God Forbid: The Sex Scandal that Brought Down a Dynasty (2022)

3 Dec

Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2
Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“God Forbid: The Sex Scandal that Brought Down a Dynasty.” Some of you probably already know what scandal the subtitle refers to–for those who don’t, it’s the scandal that destroyed Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr.’s reputation as the most powerful evangelical in America.

This guy was so respected, so loved, so revered as this model Christian with the perfect family and a knack for big business. Well, it turned out he and his wife Becki were the ultimate hypocrites as they partook in an affair with a young man named Giancarlo Granda who occasionally would get with Becki while Jerry…watched…actively… This went on for a long time until Giancarlo decided to come forward with it, thus resulting in the downfall of the Falwell dynasty.

But there’s a lot more to the story in this very entertaining documentary “God Forbid,” in which Giancarlo sits down and tells all. Using clever editing, slickly executed reenactment storytelling, and many other nicely handled visual techniques, this is the most intriguing documentary I’ve seen all year. (Even though I should’ve been tired watching it late last night, my attention was focused throughout and I never fell asleep.)

I haven’t seen this filmmaker Billy Corben’s previous docs, like “Cocaine Cowboys” or “537 Votes”–but after seeing this great flick, I’m definitely curious to see what else he has to offer.

Giancarlo says at the start of the film: “If I would have known that accepting this woman’s invitation to go back to her hotel room would have led to a scandal involving the president of the largest Christian university in the world and the president of the United States, I would have walked away and just enjoyed my private life.” He means it too. He was a 20-year-old Miami pool boy, he was seduced by a “cougar,” he saw an opportunity and took it, and he didn’t even know who these people were until he told his older sister about them shortly after. He still went along with them because Becki treated him like a secret boyfriend (and texted him pretty much every day) and Jerry kept providing him with amazing business opportunities (most likely to keep him quiet about the affair).

How could he have known that this bizarre threesome would go on for years or that he couldn’t get out of it because they would guilt him into staying in? These people, who called themselves “moral Christians,” manipulated this poor kid–even when things turned sadder, they continued with it.

Well, enough would be enough sooner or later–and the things Giancarlo Granda knew about the Falwells would bring them down. And this film portrays that beautifully.

“God Forbid” doesn’t stop there either. It’ll take its time to go back to the reign of Jerry Falwell Sr., the extreme conservative who founded LU and the Moral Majority. Then it’ll take more time to show the toxicity brought on by the Falwells’ endorsement of a certain former POTUS. (This went on a bit too long, in my opinion–it just reinforces what most of us already knew.) Then, after all of this, it ends with the question of whether evangelical extremists are the cause of many problems in this country–unlike many big-picture messages I see in many docs, this one doesn’t even seem like a stretch.

Mostly though, “God Forbid” is flat-out entertaining–and it’s as riveting as it is disturbing.

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