Director Rachel Dretzin is all too familiar with the way women and girls are treated in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the extreme, polygamous offshoot of the larger Mormon Church that she examines in her four-part Netflix docuseries Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey.
Not only are women and girls made to wear pastel-colored, floor-length dresses and wear their hair in specific styles, but they are also forced to marry whichever man the religion’s prophet, Warren Jeffs, chooses for them when they are as young as 12 years old, she says.
“It has gotten progressively worse over time,” Dretzin told Factual America.
“In the early days women were plural wives, for the most part. But I would say they had a lot more freedom as plural wives… they all had to cover their bodies from neck to ankle, but they could pretty much wear whatever they wanted. And they weren’t really tracked so closely.
“Over the course of Warren’s rule, he started by telling women they couldn’t wear the color — anybody — they couldn’t wear the color red. And then women had to wear long underwear that just covered their bodies under their dresses. They wore these floor-length dresses… they couldn’t have any prints, and then he took away colors except for pastels.
“So, they all ended up in these light pink, light blue, light yellow dresses, and they had to wear their hair in this incredibly specific way, which took hours to do. And no hair could be loose, no hair could be hanging, it had to be sort of poofed up in this very unsightly, odd kind of oval-shaped thing. And so, that was the kind of aesthetics of being female.”
Jeffs is currently serving a life sentence at the Louis C. Powledge Unit, a men’s prison in Palestine, Texas. Reps for Jeffs and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the docuseries.
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Under Warren Jeffs’ rule, which continues despite his prison sentence, FLDS women stop attending school by the time they reached high school age, Dretzin said.
“They were valued only as wives and breeders of children, and beyond that, they really were not given any autonomy or freedom of movement or thought. So it was a pretty oppressive existence, and it got more and more oppressive as time went on,” she said. “Then, he started marrying women off at younger and younger ages. When his father [Rulon Jeffs] was in power, women tended to get married, —or girls tended to get married — when they were 18 and up, you know, 18 to 25. But Warren started sliding that age down. And by the time that he was arrested in 2008, he was marrying girls off as young as 12 to 14; had wives himself that were 12 years old.”
Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey is now streaming on Netflix. Here are some time stamps from the Factual America interview:
00:00 – The trailer for Keep Sweet: Prey and Obey.
04:55 – A synopsis of what the docuseries is about.
06:09 – The main practices of the Fundamentalist Church of Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
07:20 – Warren Jeffs and the disturbing practices he was involved with.
11:55 – What life was like for women in the FDLS.
14:28 – Who was responsible for unearthing the crimes that Warren Jeffs was involved in.
17:05 – The ‘chosen members’ Warren Jeffs brought to Texas.
22:45 – How people can be brainwashed to such a large extent.
24:57 – How Rachel Dretzin got involved with the making of Keep Sweet: Prey and Obey.
28:39 – The difficulty of having victims relive their trauma for the documentary.
31:15 – The continuation of the FLDS and Warren Jeffs.
33:15 – The next project Rachel Dretzin is working on.
Main Image: A still from Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey courtesy of Factual America and Netflix