In 2008, federal authorities raided the ranch, where Jeffs — as head and self-proclaimed prophet of the secretive sect of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints — amassed 78 wives, 24 of whom were underage. Over 400 children were also taken into custody, with law enforcement agents finding evidence of sexual, physical, and psychological abuse.
The four-part docuseries was directed by Rachel Dretzin, who previously helmed the documentary Who Killed Malcolm X, which resulted in two people being exonerated for that murder. In addition to never-before-seen archival footage, Dretzin went to Utah, where many survivors of the cult have relocated, to tell their story for Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey.
“The first time I traveled to Short Creek, Utah, I had the same first impression as most. With their pleated hair, prairie dresses, and diffident, skittish manner, it was easy to see the young girls and women of the FLDS as odd, even alien creatures. It was almost impossible to believe that a society so repressive, isolated, and extreme could exist in plain sight in 21st century America,” Dretzin said in a statement.
“And then I began interviewing survivors. The stories they told — of the process of systematic coercion and mind control exercised by the man they thought of as a religious prophet, Warren Jeffs — were far from alienating. After many months spent reporting this story, it was clear to me that these women could have been my daughter, my mother, or me. And it was also abundantly clear that they showed incredible courage and strength in leaving this religion-turned-criminal cult.”
Jeffs is currently serving a life prison sentence on charges of sexual assault of a child. He’s allegedly still running his cult and acting as a prophet from behind bars, but many of his survivors have left the cult and struggled to adapt to normal life.
“This was the story I set out to tell,” Dretzin continued. “The women in our film managed to leave the FLDS with no real education or skills, no money, no support whatsoever. For their whole lives they had been valued solely as plural wives and as breeders of children. To leave meant saying goodbye to everything and everyone they loved to start over in a society they didn’t understand. ‘Badass’ doesn’t begin to describe how fierce they are. I am proud to be connected to them and grateful to have had the opportunity to tell their story.”
Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey premieres on June 8 on Netflix.