Moroni for President
Directed by: Saila Huusko, Jasper Rischen
Starring: Moroni Benally, Zachariah George, Alray Nelson
Run Time: 1h 16min
3 1/2 Frames out of 5
By: Shari K. Green
‘Moroni for President’ is about diversity and a shift in thinking as much as it is about someone throwing their hat into the ring to be considered president of the Navajo Nation. Being that I live in Arizona and have lived near a reservation I took great interest in seeing if a young man can challenge his elders and be the change that he, himself, seeks in the community. At the beginning of this gorgeously shot film, we learn some facts about the Navajo’s themselves. The Navajo Nation is the largest Native American Nation in the United States as it spans across Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico. Like the U.S., they have a presidential election every four years. Because of their size, the Navajo president is the most influential and powerful tribal leader in the country.
Here we meet several candidates as well as get to know Moroni Benally, the subject of the film. In 2014, the president is Ben Shelly. When we are introduced to him, he tells us of how much complaining and bellyaching he hears. He explains that people blame him for everything, even everyday problems that he can’t control. You can see it pains him that people don’t see what he does accomplish. This may be the case but he wants to run again.
Joe Shirley Jr., who has held the position before, wants to try again, as well. If he’s successful, he would be elected into a third term, something not allowed for a U.S. president. Ben Shelly was Joe Shirley’s Vice President. Learning all of this, you can see appreciate where Moroni is coming from. It’s past time for some change. He feels leaders past and present, who walk around in jeans, wear cowboy hats and boots, are bound by the old way of thinking and of doing things. They certainly don’t like to be questioned. Moroni doesn’t dress like, as he refers to them, the ‘old guard’ and sees they aren’t always truthful. They’ve continued to try and sell the Navajo people the ‘American Dream’ when it’s not possible to achieve. Not only would he like to bring a fresh perspective on things by getting youth involved but by challenging the United States.
This being the case, something fascinating and disheartening you hear is that their tribe isn’t allowed to build buildings because the land they live on isn’t theirs. They’re only allowed to use it. Moroni wants everyone to wake up to the fact that there will be no reaching the ‘good life’ that the elders have always sold them on unless they’re allowed to control their own resources. The question now is, can they confront the United States government and arrive at a better agreement than what’s currently in place? He tells young people who’ll listen that they should at least try. Their future is in their hands. Do they want to live in shacks or something better? Can they truly be a sovereign nation? Moroni believes they can.
Not only is this about his candidacy for president but something perhaps even bigger for Moroni. He’s an ex-Mormon who struggled terribly with the fact that he’s gay. In fact, he felt it was a cancer in his body. He confesses to those of us watching this documentary that he pleaded with God to be healed. It took him until the age of twenty-seven until he came to terms with who he was and accept it. In that time, he learned how to work a crowd, in fact, many older ladies who supported his candidacy fell in love with him instantly. He jokingly ruminates on how much money he could save his community by not having a first lady.
Moroni’s an extremely likable person, which is one of the things you’ll most enjoy. This documentary unfolds in a way that reveals so much more than just a bid for a chance to lead. Sadly, Moroni isn’t elected but he does accomplish something very important. The film gives many heartbreakingly staggering statistics that I’d like to see addressed in another documentary, but this ends on a light note about what he did for the Navajo Nation as a whole. He may not be able to speak the language as well as some, he may not have been elected their president, that honor went to Russell Begaye, but Moroni sheds light on the LGBTQ community and welcomes them, giving them a safe place, to finally come out and be counted. It was wonderful to see that they, no matter who they loved, were supported… as was Moroni himself. Again, the cinematography is breathtaking. The filmmakers take full advantage of the grounds Moroni walks and shows you an exceptionally beautiful area of the country. You’re going to admire Moroni but watch this also for the glorious and breathtaking landscapes.