'A Topic Deeply Buried'
'Latter Days' director C. Jay Cox speaks to Beliefnet about his film and Mormonism's stance on homosexuality.
BY: Interview by Rebecca Phillips
"Latter Days," a film about a gay Mormon missionary, opened in theaters late January amid controversy, after winning praise on the gay film festival circuit. The movie offers a strong critique of Mormonism's stance on homosexuality, as viewers see Elder Aaron Davis, the missionary, struggle to come to terms with being gay, suffer rejection from his family, endure an excommunication trial and aversion therapy, and ultimately fail to reconcile his religion with his sexuality.
But the film also shows how faith can have a positive effect, as the gay party-boy character, Christian, embarks on his own search for meaning after meeting Aaron. Director and screenwriter C. Jay Cox, himself a gay former Mormon best known for writing the screenplay for "Sweet Home Alabama," spoke to Beliefnet about the film, faith and sexuality, and why he left the religion he grew up in.
Have you always wanted to make a movie like "Latter Days"?
I've been working on the movie for a while. It's always been my goal to be a filmmaker. It's kind of ironic that what would have been my worst secret became the doorway to achieving this dream.
What was your worst secret?
Growing up Mormon and being a missionary at 19, [being gay] was my darkest secret. Exploring those issues, especially in such a public format--I couldn't have imagined doing that then. I certainly didn't start out making the movie to generate controversy. It was more of a way of personally exploring some of those issues for myself, and hopefully putting them to rest.
The movie has been well-received on the gay film festival circuit. Now that it's reaching a wider audience, what has the reaction been so far?
We've gotten some pretty good reviews. Especially since the controversy over getting pulled from [screening in] Salt Lake, now it's possible that when we do play there, it might play to a larger audience, not just the gay audience. I know that some people who have seen the movie have wanted to take their mothers to see it. Showing it to my own family was interesting--it definitely opened us up to a discussion that we've never really had. If anything, I hope it allows people to talk about a topic that, especially within Mormon culture, is really deeply buried.
How does the movie parallel your own life story?
I was that Mormon missionary, and I did come out. I was speaking from my experience on both sides of the story. Both the main characters, Aaron and Christian, were characters I could relate to personally. It's not autobiographical, but it is deeply personal.
Do you still consider yourself a Mormon?
No. When I came out, it was made very clear that a person could either be gay or they could be Mormon, but not both. I can see how it's such a conflict, but I chose to be honest with who I really was, as opposed to having to change for the sake of maintaining a religion.
There are some people who do try to reconcile their Mormon faith with their sexuality, such as the people involved with the organization Affirmation.
There are a number of people who are gay and who are deeply loyal to the Mormon church. I'm sorry, but the Mormon church is a church so much about family, and yet it makes people choose between their religion and their children. It's divisive, and I wish that weren't the case.