Moroni For President


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Moroni For President
"Though focused on Moroni's campaign, this documentary explores wider issues around the election, politics in the Nation and the experiences of its young LGBTQ people."

How many countries are there in the world? The answer to that question has never been as clear cut as the bigger ones would have you believe. The Navajo Nation is a country within a country, theoretically autonomous as long as it doesn't pass any laws the the US government disagrees with, and with a degree of economic dependence that's only to be expected given the historic separation of its people from their more productive lands. What is means to live in a country like this is a matter of some dispute. Given the fate of other native peoples on the continent, some are grateful to have retained this much and focus on preserving their culture through its language and traditions. Others have a powerful appetite for change.

In the latter camp is Moroni Benally, who isn't what what would traditionally be expected of a Navajo presidential candidate. He's a big city guy, only moving back to the Nation because of his candidacy, because of his ambition for his people. He's also a Mormon, and he's gay. Navajo culture used to recognise four genders and have a fairly flexible understanding of sexual orientation but that has changed in recent generations with imported prejudice the legacy of colonialism, as in many countries around the world. Older Navajo people still respect the old ways but for those born in the Sixties and later, Moroni's sexuality could be a deal breaker; ironically they tend to justify their prejudice with reference to tradition.

Though focused on Moroni's campaign, this documentary explores wider issues around the election, politics in the Nation and the experiences of its young LGBTQ people. The suicide rate among the latter is three times the average for the US. Parental rejection is clearly a major issue, as is the sense of having limited options created by being part of a small ethnic group vulnerable to discrimination elsewhere. Insecurity around identity is compounded by the legacy of US government policies and missionary interventions aimed at making Navajo people more like white Anglo-Americans. Thoughts on how to respond to that vary. One candidate struggles in the election race because he's not a fluent Navajo speaker, but Moroni questions whether the importance accorded to that is reasonable in light of the other things the Nation desperately needs.

Moroni is not a front runner. We first meet him at a fundraising event which seems destined to make a loss, he and his assistants surrounded by the work of overambitious caterers. What he wants is to change the way the game is played, an approach that wins him the respect of at least one of his rivals. The film follows him as he talks to voters, hearing many of the same concerns you'd find anywhere: that those in power are corrupt, that no matter who they vote for nothing changes. The bright young things who share their thoughts with the filmmakers are keen to approach politics in a new way. Are they the future of their culture, or could too much change destroy it? To what extent should the ideas of the past be preserved at the expense of the living present?

It's rare for any Native American people to get the chance to discuss such issues in film, let alone for this to happen with no white Americans present. Moroni For President provides an insider's look at Navajo politics and a rare perspective on marginalised lives.

Reviewed on: 04 Oct 2019
Share this with others on...
Moroni For President packshot
Moroni Benally is running for the presidency of the Navajo Nation, the largest Native American nation in the US. Young, gay, Mormon and highly educated, he sets out to confront the political establishment in a homecoming that challenges what he imagined home, and himself, to be.

Director: Saila Huusko, Jasper Rischen

Starring: Moroni Benally, Zachariah George, Alray Nelson

Year: 2018

Runtime: 76 minutes

Country: US


SQIFF 2019

Search database: