief.
The only mention of the mainstream Mormon church was when Debbie was shown driving past the Cardston Temple in Alberta.
Colorado City was also shown and the activists' meeting in Zion National Park with Flora Jessop this past summer. (Did I spot GrandpaJim there? Were you wearing a hat and running to get out of camera range?)
At the conclusion of the film, as the writer/director, the producer and Debbie stood up, prolonged applause and a standing ovation expressed audience reaction to an incredible, powerful, emotional story told courageously and well.
In a question and answer period afterwards, Debbie said she was brought up to "keep sweet and silent" and she wants the opposite for her children. "I want them to grow up with all the knowledge to make their decisions." She hopes they will "make their own choices, get a good education, be a responsible citizen and have a good life." She longs for them to have "personal strength, self-esteem and the opportunity to make any spiritual connections they may need to survive" (according to their own choices).
The lawyers representing the plaintiffs in their class action suit against church leaders were also present and they spoke of Debbie's acts of great courage. They plan to launch a lawsuit against church leaders next week (for details see GrandpaJim's recent thread on this topic.)
Debbie is a tireless advocate for the Bountiful women and children here in Canada. She hopes to set up a transition home for those who want to leave the colony. She is working to bring the issue of abuses in polygamy to the attention of government and law enforcement and the general public. Her attitude is that if laws need to be changed, change them. If law enforcement is needed, bring it on. A top priority is to ensure that the Bountiful children receive a good education (presently they are usually made to leave school at the age of 13/14). One of her dreams is to eventually set up a wilderness camp (or something similar) for the children.
I was thinking not only of Debbie throughout the viewing but also of our respected poster here, Troy, who also grew up in polygamy. The film shows Debbie and her children participating in a (First Nations) Native healing circle to address the sexual abuse their family has experienced. They said the ceremony was beneficial to them. At the end of the film, the narrator says that for Debbie, "the only way out of Bountiful is back through it", referring to Debbie's return to the colony to make parts of the documentary and also her advocacy work that keeps her involved in the painful trauma of her life's experiences.
The film ends with Debbie standing on a hill overlooking the valley where Bountiful is located. The scenery is breathtaking in its beauty. An eagle is soaring overhead and Debbie talks of how she is "sailing inside the bird." As GrandpaJim has been heard to say, "if you weren't bawling by now, you're a stronger man than I".
The film's narrator ends by saying, "Emotionally, Debbie is still leaving Bountiful, a journey that may take a lifetime."
One of the groups Debbie Palmer is involved in is called Eye on Polygamy - there's info about it available on the web. Our new Canadian committee (yet to be named) will have a web site soon.
|Subject:||I don't even seem to have words (some words)|
|Date:||Nov 16 23:24|
|to describe the revulsion. One part in particular is just killing
At one point, as a test of her obedience, Debbie's husband gave her newborn child away. Having no other choice, after an appeal to the prophet and her father who counselled her to be obedient to her husband, Debbie acquiesced. A few weeks later, her husband brought her the child back, saying she had passed her test.
First off, let me state for the record that I'm 3 1/2 months pregnant with my first child and perhaps that is why I find this so insidious. But seriously, now. What kind of sick f*ck does something like this? And the fact that it's a conspiracy among the "righteous men" to break her spirit is utterly revolting.
I'm shocked that she had the guts to leave and even more shocked that she survived.
Any idea if this film is scheduled for wider distribution?
|Subject:||Re: I don't even seem to have words (some words)|
|Date:||Nov 16 23:35|
|elee - I know. The distaste and shock and revulsion of the audience
was palpable, at many points throughout the showing.
Debbie told me today that a longer documentary is presently being prepared. She is also quite far into the process of writing a book about her life. I'm not sure about the distribution that's planned for either of the documentaries. I am now on the committee with Debbie to address these polygamy issues. I'll make it a priority to try and achieve wide distribution of the documentary.
|Subject:||please please please learn to link|
|Date:||Nov 17 01:28|
|you have such current information.
Maybe the Canadian Government will be more successful than the US by tapping into the American cult immigration idea...then the US will have to look at the problem that is leaking out from its borders.
|Subject:||Re: LEAVING BOUNTIFUL, polygamy film, receives standing ovation|
|Date:||Nov 17 02:06|
|Subject:||The only thing sadder than Debbie's story?|
|Date:||Nov 17 09:39|
|It's the story Gary told of the old man and his women standing by
him in the polygamy church meeting. Those poor old ladies didn't have the insight and
gumption to know they should try to leave. They were too assimilated to know they should
try to seek freedom.
Mormonism treats women like second class citizens. Polygamy treats them like meat. If they don't knuckle under, they must suffer any kind of abusive game to force them into compliance like having their newborn taken away. Of course it looks very pleasant and sustaining to outside visitors who observe a meeting or two.
Thank you for the report. It made me feel like I was there.