The series, produced by Part2 Pictures, gives an unprecedented look at the subculture of a polygamist community. That kind of access—and the ability to tell stories that are genuine, honest and accurate—initially attracted Nat Geo to the project.
The thing is, these sorts of communities are more accurately described by the religion to which everyone in the community is expected to claim is theirs. Yes, the community supports polygynous ("plural") marriages, but it is their common religion that is what defines them. There are polygamists and polyamorists living in just about every community in the US, it is just that in most places, the wider community support is not there, and discrimination can make life difficult.
The article explains that NatGeo has had series documenting other US subcultures, such as life inside prisons and Amish communities. To feature Centennial, trust had to be built.
The trust took years to build, and entailed “a lot of sitting, conversations, and trying to figure out what was important to the community,” said Part2 executive producer Greg Henry. “They always thought it was a bit of a risk to stick their head up, but one that was well worth taking because the national discussion was always about FLDS,” he added. According to showrunner/co-executive producer Brian Lovett, who took the series’ reins shortly after filming began, gaining their trust involved “simply spending quality time with families, with and without cameras, talking about life, sharing… and having meals at their homes.”
The more that people see there are alternatives to monogamy or professed monogamy-plus-cheating or professed monogamy-plus-divorce-and-remarriage, the better. Monogamy works for some, but it doesn't work for all.
Nor did they refrain from articulating the difficulties of living in polygamy, or plural marriages as they refer to them, according to Henry. “It’s not easy—women are jealous of each other, men need to support large families. They believe that it’s a difficult lifestyle that’s worth it because of this incredible faith and belief in their religious doctrine that they have,” he said. The degree to which they were open and honest was quite surprising, Lovett admitted. “I kept feeling like I would hit a wall or "find out" something I shouldn't, and it just didn't happen,” he said.
Hopefully, prejudice against polygynists and polyamorists in general will be diminished as a result.
And there is indeed a choice to stay or go. Many children choose not to follow the church and leave the community, while others stay on and do not practice polygamy. But are they pressured to follow in their parents’ footsteps? No more than any child, according to Henry. “My take is that the pressures are traditional parental pressures, potentially amplified by the fact that they’re in a community that is pretty remote,” he said. For instance, in one of the 4 families featured, a founding father (Arthur Hammond) copes with some of his children choosing not to follow his faith. Another character, a female nearing marriageable age, is encouraged by all her parents to make the choice on her own. “In many ways the pressure was more to engage the choice,” said Henry. In other words: “You do not make this choice lightly.”
It has only been relatively recently that any form of polyamory has made in onto national television on an ongoing basis. Until many more programs include portrayals or documentation of other forms of polyamory, the risk is always that someone will think this form of religion-based polygyny is the the only kind. As it is, so many people use the word "polygamy" when they really mean polygyny only, and FLDS or Muslim polygyny at that. Polygamists, and more broadly, polyamorists, are everywhere, and many of us blend into the crowd. Polymorists can be of any sexual orientation or race, any socioeconomic status, and just about any religious tradition or none at all. Some are in closed relationships, some of them have relationships that are open in some way. For anyone to think FLDS-style polygyny is the extent of it would be like thinking seeing a carrot means they've seen all vegetables.
Are you, or will you watch this series? Let us know what you think of it.