Penny Lane is an independent filmmaker, known for such original works as Nuts! and Our Nixon, and named “25 New Faces of Independent Film” by Filmmaker Magazine. In addition to making several well-received documentaries, she’s an assistant professor of Art and Art History at Colgate University.
Her new documentary HAIL SATAN? is making quite a splash, since it debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January and opened in select theaters on April 19th. HAIL SATAN? is a sharp and funny political documentary about religious privilege in America. It follows the activities of The Satanic Temple, an inclusionary Church of activists, challenging the Religious Right with political satire.
The Satanists don’t worship Satan — except as a metaphor. In the documentary, they prank the Right to address issues such as the merging of Church and State in public schools and institutions. Lane followed them around the country with a crew for three years, documenting their work and the rise of the church, as it quickly spread internationally.
When The Satanic Temple first appeared in 2013, many thought they were trolls, attacking Christian privilege, but the group evolved into a ‘real’ church with chapters in different cities with a thriving, supportive community, which the documentary details.
Lane became involved with the project after reading about The Satanic Temple in the news and seeing articles pop up in her Facebook feed. There was one article in particular by Vice that seemed to understand that the temple was something more than just pranks. At first, Lane thought it was a comedic political satire group similar to The Yes Men, an activist duo, but realized, it was an actual Church, a real community of well-meaning people banding together to fight religious privilege.
When asked, if the Satanists are actually Christians — modern, enlightened Christians, dressed up in Satanic garb, Lane responded that: no, the tenets of the Church are anti-authority, and inclusionary towards women, POC, LGBTQ, and freethinkers, so they are not evolved Christians.
The Religious Right seemed baffled by how to handle The Satanic Temple’s pranks. How can you respond to a bunch of adults dressed up like babies and demons with horns? Lane said that the pranks and earnestness of the temple might be confusing to some Christians, pushing for religious involvement in public schools, who might not realize that they themselves — might be the exclusionary baddies.
The Right might have a difficult time comprehending that: the members of the Satanic Temple don’t worship Satan, and yet they do worship Satan — but only as a symbol. They use the devil imagery as a metaphor, while still adhering to an ethical code of nonviolence. Wait? Is it a church or is it a joke? Or are they making fun of religions? Or are they a religion? Well, it’s both.
Lane’s documentary clears up some misconceptions or mischaracterizations about the Satanists while shining a light on the benevolent community it fosters. Lane said that many of the Satanists are the kind of people who spend their time in libraries and bookstores — her kind of people. Satanists like to read because the devil is a poet. I’d argue that the most moving parts of Milton’s “Paradise Lost” is Satan’s cries against the tyranny of Heaven, which is seemingly status-based and filled with sycophants instead of free-thinkers. Who’s the real devil then?
HAIL SATAN? has attracted a lot of attention in the press, with raving reviews from The Wall Street Journal, Variety and a number of popular film sites. The super-funny comedian Megan Amram recently tweeted her support for the documentary, which is high praise, indeed.
After watching the documentary in April, I was so inspired by the satire and comedic political activism, I wondered: MAYBE I AM A SATANIST? How do you become involved? Well, according to Lane, there are many levels of involvement, from buying a T-shirt to joining a chapter and attending weekly meetings. Those interested can find information at The Satanic Temple’s website.
Hail Penny Lane! Hail Satan!