Alex Casey watched the Sunday special on the escapees of Gloriavale, and explains why you need to don a bonnet and get involved in this bizarre ongoing story.
What’s it about?
Gloriavale is the name of a small religious community in Haupiri Valley, first established by a man called Hopeful Christian (yep) in 1969. The isolated Christian group consists of over 80 families, who continue to have children all over the show. Life at Gloriavale is incredibly traditional, relying on agriculture and (weirdly) small private plane rides for income.
The gals are set to work in traditional domestic roles from a very early age, and marriages are arranged by the elders when the children reach puberty and/or are chosen by God. In the jaw-dropping TVNZ 2014 special Gloriavale: A World Apart, we witnessed the marriage of teenagers Pearl and Paul – after only a few words were exchanged between them. Women are expected to submit themselves completely to their husband, and any inkling of the outside world is seen as sinful and of the devil.
Oh, by the way. Gloriavale’s leader Hopeful Christian was jailed for five years in 1994 for the indecent assault of young women and men.
Sunday has been following the story of Gloriavale since 2007, when reporter Janet McIntrye first visited the community. Eight years on, she interviews the leader Hope Christian, and several people who have since joined an increasing exodus of people fleeing the cut-off community. They reveal their torturous punishments for defying elders, the lies they were told about the outside world and how they were forced into ill-fitting marriages and encouraged to procreate as young as 12.
Who’s it for?
Anyone who cares about anything. Seriously. The story of Gloriavale is odd even at face value but, as it turns out, there are lots of dark secrets under those modest long sleeves. It’s real life Kimmy Schmidt, except they can only escape to Greymouth, not New York City. Bleak.
The Sunday special carries a particular gravitas because it feels like they have a certain ownership over the story, having been directly involved in the exposure and subsequent scrutiny of the community over the years. A lot of the escapees interviewed can be picked out as young community members in their documentary footage from the visit in 2007.
Rosanna, a now 27-year-old ex-member talks about how she has been cut out of her own family for leaving. At the same time, we see 2007 footage of her dutifully churning something (porridge I guess, maybe butter?) with her sisters in the background of a shot. It’s an extreme version of Sliding Doors for sure.
The fact that Sunday can document both the then and now of these incredible stories makes for gripping viewing. To see individuals of the nameless, faceless, clothing-swamped Gloriavale mass emerge and tell their stories in a candid and personal way is some of the best Sunday-night television I’ve seen in a long time.
I wanted more from the interview with Hopeful Christian. Blame it on The Jinx for feeding a now-skewed thirst for revelation. The clearly deranged leader would not go into his dark past and criminal offences, nor would Janet push it. In one revealing answer, Hopeful argued the case for why a girl becomes a woman at 12. It’s skin-crawling. He really needs a whole separate documentary team on his case. You can’t help but feel like there is a whole tidal wave of further scandal waiting to burst through those gilded Gloriavale gates.
Should I get amongst it?
Stop churning that butter – to not watch this would be an act of the devil.