At last year’s general conference, Elder M. Russell Ballard introduced many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to early Latter-day Saint pioneer Jane Manning James, “the daughter of a freed slave, a convert to the restored Church, and a most remarkable disciple who faced difficult challenges.” Those in Utah who would like to learn more of Jane’s inspirational story and her friendship with Emma Hale Smith can now see it on the big screen in Jane and Emma.
I had the opportunity to watch the movie this morning. The actress who plays Jane, Danielle Deadwyler, is phenomenal. It’s worth seeing the movie for her performance alone, though the music is also amazing. (Check out the music video for “Child of God” performed by the Bonner Family.)
As Jake pointed out yesterday, the movie is “inspired” by true events, meaning some aspects are fictional. The core story takes place during a 24-hour period shortly after the martyrdom of Joseph Smith. Flashbacks flesh out Jane’s backstory. Those who have read the first volume of Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days will be familiar with Jane’s journey to Nauvoo (p. 500-501) and her employment at the Nauvoo Mansion (p. 505-506). Saints, however, doesn’t cover the close relationship between Jane and the Smith family nor the fact that they offered to seal Jane as an adopted daughter. (It’s worth noting that the screenwriter for the film, Melissa Leilani Larson, is also a creative writer for the Saints church history series.)
Much of the movie is Jane trying to help her grief-stricken friend, Emma, while dealing with her own internal struggles of finding her place within the Church community. The film does not shy away from the racism Jane encounters from fellow Saints (and others) or Emma’s personal struggles with polygamy.
In a video on the movie’s website, producer Zandra Vranes of Sistas in Zion explained that she hopes audiences will be inspired by seeing Jane and Emma’s “unlikely friendship.”
By all intents and purposes and what the society says, these two women shouldn’t be friends. I think that unlikely friendships change the world because what it takes to become unlikely friends is being uncomfortable and going outside of your comfort zone, stretching yourself. That’s what we need in this world right now. People being willing to imagine that their circle can be bigger than it is today.
The serious themes in this movie are more appropriate for youth and adults, even with its PG rating. One use of the n-word appears early on in the movie and a church member cites the curse of Cain. There is also reference to past sexual assault.
**For those in Utah, ticket proceeds from today (Friday, October 12th) will be matched by LDS Charities with a donation to the NAACP.**