Hail Satan? (2019)
Hail Satan? (2019)

Genre: Documentary Running Time: 1 hr. 35 min.

Release Date: April 17th, 2019 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Penny Lane Actors: Lucien Greaves, Jex Blackmore, Malcolm Jarry, Nicholas Crowe, Michael Wiener

 


 

I

n Tallahassee, Florida, in 2013, a Satanic Temple rally is held at the state capitol. “We’re here to spread a message of good will and benevolence.” It may only consist of five people, but these self-proclaimed Satanists are 100% serious about their cause. As they announce their cynical, symbolic support for Governor Rick Scott, whose religious angle is supposed to open the doors for Satan right alongside God, the one or two media attendees ask a few questions, while the one or two confused onlookers yell that these black-robed Satanists will end up in hell. That, of course, is okay by them.

Lucien Greaves, the co-founder of The Satanic Temple (TST), explains his deeply held beliefs about Satan, who is supposed to be the perfect counter to tyranny. Group leaders ask that prospective members, as well as those opposed, evaluate their notions of the United States being a Christian nation; it’s supposed to be secular, and the government isn’t supposed to dictate religious ideals. TST believes in religious pluralism, justice, and equality. Though they chose the name “The Satanic Temple” solely because it wasn’t already taken, the members wish to properly represent Satanism, which is merely an alternate religion, and not one that espouses violence or anarchy or any form of wickedness. To them, Satan isn’t the monstrous, pitchfork-wielding purveyor of pain and suffering often proliferated by the media; he’s simply a literary figure, an abstraction (not a specific deity) worthy of awe.

“To the end of repressive traditions!” When the organization’s exploits reach national news, it’s apparent that their efforts to spread awareness is working. The protests are hysterical yet significant, fueled by increasing media coverage. Hilariously, virtually everyone in the background of interviews – on television or on the streets – struggles to keep smirks off their faces. With headquarters, chapters, designated buildings, and branded merchandise popping up across the country, Satanism is quickly becoming a considerable global movement. In the context of this film, humor and good spirits can also be found from the membership; Satanists are average, everyday people, celebrating a credo no stranger or harmful than any of the thousands of other beliefs out there.

A fundamental tenet of Satanism is to challenge corrupt authorities, primarily through activism. It’s a noble, sensible mission, even though TST inspires plenty of disgust and contempt through its macabre imagery. The Catholic Church was – and is – one of the biggest sources of opposition, notably gathering to stop an attention-drawing Black Mass in Boston in May of 2014, which was to be held at Harvard. Not surprisingly, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese in New England succeeded in suppressing the Satanic Temple’s First Amendment rights. But, in a genuinely inspirational sort of way, the underdog congregation was inspired to push onward with even greater resolve. It certainly didn’t – and won’t – get easier, especially when, quite ironically, violence and death threats are regularly hurled at TST affiliates, who contrastingly believe in nonviolence (though the movement has grown large enough to see extremists break off from the core assemblage).

In 2015, when Oklahoma was forced to remove a Ten Commandments statue from their state capitol to avoid having to place a goat-headed, winged, Baphomet sculpture beside it, The Satanic Temple finally claimed a major win. From there, the organization gained steam rather quickly, as many prospects recognized the appeal of representing the exact opposite of the ultra-conservative, religious hardliners who aggressively push their own, non-ecumenical agendas. As it turns out, in numerous scenarios, religious monuments and invocations were removed from governmental proceedings and properties to avoid having to represent Satanism equally.

Engrossingly, “Hail Satan?” isn’t trying to convert audiences, or even educate them about the intricacies of Satanism; instead, its goal is to present a different point of view, from which people can contemplate and scrutinize the power of religious freedom. The separation of church and state is utterly crucial. Nevertheless, since so many people have specific notions about Satan, it’s a decidedly uphill battle to get citizens to stop judging and fighting against basic constitutional rights – particularly when they don’t align with generations-old dogma.

“Being an atheist is boring.” As the documentary interviews TST founders and inaugural members (including Nicholas Crowe, Malcolm Jarry, and Jex Blackmore), TST National Council members, lawyers, politicians, and many others, as well as exhibiting clips from news outlets, archival footage, courtroom proceedings, and snippets from movies, plenty of thought-provoking material is presented. Unfortunately, there are also a couple of repeated shots, as if not enough different filmic elements were available. But even with its intermittently amateurish editing, it’s difficult to dismiss the magnitude of what TST – and, by extension, this film – is trying to accomplish: to challenge the unequal and unmatched supremacy of Christian religions across the United States.

Ultimately, this movement isn’t about Satan; it’s about the freedom of religion and the freedom of speech. Like any important front for social equality, emboldening debates and public discussions is imperative. Problematically, however, this documentary not only doesn’t provide a resolution about the Baphomet monument (save for a brief news segment unforgivably placed after the end credits finish), but it also fails to give an afterword concerning the continued fight for fair representation – which is further stymied by the lack of dates shown onscreen, making a comprehensible timeline hard to decipher.

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10