Story: The world of organized religion might preach purity and restraint, but of course, there is always a never ending stream of scandals and controversies around churches and their outspoken leadership. Jerry Falwell was a central figure in American religion for decades and his son Franklin, Jr. would take over to continue that work, including doing all he could to ensure that Donald Trump was given the blessing of the evangelicals he held sway over. But while Falwell was telling others how to live their lives and serve a higher power, he was engaged in the kind of activities his own church rallied against. His wife Becki was sleeping with other men, but this wasn’t a betrayal, as Jerry was a willing participant. He would watch as other men, usually a young man named Giancarlo, pleasured his wife and would even offer them financial assistance, provided of course Becki’s needs were always put first and foremost. When the scandal broke, people were shocked, but would the leader of a megachurch and his wife living as a cuckold couple shatter the church’s foundations?
Entertainment Value: I want to open by saying I don’t judge the Falwells for their kinks, but I do judge them for preaching one thing, while living another in secrecy. Falwell would tell his congregation to live pure and godly lifestyles to please Jesus, while he and his wife were pleasing the pool boy. The scandal was a news lead for a while, but faded once the shock wore off and of course, there’s always a new scandal somewhere. God Forbid deep dives into the relationship between the Falwells and their main bull, Giancarlo, to look inside the heart of the scandal and go beyond the lurid, to examine the very real people and emotions involved in the situation. I found this to be a tasteful approach, as things are explored with no real judgment from the filmmakers, just some frustrations from some of the interview subjects. Giancarlo has a lot of screen time and his first hand memories add so much to this documentary, especially since he documented his communications, meaning there isn’t speculation in most of his claims, he can back up his words with proof. He doesn’t seem bitter, just hurt and frustrated at times and he explains why he chose to come forward, as well as his personal feelings on all that happened.
While Giancarlo shares his memories and thoughts in depth in God Forbid, Jerry and Becki refused to participate of course, so they’re not featured here. We do hear from them in archival interviews and media clips, but it is no surprise they wouldn’t tell their stories here. Despite that, we do have a number of other folks involved at some level, including an unexpected presence from Tom Arnold, who wound up involved. So we do have a wide scope of perspectives and participants, just no one from the active church leadership or the Falwells themselves, which is expected, but still a shame. At about 110 minutes, the pace is brisk and in truth, I think this could have been expanded into a docuseries, as there is such a wealth of topics to explore. But this focused take is also very effective and kind of refines the material to highlight just this specific scandal for the most part. Falwell’s involvement in politics is discussed somewhat and the history of his family is also touched upon, but the sex scandal is what drives the vast majority of God Forbid’s duration. The presentation is polished and enjoyable to watch, with good production values, visuals, and editing, as well as candid, insightful interview segments. If you like colorful documentaries or just like seeing the prideful fall, God Forbid is well made and recommended.