On King Noah, Blackface, and the Book of Mormon Musical

Ok. So.

Let’s say, once upon a time, some creators looked at a group of people who had a history of being stripped of their basic rights, beaten, and oppressed and said,

“By Golly, let’s take people who do not belong to this group, dress them up as gaudy caricatures of this group, and make them do silly, silly things for the entertainment of the masses! It’ll be fun!”

And the rest of the people were so classy, and so unwilling to make a mocking, degrading spectacle of their fellowman, especially one with whom there is already historical trauma, that they were like, “BRUH. NO.”








Yeah, that wasn’t OK.

But then things happened. The Civil Rights movement happened. Social Justice Movements happened. And we got WOKE. And we were not going to stand for this!

Minority groups in this country, minorities who have been  discriminated against, raped, shot, lynched by angry mobs, and misrepresented again and again and again, were not going to be exaggerated props for our entertainment and voyeurism. They deserved protection.

We got totally WOKE and we are not going to stand for minorities being made into gaudy, crude caricatures for us to laugh at.

It’s dehumanizing.

It’s cruel.





But hold on, you say, That’s not entirely fair. It’s just a joke. Can’t you take a joke?

Sure I can. But I also believe in internal consistency.  Would you be comfortable making not just one joke, but a WHOLE MUSICAL of jokes about a minority group? If you aren’t comfortable laughing at a blackface gag, why is this okay to you?

Matt Stone himself (one of the musical’s creator’s) asserted that, “We obviously all have fun at the expense of religion and — the Book of Mormon, it’s just silly; it’s silly and there’s a lot of good comedy there. And the story of Joseph Smith, the way it’s told, is silly too.”

So what does this make the African converts in your charming tale?

Stone and Parker manage to achieve both religious blackface and plain old blackface too, so we can sample all the flavors.

He goes on to slather on the buttery diplomacy, about the niceness of Mormons, and how the whole thing is really pro-religion, etc. There are people who also will argue that pornography is pro-love, because nakedness and oxytocin. You can tell that to the children of broken marriages, to the suicidal wives, to the congenital syphillis. Nope, nope, extra nope.

But wait, wait. Your church is even in on the joke. They bought advertising space in the Playbill!

They sure did. In related matters, God sent Abinadi into King Noah’s court. God did not send Abinadi in there because the lechery, demagoguery, and priestcraft were the swellest thing since leopardskin loincloths, he sent him because every fine-twined whore monger in there also happened to be a beloved child of God, in desperate need of education and grace. He sent Abinadi because children in every state of wayward, cruel ignorance are always, always worth every effort.

I heard people ended up getting baptized from having seen the musical.

As did Alma, the erstwhile whoremongering-priestcrafting sinner turned prophet. It doesn’t make past whoremongering and priestcraft morally okay, but speaks solely to the Grace of God. Which is big enough to handle bigotry-riddled pasts.

And…and a mission president had his missionaries go see it!

My dears, when calling-dropping becomes integral to your argument, the whole thing starts to crumble. Let’s assume for a moment that this one is, in fact true, and not urban legend.

First, leaders sometimes make really stupid decisions. This is no secret. We have records of this happening from the Old Testament onwards.

Second, let’s assume that it happened and that it was a divinely inspired thing (these are both big assumptions). Still doesn’t mean the musical itself is exonerated. It could easily mean that God felt it necessary for missionaries to have the cultural literacy to deal with the hullaballoo that invariably happens when things with “Mormon” attached to them become pop culture phenomena. The first time Mitt Romney ran for president, I cannot tell you how many people legitimately thought he was the leader of our church. It’s good to be somewhat informed about Mormon-related goings on that are being broadly consumed by the people around you. Which is why I made a point of reading up on the musical (and came away feeling wildly violated by the experience).

Speaking of violation, it could be that I am biased against this musical because the first time I had a conversation with someone about it, that someone was my OB/GYN when he instigated a personal cross examination and criticism of my response to the musical WHILE HE WAS PERFORMING MY PELVIC EXAM.

Friends, both religion and vaginas are personal, sacred spaces. The arrogance and coarseness necessary to do what this doctor did is precisely the arrogance and coarseness I see leaching out from all the cultural corners surrounding this musical. If it smells like blackface, throw it out. It’s past date, and was toxic even when it was fresh.

(And no, I never went to that Gyno again.)

This is not a call to arms, or a condemnation of those who have paid hundreds of dollars to watch people mock my faith. It’s just a frank analysis of a bigotry that even, sometimes especially, the most open-minded among us seem loathe to acknowledge.

And to have a link to send to the next gynocologist who harasses me about the musical.