Tabloid (film)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Directed byErrol Morris
Produced by
  • Julie Bilson Ahlberg
  • Mark Lipson
CinematographyRobert Chappel
Edited byGrant Surmi
Music byJohn Kusiak
  • Air Loom Enterprises
  • Moxie Pictures
Release date
  • September 3, 2010 (2010-09-03) (Telluride Film Festival)
Running time
87 minutes
CountryUnited States

Tabloid is a 2010 American documentary film directed by Errol Morris. It tells the story of Joyce McKinney, who in 1977 was accused of kidnapping and raping Kirk Anderson,[1] an American Mormon missionary. The incident, known as the Mormon sex in chains case, became a major tabloid story in the United Kingdom and triggered a circulation battle between two popular tabloid newspapers, the Daily Mirror and the Daily Express.

The film is based on interviews of McKinney, journalist Peter Tory (1939-2012), and photographer Kent Gavin conducted by Morris.[2][3] The film makes reference to Mormon culture, such as temple garments.[4]


The film, narrated primarily by McKinney herself and supplemented by other interviews with primary characters and experts, is presented by animated headlines, newspaper photos, and brief televised news reports from the time of the case. McKinney details her upbringing as a charismatic young beauty queen with a self-reported IQ of 168. In search of a "clean-cut, all-American boy" for a potential husband, McKinney is introduced to Kirk Anderson, a young Mormon man on the eve of his religious mission. McKinney states that she and Anderson fell madly in love and that they were engaged to be married, but that she mistrusted The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its hold over Anderson, declaring the church to be a "cult" that had "brainwashed" him. Former Mormon turned activist Troy Williams offers insight into Mormon practices, beliefs, and attitudes to explain how Mormonism might seem cult-like to one not raised in the religion.

When Anderson was sent to England on his mission, McKinney, believing that the church elders deliberately separated them, recruited a pilot (Jackson Shaw, who appears in interviews) to fly her, her friend Keith "K.J." May, and a hired bodyguard named Gil Parker to England on a "rescue mission" McKinney framed in terms of a romantic caper. Upon arriving in England, McKinney allegedly revealed items such as handcuffs, chloroform, and a fake handgun, causing Shaw and Parker to fear they were participating in a crime. Both men immediately returned to America, leaving McKinney and May to continue alone.

McKinney secretly contacted Anderson and persuaded him to meet with her. On 14 September 1977, Anderson was officially reported missing. At this point, the accounts begin to differ, with McKinney claiming that Anderson went with her willingly to a cottage in Devon, where the two of them had voluntary sex for several days. Anderson, however, claimed in police reports that he was forced into a car at gunpoint, driven into the countryside, and chained to a bed by May and McKinney, where McKinney raped him, telling him she would continue to do so until she became pregnant. McKinney admits that Anderson was chained to the bed but states that Anderson consented to the bondage in an effort to overcome his intense guilt regarding premarital sex. Williams suggests that perhaps the truth lies somewhere between Anderson's and McKinney's differing accounts, and that Anderson may initially gone willingly or even engaged in consensual sex, but that McKinney may have ignored his later objections.

McKinney, Anderson, and May spent three days in Devon, at which point Anderson proposed marriage to McKinney (later telling police that he did so in hopes of tricking McKinney into freeing him). The three returned to London on 17 September, where they discovered Anderson's disappearance was being investigated as a kidnapping. Anderson persuaded McKinney to allow him to go to police to assure them that he was safe. The story again diverges, with McKinney speculating that the Mormons threatened Anderson with excommunication if he refused to go along with the false kidnapping narrative. According to police records, however, Anderson reported that he had been abducted and sexually assaulted. Two days later, on 19 September, McKinney and May agreed to meet with Anderson in what turned out to be a police sting, during which they were arrested and charged with kidnapping, possession of a replica firearm, and sexual indecency (as there were no laws regarding the sexual assault of a man by a woman at the time). McKinney was held in Holloway Prison for three months before being released on bail.

At a pre-trial hearing, McKinney delivered a colorful statement professing her love for Anderson and detailing their sexual escapades, insisting that he had gone willingly and that their sex had been consensual. The newspapers, particularly the tabloids, were charmed by McKinney and the scandalous case, reporting every detail. McKinney and May were freed on bail, and McKinney spoke exclusively with the Daily Express, painting herself as an ordinary young woman in extraordinary circumstances. According to Express journalist Peter Tory, the popularity of the McKinney story led Express editors to involve McKinney in a series of publicity stunts, including using her to upstage Joan Collins at the premiere of The Stud. Meanwhile rival tabloid Daily Mirror obtained evidence that McKinney had funded her trip to England by working as a call girl in the US. They collected a dossier of hundreds of photos of a nude McKinney performing BDSM acts, which they then published.

A few weeks before her trial for kidnap was scheduled to begin, McKinney fled the UK with May, both of them traveling incognito in a variety of outlandish disguises. McKinney stated that the tabloids had ruined her reputation. McKinney was found guilty in absentia of skipping bail, the authorities having declined to pursue extradition.

In 1984, seven years after her escape, McKinney surfaced again after her arrest for stalking Anderson (who, by then, had returned to Utah and married to another woman) at his workplace.

