What began as a graduate-school project by filmmakers Saila Huusko and Jasper Rischen, Moroni for President was expanded to a full-fledged documentary that debuted on the film festival circuit earlier this year.
In 2014, Moroni Benally, a young, gay Mormon [today, ex-Mormon] university professor, made a seemingly impulsive run for president of Navajo Nation at that time. The film follows the three months leading up to the election. And Benally’s campaign offers a rare glimpse into Navajo politics, as well as his idealistic vision for radical change in a highly impoverished land.
Benally’s success depends on the support of his large family, disenfranchised youth, and others longing for real change on urgent issues. While he is highly educated and understands public policy, his indentured youth and lack of political experience make him an unlikely win.
While Benally is at the center of the documentary, it also features two other gay Navajos who work for two of his opponents — LGBTQ activist Alray Nelson who holds his sexual preference secondary to being Navajo; and Zachariah George, executive assistant to the sitting president. Each navigates the constant tension between belonging and being different, between traditional rites and the modern world, while redefining, hopefully, the Navajo ideology.
Benally told The Salt Lake Tribune in a recent interview, “They [the filmmakers] used my story and the tribal elections as kind of a vehicle to explore a lot of these really messy issues about identity. There’s just all these tensions even within the community itself. And it didn’t try to force on the viewer an idea or a picture of what Navajo life is like.”
If you missed the screening of Moroni for President, at this year’s Pride festival, check it out on “America Reframed” tomorrow at 6 and 10 p.m. on PBS World — channel 7.2 over the air in Utah and channel 390 on Comcast. The documentary repeats on Wednesday at 6 a.m. and noon; Saturday, Nov. 24, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Nov. 25, at midnight, 7 a.m. and 3 p.m.