On Thursday, March 8, MGM Grand hosted an exclusive screening of Believer, co-produced by and starring Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds. No, this isn’t his Roustabout. The film documents one of the most prominent Mormons in Las Vegas challenging the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in the wake of an alarming, decade-long spike in suicides among LDS youth in Utah, which has been directly attributed to the church’s hard-line opposition to homosexuality and same-sex marriage.
The rising suicide rate—among other factors, including the testimonials of gay Mormons (including his friend and Neon Trees lead singer Tyler Glenn) and having the two lesbian best friends of his wife (and Nico Vegas frontwoman) Aja Volkman boycott the rock stars’ wedding—compels Reynolds to use his celebrity for good. He aims to reverse the church’s silence on the suicide rates and enlighten its large membership, largely by staging the LoveLoud music festival that dared to celebrate LGBT/LDS unity right smack in the middle of Mormon country—specifically, Provo, Utah—last August and drew 20,000 people.
Given his band’s popularity, Reynolds is best positioned to challenge LDS leadership and its homophobic dogma. As he said during a Q&A after Thursday’s screening, “I don’t think the church is going to excommunicate me, because that would be a PR nightmare.” He also revealed that at least one high-ranking member of the LDS church privately agreed with his assertion that there’s a real problem devastating the faithful youth.
Besides that issue, Believer is the story of Reynolds’ spiritual crisis, which sprouts once he’s exposed to the harm inflicted onto the LGBT population by his church—such as its demonization of same-sex marriage, which included bankrolling the successful campaign of California’s (since-overturned) anti-gay Proposition 8 bill in 2008—and especially those queer folks inexplicably still within their flock. One minute, the singer is crying through his acceptance speech during an LGBT award ceremony, where he apologizes for preaching against same-sex marriage as a young missionary. The next, he’s affirming his membership to the church, sticking up for its well-meaning followers and worrying about alienating himself from his large and devout family. But the harrowing stories relayed to him by Glenn and his Mormon fans detailing their ostracization from the LDS community seem to strike the loudest chord—as must their struggles with depression, a condition Reynolds has himself battled for years.
One might be inclined to think Reynolds has assumed the role of gay ally to curry favor with notoriously loyal LGBT music fans or find a publicist-approved cause to champion, but his overlap with the issue is so substantial, and the emotion he conveys when dealing with it feels so sincere, you’re likely to go along with him regardless of your feelings about his music.
Believer is neither a vanity project nor an inflated concert movie. The Dragons’ concert promoter, Live Nation, is one of the film’s producers. It debuted at Sundance Film Festival in January and will be officially released on HBO in June. On Thursday night, just before the VIP screening at KÀ Theater, every billboard along the Excalibur-to-Mandalay Bay strip of the I-15 advertised the movie. With that exposure potential, Believer stands a chance of becoming a Blackfish or Going Clear—one of those documentaries that sticks itself to an issue and even forces change. For the sake of the vulnerable Mormon youth, let’s hope so.