A revealing story of American greed and religion used as power, God Forbid recounts how the couple that led the nation’s largest evangelical Christian university initiated a secret sexual relationship with a Miami pool boy—and whose years-long hypocrisy led to their downfall. It’s also seedy and controversial, partly because its backdrop is the U.S. election of Donald Trump.
In the vein of long-con documentaries like The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley and WeWork, God Forbid unpacks a sprawling, shocking story that goes beyond the headlines. Director Billy Corben and his team utilize not only rare and never-before-seen footage to recount these events, but also interviews with a cross-section of involved figures, including several journalists, religion professors, and Liberty University graduates working for reform.
A former pool attendant at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami, Florida, Giancarlo Granda, then age 20, recounts how he was seduced by a woman he calls a “cougar”—Becki Falwell, who was over 25 years his senior. However, their trysts in a hotel room at her behest also involved her husband, Jerry Falwell Jr., who watched the two and filmed their encounters.
Actors recreate about a half-dozen dimly lit sex scenes, which give God Forbid its TV-MA rating along with occasional descriptive use of the f-word and mature content throughout. While some viewers will regard this stylistic decision as less than tasteful, making the film itself voyeuristic, a sanitized version of this story would be less effective.
Falwell Jr. was then president of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., an evangelical school with an average of 80,000 students per year over the past decade (the majority in online programs). Students enrolled on-location at the sleek, modern campus must commit to follow strict behavioral guidelines; for instance, drinking alcohol can lead to school-imposed fines as high as $300. Students are also forbidden from any sexual activity outside of marriage.
For the president of Liberty to be involved with his wife for seven years in alcohol-fueled ménage à trois escapades, involving a pool attendant they draw into their powerful orbit, viewers of God Forbid quickly see an ethical, legal, and moral train wreck coming down the tracks.
The strength of God Forbid: The Sex Scandal That Brought Down A Dynasty is relying on factual accounts, as news headlines, lawsuit excerpts, and wire photos of the past decade are narrated by Granda himself walking through how his involvement with the Falwells escalated from trysts in several cities and a business partnership with them.
Granda became a fixture at Falwell family functions, attending weddings and vacations with the couple and their adult children. During a visit to Liberty, Falwell Jr. introduced Granda to Donald Trump.
God Forbid turns to politics, always risky in today’s polarized world. After years of slanted and sensationalistic Trump coverage—many outlets actually boosted him in their 2016 election coverage—most Americans have strong opinions of the former president.
This documentary may slightly exaggerate the decisive role of Falwell Jr’s endorsement of Trump in the big picture. The university president was actually only one of several key players in the complex conservative Christian faction that backed Trump, though Falwell Jr. was likely the most personally compromised. Some interviewees also paint with a broad brush in describing U.S. political dynamics.
Nevertheless, the clips of Liberty’s massive mandatory “chapel service” for students are revealing, as various Trump campaign managers and boosters were given carte blanche to speak to a stadium gathering of over 9,500 students. Notably, it mentions Liberty’s controversial think tank Falkirk Center (now the Standing for Freedom Center) which vocally backed President Trump, and features Dustin Wahl, co-founder of the Save ‘71 reform movement of Liberty graduates.
Those religion reporting details will escape most viewers, as God Forbid moves on to how the lies, betrayal, and behind-the-scenes power plays unravel. Granda finally grants investigative reporter Aram Roston a series of interviews, and provides corroborating evidence, including pictures and video, of his shocking story.
In August 2021, Falwell Jr. was ousted as president of Liberty University, with other on-campus sex scandals still being investigated and litigated to this day. The fallout from this scandal—of a powerful couple who used people and deceived the masses for profit and pleasure, all in God’s name—will reverberate for years to come. God Forbid leaves viewers with much to ponder.
God Forbid: The Scandal That Brought Down A Dynasty is coming soon to Disney+ now in many countries, including Australia and New Zealand, Canada and more. U.S. readers will find the documentary on Hulu right now.