The battle for justice comes in many forms for many different communities — this community just prefers its freedom dressed in black and devil horns.
“Hail Satan?,” a documentary directed by Penny Lane, showcases the battle for religious freedom and equality set forth by The Satanic Temple, an international organization advocating for the right of Satanists to religious practice. Set in cities all over the world, from Stockholm to Santa Cruz, this Sundance Film Festival choice is an eloquent portrayal of the religion’s mission — as well as the impact it intends to have on the American government system.
The story begins in Tallahassee, Florida, in 2013 — the year The Satanic Temple organization began. At this time, The Satanic Temple was organizing what would become one of its most famous rallies at the steps of the capitol building. The Rick Scott Rally, as it became known, was what The Satanic Temple co-founder Lucien Greaves describes as spreading “a message of goodwill and benevolence, open mindedness and free expression.”
Greaves is the centerpoint for most of this documentary. As he leads the rally, speaking clearly and commandingly with people in black robes and devil horns surrounding him, he says, “It’s a great day to be a Satanist.” When someone yells that he is going to hell, he says he is sure of it — and very excited.
This enthusiastic attitude carries throughout the film. To say the documentary is uplifting may be a stretch, but the pure display of acceptance and the fight for equality is refreshing for viewers following a moral advocacy of religious pluralism in America. If you’re not into that, well, this film may not be for you.
One major role of the documentary is to highlight the moral compass of the organization, “the seven fundamental tenets,” which outlines the organization’s principles for its members. Spreading compassion and empathy, fighting for justice and recognizing the place of science in the world are just a few foundational beliefs of The Satanic Temple.
In an interview included in the documentary, Greaves states that the organization believes Satan is the “ultimate rebel.” The Temple, he says, wants to work against religious tyranny in the United States and beyond. Similarly, the Detroit branch of The Satanic Temple, formerly led by Jex Blackmore, describes Satanism as “a philosophy of action” that allows the “eternal rebel within all of us” to feel protected. These words are spoken as a ritual takes place on screen, naked people with hooded heads engaging in a baptism-like ceremony using wine.
The film will definitely be jarring for viewers who don’t know what to expect from a Satanic ritual. But, as Blackmore states, “We do not seek followers; we are seeking collaborators.” Members of the organization recognize the darkness associated with Satanism by stereotype — but the people on stages and giving speeches in “Hail Satan?” do not present themselves simply as Satanists, but also as Americans fighting for their rights.
A captivating plot line throughout the documentary is The Satanic Temple’s fight to raise a statue of Baphomet, a goatish, Satanic deity, on state capitol grounds in Oklahoma next to a monument honoring the Christian Ten Commandments. Viewers follow the making of this nearly 8-foot-tall bronze statue. During these clips, Christian folk music plays in the background, allowing some ironic humor to shine through.
Most importantly, “Hail Satan?” never demonizes the members of the organization, instead depicting them as individuals trying to make a difference through the good works of their religion — whether it be through the Seattle chapter’s blood drive or Tucson’s “Menstruatin’ with Satan” donation drive for menstrual products for local schools.
Ultimately, this documentary presents the twists and turns associated with just trying to be a peaceful Satanist in modern-day America. To the tune of Marilyn Manson, The Satanic Temple will continue to fight for religious freedom in the United States — hopefully they find a place for that statue in the meantime.