A New Movie: Jane and Emma
Today, I’m tired — emotionally and physically. I cannot point to one thing or even five that’s causing my weariness, but I can tell you that the bad dude has been working on me hard this week. And I’m extra tender because of all the feels from reading Saints. The stories have sunk deep into my soul. I have found myself weeping as I do the dishes as I hear about the women who are left as single mothers either due to husbands off on missions, or murdered by ruthless mobs. I grew up hearing the stories, but hearing them in context, I’ve learned them anew.
Last night in Hollywood, California, I attended the premiere of Jane and Emma, a movie based on the relationship between Jane Manning and Emma Smith — two of the most influential women in the restoration of the church. The movie was written by a woman, produced/directed/edited by a woman, about women, for women — members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and any other woman whose social construct conflicts with the deep convictions of her soul.
Hot Points and History
As expected, the movie touched on many of the hot points coming to light as we face history with new eyes. It has a similar tone as Hamilton: The Musical, in the way of painting our deified historical figures in a human light. No, it didn’t have the universal, compelling genius that Hamilton has, but it is a good step in the faith-based Latter-day Saint sub-genre. We tend to deify these historical figures like Joseph Smith, George Washington, etc. just because they lived in the past and did some pretty remarkable things. We hold them up to half-god standards and get confused or frustrated when we learn of behavior and character that conflict with what we think they should have been or how hey should have acted.
Among these hot points the movie addressed was racism that existed among early Saints. There’s a scene in the movie when a woman comes and asks Emma if she could borrow her girl. Emma does say that Jane is a sister, friend, and skilled for hire, but Jane is still hurt.
I saw right into Jane’s soul at that moment. In my mind, I heard her heart say, “I thought that God’s ‘Saints’ would be different. Don’t I have the same (or better) skills than you? Don’t I have the same spiritual convictions of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ that you also received? Didn’t I feel the Spirit compelling me to join with you, where I could be free to worship and grow in light and revelation?
The movie didn’t say this outright, but I felt it.
Aren’t You Supposed to Be Different?
I think that is a resounding message felt among any woman – black, Hispanic, newly moved-in, poor, tattooed, single, overweight, childless, divorced, or any other marginalized woman who doesn’t fit the exact cultural mold of an “ideal” woman. Have you ever been made to feel “less than” among a people who are supposed to be “the people of God”? I have!
We humans tend to keep an expectation that others ought to be better than they are. We expect historical figures to have been better people that they were. We expect our leaders to be better than they are. We expect our fellow Saints to be better than they are.
Our tendency is to continually look outward, point the finger at the racist leader, dust our feet toward the one who took advantage of the outcast, hiss and trample those who we think have erred.
No, their actions aren’t okay, but neither are mine.
Aren’t *I* Supposed to Be Different?
We have a really cool family in our Latter-day Saint ward who is half Jewish — literally. The husband is Jewish, the son goes to Hebrew school, the wife is an endowed Latter-day Saint woman, and the daughter comes to Young Women’s. They go to Jewish Temple and celebrate Sabbath on Saturday, and come to our ward on Sundays regularly. Last Sunday during fast and testimony meeting, the father stood and said, “I’ve been struck by the story of Jesus Christ lately, where the woman who was caught in adultery is brought before him. His response was simple: Ye who are without sin cast the first stone…” This dear brother went on to point out that division and judgment are God’s, not ours.
Jesus did not say, “Ye who are without that sin, cast the first stone…” or in other words, any of you who haven’t committed adultery, specifically are authorized to stone her to death. Jesus said, “Ye who are without sin…” or any sin.
It is easy to see the flaws in others, isn’t it. It is easy to spit at the racist, to trample the perceived abuser, to condemn the mobs, to shake our fists at the other women who aren’t doing the thing you think they are “supposed to” do.
Yes, justice should prevail, but is it your’s or God’s responsibility to carry out justice?
I would encourage you to consider what is your role, as a woman of god, is in someone else’s situation? Is it to wag the finger, or lift up the hands that hang down? Aren’t I supposed to be different?
Go See The Movie and Bring a Sister
Yup, I would recommend seeing the movie, Jane and Emma, when it comes out. Is it a perfect movie? No, far from it. There were historical errors in it that drove me nuts. It’s a shoestring-budget indie film with some inherent troubles to overcome. However, it will start a conversation, and inspire better films in the future.
Better yet, go see the movie and bring a woman, a sister, a new friend – anyone who is different than you to come with you. Hear her perspective, notice what she saw.
You’ll see that Emma and Jane discovered that same thing – they had expectations of each other, both of which failed, and how they discovered what really matters.