You may still remember the main details of the scandalous incident involving Jerry Falwell Jr., which ended his reign as maybe the most influential evangelical in the nation. Falwell and his wife Becki were allegedly involved in a "throuple" relationship with a Miami pool boy. But there was a lot more to the story, as we are reminded in the outrageously amusing Hulu documentary "God Forbid: The Sex Scandal That Brought Down a Dynasty."
From the "Cocaine Cowboys" documentaries to "The U" and "The U Part 2" on ESPN to last year's "537 Votes," which looked back at the 2000 U.S. presidential election in Florida, veteran director Billy Corben has consistently mined his home state for quick-paced, visually "popping" movies that frequently play like non-fiction versions of Scorsese's work. With "God Forbid," Corben offers up a neon medley of slick visuals, quick cuts, deft re-creation techniques, needle drops like "Jesus Piece" by The Game, the use of archival footage, and sit-down interviews to tell the unbelievable but real tale of one of the most stunning sex/religious/political scandals of this century. (And let's be honest, stating that is a lot.)
"God Forbid" begins in March 2012 at a party at the Fontainebleau hotel in Miami Beach, where a 20-year-old pool attendant named Giancarlo Granda noticed a woman in her 40s giving him the eye and taking pictures of him on her cell phone. Granda, who comes off as mainly kind if naive in the extended interview sessions depicted in the documentary, adds, "She was pretty, you know, she was a cougar." She advises me to avoid spending time with the younger children because they are inexperienced. "You want to go back to my hotel room?" she asks.
A Billy Corben-directed documentary is available on Hulu. MPAA rating absent. 109 minutes total running time. Hulu will have it on Tuesday.
Giancarlo Granda didn't know at the time that the woman proposing to him was Becki Falwell, the wife of Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr. He also didn't know that during their encounters, Falwell would frequently be found watching and, well, let's just say actively observing from a corner of the room. (The Falwells dispute that Jerry was ever present during Becki and Granda's trysts.) He had no way of knowing that the strange trio of sorts would persist for about seven years, present him with some too-good-to-be-true economic prospects, grow progressively more ominous (and sad), and eventually erupt into a front-page scandal that would bring the Falwells to their knees.
(As Granda claims at the beginning of the movie, "If I had known that accepting this woman's invitation to go back to her hotel room would have resulted in a scandal involving the president of the largest Christian university in the world and the president of the United States, I would have walked away and just enjoyed my private life.")
At that moment, "God Forbid" takes a step back and skillfully traces the ascent of the Rev. Jerry Falwell Sr., a doom-and-gloom hardline conservative who created Liberty University and the Moral Majority and used television as a pulpit to achieve global fame. Jerry Jr. Falwell succeeded his father after Jerry Falwell passed away in 2007. However, Junior was more focused on the economic side of the empire and enjoyed a lifestyle with Becki that seemed to be more "The White Lotus" than traditional Christian.
Jerry and Becki were frequently partying in Miami while Liberty University was flourishing in Lynchburg. They enjoyed opulent dinners, numerous drinks, and continued to see Granda. They even hired him as part of a seven-figure business deal to run a hostel in Miami, effectively adopting him as a member of the family.
Corben skillfully narrates Granda's seemingly amazing journey, including how he ended himself flying on private jets, sitting next to the Falwells' kids at Liberty University events, meeting presidential candidate Donald Trump (who was vying for the Falwell endorsement), etc. Becki was disappointed when Granda eventually decided he didn't want to continue their romantic relationship because Becki, in Granda's opinion, was almost almost infatuated with him. Documentation, private images, and other proof of the peculiar relationship between the Falwells and a former pool attendant were coming to the attention of some media members, further complicating matters.
Aram Roston of Reuters dropped the complete bombshell in August 2020, along with an interview with Granda. Falwell left his position as president of Liberty University shortly after. The Big Picture conclusion of "God Forbid" links strong evangelical zeal to some of society's most pressing, long-standing issues. Does that go too far? Maybe. possibly not