In August 2008, McKinney again made international headlines after becoming the first private individual to have an animal commercially cloned. McKinney initially denied that she was the same woman involved in the "Manacled Mormon" case thirty years prior, but she eventually released a statement admitting her real identity. South Korean biologist Jin Han Hong, who participated in cloning McKinney's deceased pet pit bull, gives a brief overview of the process, stressing that their work cannot "create life" from nothing.

McKinney claims to have spent the last thirty years writing a book entitled A Very Special Love Story about her life and the case, but that her efforts have been hindered due to documents having been stolen from her home and vehicle, including evidence proving the nude photographs published by the Mirror were doctored (Kent Gavin, former photographer for the Mirror, counters that the Mirror possessed the original negatives of all the nude photos but that they were lost when the Mirror changed ownership). She further claims that journalists and curiosity seekers continue to trespass on her property to this day. She has never married, stating that Anderson is the only man she will ever love. The film shows McKinney living in isolation with her aging father and her five cloned pit bulls in rural North Carolina.

End credits reveal that May died in 2004 and that Kirk Anderson did not wish to be interviewed for the film.


Tabloid (Music From The Motion Picture)
Soundtrack album by
ReleasedJuly 12, 2011 (2011-07-12)
Length46 Minutes

The film's score was composed by John Kusiak, who had previously worked with Errol Morris on The Fog of War and First Person. According to Kusiak the process of composing the soundtrack was unusual as Morris "likes to have music early on in the process and he likes to actually edit the film to the music rather than the traditional Hollywood approach.”[5] The soundtrack was officially released on July 12, 2011 by Milan Records.[6]


Tabloid premiered at the Telluride Film Festival on September 3, 2010. The film was picked up for distribution by Sundance Selects and given a wide release on July 15, 2011.[7]

Critical response[edit]

The film was greeted with largely positive reviews. Roger Ebert gave it four stars, favorably comparing the showcasing of multiple, contradictory accounts of the same events, with Morris reluctant to frame any version of the story as "true," to the film Rashomon.[8] A. O. Scott of The New York Times in a review of the film praised Morris for his skills as an interviewer, saying "Mr. Morris has developed a knack for finding that zone in each person’s character where lucidity intersects with delusion and where the urge to perform collides with the impulse to dissemble. People seem to be inventing themselves in front of his camera and then, a moment later, unmaking themselves."[9] On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 92%, based on 118 reviews, with an average rating of 7.5/10.[10] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 74 out of 100, based on 34 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[11]

Legal action against Morris[edit]

In November 2011, Joyce McKinney filed a lawsuit with the Los Angeles County Superior Court against Errol Morris, claiming that Morris and his producer Mark Lipson misled her into believing she was being interviewed for a television series about innocent people whose lives were ruined by the paparazzi and a media circus, and that she was not aware until after the documentary's release that it would be a feature-length film focused solely on the "Manacled Mormon" case. McKinney sued on the grounds that she was defamed, as the film portrays her as "crazy, a sex offender, an S&M prostitute, and/or a rapist."[12] In 2013, the case was found in Morris' favour.

In January 2016, McKinney again filed suit against Morris, claiming that the film had misrepresented her and that Morris and his associates had broken into her home, stolen personal items related to the case, and threatened the life of her service dog if McKinney did not sign release papers allowing them to use her footage for the film. Legal representatives for Morris stated that "evidence will show that [McKinney] willingly – in fact, eagerly – participated in the lengthy interview that is featured in the film."[13] Morris stated in an interview later that year that the case had been dismissed as "frivolous".[14]


  1. ^ "Why they're calling this snobby Titanic show 'Drownton Abbey'". Irish Independent. 2012-03-31.
  2. ^ Was It Love? The ‘Manacled Mormon’ and His Kinky Weekend July 14, 2011, New York Times A. O. Scott
  3. ^ "Tabloid film info from TIFF". Toronto International Film Festival. Archived from the original on 2010-12-27. Retrieved 2011-02-07.
  4. ^ Michael Phillips (2011-07-14). "'70s scandal brought to spotlight in 'Tabloid'". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2013-06-03.
  5. ^ Resha, David (2015). The Cinema of Errol Morris. Wesleyan University Press. ISBN 978-0819575340.
  6. ^ "Tabloid". AllMusic. Retrieved Apr 30, 2020.
  7. ^ Cox, Gordon (Jan 18, 2011). "Sundance Selects reading 'Tabloid'". Variety. Retrieved Apr 30, 2020.
  8. ^ Ebert, Roger. "Tabloid Movie Review & Film Summary (2011) | Roger Ebert". Retrieved 13 August 2018.
  9. ^ Scott, A.O. (Jul 14, 2011). "Was It Love? The 'Manacled Mormon' and His Kinky Weekend". The New York Times. Retrieved Apr 30, 2020.
  10. ^ "Tabloid". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 13 August 2018.
  11. ^ "Tabloid Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved Apr 30, 2020.
  12. ^ Hann, Michael (2011-11-08). "Joyce McKinney sues Errol Morris over Tabloid". The Guardian. London.
  13. ^ Gardner, Eriq (2016-01-15). "Errol Morris Heads to Trial Against Irate Plaintiff at Center of 2011 Documentary 'Tabloid'". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2018-05-22.
  14. ^ Brown, Phil (2016-10-14). "Errol Morris on The B-Side and His Donald Trump Short". Collider. Retrieved 2018-05-22.

External links[edit]