Sunday, 23 November 2008

Born Again (USA, 2006)

Director: Markie Hancock.

Producer: Kathryn Gregorio.

There is a great divide in the American society – one that is based upon religion. Ever since the (in)famous „Mayflower” docked in Plymouth, Massachusets back in 1620, the US has been home to a significant share of the world’s Christian fundamentalist population. The alarming news is that it still is and it’s fighting like never before not to lose its deadly grip on the policy-makers in the world’s most influential nation. Markie Hancock’s documentary „Born Again” is a personal account of how she has saved herself from the clutches of fundamentalist religion (into which she has had the misfortune to be born) and how through the process of personal liberation she has indeed been born again.

For Markie Hancock religious indoctrination began as soon as she was able to comprehend anything. Most of her childhood memories have to do with religion. There were Sunday morning services and Sunday evening services, Wednesday night prayer meetings and Friday night Bible school, vacation Bible camps, baptisms, youth meetings, missionary weeks and missionary conferences, morning devotions and evening devotions, Bible memory and bedtime stories - a seemingly never-ending process of worshipping God and confirming one's faith. In her own words, it was difficult to tell where the religion ended and the family began. Most of all, she was afraid not to go to Heaven and she would do anything her parents asked her to. When she was at school, she couldn’t go to any parties because of all the „lewd things” happening there. And instead of the highlight of most American teenagers’ school life - the prom, she would have to go to the alternative organised by the church – in every way as drab and devoid of any of the usual suspense as it sounds. And while a wave of youth rebellion swept across the Western world in the late 60s and 70s, there was definitely not a hint of it in Markie’s life.

Things started to change when Markie enrolled at the evangelical Wheaton College in West Chicago. Despite the fact that all the students were forced to sign the pledge of not drinking, smoking or even dancing, facing immediate expulsion if violating these rules, life at the Academy was the beginning of the end of her Christian years. It was here that she began to develop feelings for other girls and realised that there was a world to be explored beyond the thick walls of her parental home. After studying theology at Princeton for a year, she moved to Berlin under the pretext of studying theology and German there. In reality, she needed to get as far away from home as possible. Berlin for Markie became synonymous with falling in love and exploring her lesbian sexuality in an atmosphere of personal freedom which she had never experienced before. But these were exciting and troubled years at the same time – a divided soul in a divided city. She knew that by leaving religion she would lose her family but she also realised that by not leaving it, she would lose herself. The time had come for Markie to make a decision and face the music – it was her life as an individual that was at stake and leading a double life suddenly was no longer an option.

Markie Hancock uses footage from her family’s personal archives and conducts interviews with the members of her family on camera, allowing everyone to have a word. There is her mom taking time to explain why it would be wrong for her to allow Markie to sleep in their guest room together with her partner. There is her father who is adamant to explain the beauty of being an evangelical Christian. And there are also Markie’s siblings – Nathan and Mike. But while Mike dreamingly imagines a childhood minus all the religion and how that would have made him a more confident and stable person without losing half of his life trying to get de-programmed after years of religious brainwashing, Nathan is still praying for his older sister to return to God and His Kingdom. It’s obvious that there is a divide in her family as big as it is unsurmountable. Markie compares this divide to that in the American society - a divide between the religious fundamentalism and the worldview shaped by it on one hand and the people who wish to think for themselves and bring America forward, socially and politically, on the other hand, a divide between the exclusive and inclusive America.

The film was made shortly after George W. Bush secured his second term in office. At the same time, 11 states had voted to ban same-sex marriages. It looked at the time as if the fundamentalist America, the one that her parents represented, was taking over in this battle and Markie's tolerant and inclusive America was losing. Things have changed slightly since then but it’s definitely far too early to claim that the fundamentalist and intolerant America has been flushed down the drain. Despite Obama’s victory in the recent presidential elections, a majority of Californians voted to ban same-sex marriages. And that is definitely a bad omen when something like that happens in what is considered to be one of the most liberal states in the country. Markie’s journey of personal liberation may have been completed but it will be some time before the whole American nation liberates itself from its fundamentalist chains.

„Born Again” is an important testimony of one person who has had the inner courage and strength to find her true self and live with the consequences. It is also a well-made and heartfelt documentary about her lost family and the sacrifices she has been forced to endure. Stalin once said that the death of one person is a tragedy while the death of millions is statistics. In this case, the personal liberation of one person is a triumph which should inspire, if not millions, then certainly thousands.

Here you can watch the entire film if you happen to live in the US

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