Women Behind ‘Jane And Emma’ Reflect On Bringing History To Life
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Two days before the Utah premiere of the film, “Jane and Emma,” the two women whose vision for the project brought it to fruition met KSL TV at This Is the Place Heritage Park, where some of the film was shot.
Director Chantelle Squires was excited about the project from the beginning.
“The fact that we were going to be able to tell a story through their voices?” she said of bringing the lives of Emma Smith and Jane Manning to the screen. “Sign me up!”
“Jane and Emma” explores the relationship between Emma, the wife of the Prophet Joseph Smith, and Jane, an early convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It tells the story of an unlikely friendship between women of different races and circumstances.
Screenwriter Melissa Leilani Larson said creating the story from the two women’s journals and historic writings was a two-year process.
“It is historical fiction,” she said. “… Usually in a history those kinds of things are a line or two in a book, but you rarely are going to have whole conversations. So it was up to me to decide the voices of these two women.”
What drove this storytelling was the unique situation of their relationship.
“It’s unexpected for the time period to be looking at a black woman and white woman and their friendship and to just see them on equal footing, on equal ground,” Larson said.
The story of the film takes place the day after Joseph Smith and his brother, Hyrum, were murdered in Carthage Jail, June 28, 1844. At the Mansion House in Nauvoo, Emma fears a mob will steal Joseph’s body, and Jane stays with her to guard it.
“(For Jane) being rejected for the color of her skin, there’s nothing she could do to change that,” Squires said. “So Emma, going through everything that she went through, especially on the night after her husband’s death, they were both elevated to this equal place of pain.”
Timing can be everything with a movie. The women behind “Jane and Emma” say, from the beginning, this was a film created by women, about women and for women. It’s about letting the voices of 19th century women be heard today.
“It’s the story of two really strong women,” Squires said, “… the relationship that they have with each other and also with God.”
The creative team hopes this universal message of friendship will appeal to audiences beyond their faith.
Squires said she believes that heartfelt feelings of faith are universal.
“There’s a moment in the film where Jane is crying at God,” she said. “I think that experience has happened for a lot of people.”
Larson said they did not start this project with only one audience in mind.
“These two women happen to be Latter-day Saints, and they happen to be in Nauvoo at a time that’s crucial to Latter-day Saint history,” she said. “But it’s not a propaganda piece. It’s not about preaching to people. It’s about these two women and their relationship.”
“Jane and Emma” opened Friday in theaters statewide from Logan to St. George.