One of the more entertaining and touching movies of the "coming out" genre in recent years was Latter Days, which features Steve Sandvoss as Elder Aaron Davis, a Mormon missionary who, while on mission to Los Angeles, discovers his long-buried gay identity with the help of party-boy Christian Markelli (played by Wes Ramsey). The film also includes performances by the wonderful Mary Kay Place as Aaron's mother, up-and-coming art house favorite Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a fellow missionary, and the luminous Jacqueline Bisset as a restaurateur-cum-mother hen.
In his review of the movie, Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote:
Is there a way in which the movie works? Yes, it works by delivering on its formula. We sense immediately that Davis and Christian are destined to be lovers, and so we watch patiently as the screenplay fabricates obstacles to their destiny. We identify to some degree with them because -- well, because we always tend to identify with likable characters in love stories. Maybe the fact that they're gay will help some homophobic audience members to understand homosexuality a little better, although whether they will attend the movie in the first place is a good question.Latter Days is, more than anything else, a story about family -- both the family we're born with and the family we choose.
But Latter Days is not without its homoerotic titillation. A serious drama, it also has comic scenes and some very steamy love scenes, as well.
Latter Days' homoeroticism came to mind when I was reading the religion page of today's Washington Post. Yes, you read that right -- on the religion page. Beneath one article subtitled "As Their Numbers Dwindle, Christians In Iraq Feel Increasingly Vulnerable" and another headlined "Candidate's Religion Can Be Telling but Shouldn't Be the Whole Story" is one entitled "Calendar Shows Another Side of Mormons."
And what a side it is! In the lower right-hand corner of the page is a shirtless hunk straight out of an Abercrombie & Fitch catalog. The photo comes from the cover of "Men on a Mission," a 2008 calendar that can be purchased at mormonsexposed.com. (That sounds like a web site for the schlock silent-film classic, Trapped By the Mormons or its campy 2005 remake, but in fact it also sells t-shirts with slogans like "I heart Mormon Boys" as well as the calendar and other items.)
In the article, distributed by Religion News Service, correspondent Lilly Fowler writes:
Having seen Barack Obama dressed skimpily on the beach, can Mitt Romney be far behind?
Hoping to debunk the popular image of Mormons as strait-laced corporate types, a steamy new "Men on a Mission" calendar features 12 former missionaries, each of them shirtless, sculpted and looking seductive.
There's Jonathan, looking like a Mitt Romney clone, and there he is again, sitting shirtless on a park bench with a sultry come-hither stare. And Shane, holding his Book of Mormon near the Las Vegas Strip and then looking like, well, he's the one going to strip.
Brandon Beckham, an actor and filmmaker who spent his two-year mission spreading the Mormon message in Mozambique, auditioned for a spot in the calendar after his agent told him about the project.
"It was kind of a different type of audition," said Beckham, now 32 and playing the role of Mr. August 2008 in a bathing suit.
Beckham, who was born and raised in Southern California, said that as a Mormon in the entertainment industry, he's used to having to make some tough decisions.
"I made up my mind a long time ago that I wouldn't engage in things I wouldn't approve of, that I wouldn't show my kids," he said.
But he said that after meeting the men behind the calendar, he felt good about the project and decided he could help change some of the misconceptions about Mormons.They call it "bare chests and handsome faces as a conduit for change."
And will we now be encountering Jehovah's Witnesses as they hawk calendars door-to-door?