The last episode of FX’s Under the Banner of Heaven aired this month, and if you find yourself wanting more to watch about the world of fundamentalist Mormonism, Netflix has a new documentary series out, Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey.
The new Netflix docu-series about the Fundamentalist Latter-Day Saints Church (FLDS) begins with the people who had had enough. They were members of the FLDS in the Short Creek area (an FLDS settlement on the Utah-Arizona border, encompassing the towns of Hildale, Utah and Colorado City, Ariz.) and are now telling the stories of the one-atrocity-too-far that finally spurred them to leave the faith and the community they had known for their entire lives. For some, that catalyst was FLDS leader Warren Jeffs’ forcing young girls into underage marriages or his rigid restrictions on day-to-day activities, appearance and even gun ownership. For many, they saw leaving the faith as a choice between personal integrity or their eternal salvation…and they chose integrity.
“They make you live in fear all of the time.”
Ruby Jessop, escaped FLDS member
It is an impossible dilemma illustrated by the final lines of Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven (the book on which the TV show was based), spoken by DeLoy Bateman, who decided to leave the FLDS after losing his faith: “If you want to know the truth, I think people within the religion—people who live here in Colorado City—are probably happier, on the whole, than people on the outside. But some things in life are more important than being happy. Like being free to think for yourself.”
The Netflix docu-series takes a multi-pronged approach, telling a broad story of Jeffs’ impact, by speaking both with former FLDS members who survived his reign as prophet to provide insight and emotion and with law enforcement, journalists and other outsiders who provide perspective, context and details from their investigations into Jeffs’ crimes. Sam Brower, who wrote one of the definitive works on Warren Jeffs, Prophet’s Prey, is interviewed for Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey, proclaiming that, at one time, “Without a doubt, Short Creek was the most lawless town in America.”
The four-episode series serves as a timeline of Jeffs’ increasingly heinous acts as he schemes to seize more and more control over the community—as well as his eventual criminal charges, evading arrest and criminal trial—intercut with devastating tableaux described by those subject to Jeffs’ cruelty.
Ruby Jessop and Elissa Wall, both 14-years-old at the time, clung to each other in a Caliente, Nevada motel room where they waited to be married to older men. The two girls considered running away, but, ultimately, they obeyed the will of their prophet.
“They make you live in fear all of the time,” explains Jessop.
“It wasn’t just about me. It wasn’t just my salvation hanging in the balance. It was about my mother’s, too,” Wall says about why she went through with it. Jessop later escaped the FLDS, inciting a criminal investigation into Jeffs, and Wall was instrumental in Jeff’s ultimate conviction.
The docu-series culminates into a highly polished, well-produced introduction and overview of events and life in the FLDS under the rule of Jeffs, but even those familiar with the tale can find edification in the telling of personal accounts, stories of survival and how to learn to live again after trauma and tragedy. Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey is also an opportunity to meet and learn more about some of the figures that appear in Krakauer’s Under The Banner Of Heaven, including Ruby Jessop.
Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey has since reached the top ten TV shows on Netflix and all four parts are currently available for streaming.
Synopsis of Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey
In 2008, a dramatic raid at the Yearning for Zion Ranch in West Texas generated attention around the world, as law enforcement agents uncovered stunning evidence of sexual, physical and psychological abuse and took 400+ children into custody. Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey, directed by Emmy and Peabody Award-winning filmmaker Rachel Dretzin, gives viewers an in-depth look into the secretive polygamous sect of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) and the rise of self-professed prophet Warren Jeffs. The four-part documentary series features never-before-seen archival footage and harrowing personal stories from some of the courageous women and men who escaped. From forced underage marriage and pregnancy to a complete unraveling into an oppressive criminal cult under Warren Jeffs’ rule, the story uncovers extraordinary bravery battling tyrannical control in modern America.
Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey is a Participant and Ark Media Production; directed by Rachel Dretzin (Who Killed Malcolm X, Far From the Tree). Executive Producers include Jeff Skoll, Diane Weyermann, Miura Kite, Zachary Herrmann, Rachel Dretzin, and Alison Dammann. Grace McNally serves as co-director and producer.