Documentary Review: A Damning Remembrance of “The Sex Scandal that Brought Down a Dynasty” — “God Forbid”

No one named Falwell or Trump, no evangelical “Christian Nationalist,” and no person associated with Liberty University or The Washington Examiner comes off well in “God Forbid,” the new documentary about “The Scandal that Brought Down a Dynasty.”

But Tom Arnold does.

The latest film from Billy Corben, who defined the history of Florida’s “Miami Vice” era drug smuggling heyday with “Cocaine Cowboys,” points his lens at the sex-with-the-“pool boy” scandal that ended the reign of Jerry Falwell Jr. as president of the university his father founded, and as American right wing “kingmaker” among ultra-conservative white Christians.

It’s a movie that leans heavily on a long interview with a Polo-shirted Giancarlo Granda, the “pool boy” who became a third in the Jerry Jr./Becki Falwell marriage, having sex with Falwell’s wife while the Christian activist and conservative demagogue watched. Granda and co-writer Mark Ebner have a book about the affair and scandal, “Off the Deep End,” in bookstores now.

But Corben, a documentarian with a solid reputation when it comes to facts and “proof,” also presents enough smoking guns to fill the most generous firing squad. There’s video and court filings and damning text messages and recorded phone conversations, presented under actors recreating the players in this menage a trois.

And Corben doesn’t stop with just the “sex scandal” part of this. “God Forbid” takes us back to the blackmail-worthy “quid pro quo” of Falwell’s endorsement of the profane, obscene and hilariously Godless Donald Trump. Then journalists, academics and historians tie Falwell’s father, the dynasty-founding racist turned anti-abortion opportunist Jerry Falwell, to Trumpism and the State of the Nation today.

America’s moral, racial and cultural divides that led to our current Constitutional crises are laid at the feet of the smirking Lynchburg, Va. preacher who built a TV empire, a university and a movement that brought us here.

We’re led, date by date through the benchmarks of the affair, which began when Jerry Jr.’s wife and the mother of his three children eyed and approached Granda at the pool of Miami’s Fontainebleu Hotel in March of 2012.

Within days a long-term affair had begun, with Granda “seduced” by Becki Falwell and then brought into their “world” by her “cuck” of a husband. The “kid” was just 20, insecure and naive enough to have never had a girlfriend, his older sister Lilia confirms. He confided in her about the Falwells’ indecent proposal, which she urged him to ignore. And like him she was shocked when they both figured out who the Falwells were.

From there, young Granda was brought into the Falwells’ real-estate business, meeting Donald Trump in New York, where the star of NBC’s “The Apprentice” met him and signed (with a Sharpie) Granda’s copy of “The Art of the Deal.”

Corben’s interview subjects include the co-author of “Deep End,” Ebner, a veteran celebrity journalist and exuberant vulgarian on camera, laying out the “element of kink” in the Falwells’ pursuit of “the Cuban stallion” with profane glee.

They were “the Southern Gatsbys,” Ebner enthuses. Powerful, connected, “wealthy and sloppy as f—!”

The film is peppered with evidence of this, years of Falwell Jr.’s inappropriate public remarks to and about students and sex mixed in with the parade of right wing extremists he brought to the campus stage for mandatory “indoctrination” speeches at Liberty. But it took the sex scandal for alumni of the school (represented here by Dustin Wahl) to seriously push-back on the U president’s power trip.

The mountains of evidence and the history lesson about the Falwell empire and its influence on American politics is the text here. The subtext is how all of this “greed” and manipulation and power-grabbing was done right in the open, with a gullible public buying in. Falwell Sr. cynically led evangelicals from a Sunday School teacher Baptist president, Jimmy Carter, to the divorced Hollywood poseur Ronald Reagan, who’d signed the most liberal state abortion law in the country, pre-Roe, in California.

If irony “died” after 9/11, hypocrisy is this generation’s fresh cultural corpse.

As we see how the university’s draconian, fine-enforced moral code, “The Liberty Way,” was flouted, in the open and in secret, for years under Jr. rule, as we view how The FalKirk Center that Jr. set up, a “think tank” that helped fund and organize the Jan. 6 coup attempt with Donald Trump, one can’t help but wonder how a culture that refuses to see and shun hypocrisy can ever be pulled out of the fix we find ourselves in, with democracy itself literally on the ballot and no Republican ever held to account for threatening it.

Not to worry, Corben seems to tell us. Tom Arnold is on the case. Sure, “I feel like a bit of a scumbag,” the comic, TV star and ex of Rosanne Barr says, having seen the videos of Becki Falwell going cougar on the “pool boy.” But like Corben, Michael Cohen and a few others caught up in this vast right wing hypocrisy, Arnold kept the receipts.

Rating: TV-MA, sexual content, profanity

Cast: Giancarlo Granda, Mark Ebner, Lilia Granda, Randall Balmer, Megan K. Stack, Dustin Wahl Aram Roston and Tom Arnold.

Credits: Directed by Billy Corben. A Hulu release.

Running time: 1:49

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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