Hulu’s newly released documentary, “God Forbid: The Sex Scandal That Brought Down a Dynasty,” does not hold back in its direct and dirty exposure of conservative evangelist Jerry Falwell Jr.
“God Forbid” details an affair that began in March 2012 between former pool attendant Giancarlo Granda and Falwell’s wife Becki. At the time, Falwell Jr. was the president of the evangelical Liberty University and a key endorser of the Republican candidate Donald Trump in 2016.
Granda was only 20 years old at the start of the affair, and Falwell Jr. was known to often willingly watch while his wife had sexual relations with the younger man.
As someone relatively unfamiliar with the extent of this scandal, I consistently found my jaw dropping throughout the course of the documentary. I was aware of the affair, but this threesome of sorts was much more: it evoked intense political ramifications and had a devastating effect on the young Granda’s professional and personal life.
In its first half hour, the film cleverly refers to the Falwells as the “southern Gatsbys.” They were wealthy, powerful and sloppy, according to the narrator.
“God Forbid” did an incredible job of highlighting the hypocrisy of these seemingly charming, ideal Christians by contrasting their graphic texts, calls and photos with their public image and the “Liberty Way” — the strict, official student honor code at Liberty.
The writers of the documentary touched on many ideas that are not commonly discussed in the media. It was said that people thought of Falwell not as a person, but as a “cartoon character” or “their uncle,” offering a very unique explanation to why evangelists and other celebrity figures are able to abuse their power. Public figures are often viewed as intangible, and their actions are excused because they are entertaining “characters.”
Before watching “God Forbid,” I was unaware how key Jerry Falwell’s endorsement was to the election of Donald Trump. The documentary shows statistics, such as 81% of white, evangelical Christians voting for Trump, that emphasize how large the evangelical voter turnout was compared to previous years due to Falwell’s words and money.
The film effectively combines interviews, recreated footage, news clips and a variety of collected evidence to tell the story and create an easily digestible image of each person involved in the scandal. It is based in fact and extremely well-researched with receipts to back up every mentioned claim.
Although I enjoy this filmmaking technique, one of my only critiques is that the documentary was often jumpy and switched topics or perspectives at a confusingly rapid rate.
A highlight of “God Forbid” was the incredibly curated soundtrack. Though sometimes rather loud, the music told a story. The beginning of the documentary implemented raunchy, yet fun pop and rap music that slowly transitioned to more somber tracks as the nature of the situation intensified.
Although many documentaries highlighting victims and perpetrators of abuse unintentionally feel like exploitative cash grabs, this one did not. It is clear that its purpose was to expose the hypocrisy and danger of religious power plays and abuse of power. “God Forbid” certainly accomplished that goal.
At first watch, it seemed as if there was a slightly unrelated tangent about the alt right. The film touched on Trump’s America, court packing and the Jan. 6 insurrection, all of which do not seemingly directly relate to the Falwell scandal.
However, after further contemplation, I understand this direction offers insight to incidents in which hypocritical evangelicals blur the lines between the separation of church and state to gain power, loyalty and money.
Granda was extremely likable, and his interviews made the documentary enjoyable to watch. It was clear he truly regretted the scandal and wanted his private life back. Even though he was a victim, he did not claim to be innocent.
“God Forbid” ends with words on a black screen offering resources for other victims. I felt that this simple act made it clear that the intentions of the documentary were pure.
Overall, this documentary was equal parts hilarious, shocking and frustrating. It truly shed a light on an aspect of the United States that is often difficult to talk about.