On Tuesday, 18 September 2018, 10 members of the multitalented Bonner family released a soul-stirring music video of the song “Child of God” from the upcoming movie, Jane and Emma. The movie premiers in select theaters on 12 October 2018. It is the story of two women – one white and the other black – and the unlikely, and even risky bond and friendship that develops between the two. Who are these two women? They are Emma Hale Smith, the wife of Prophet Joseph Smith, and Jane Elizabeth Manning James, a free-born black who became one of the early members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The music video “Child of God” begins with a 39-second glimpse into the upcoming movie about these two remarkable women, both of whom were Saints in every sense of the word, having lived incredible lives with an amazing story to tell. LDS Living reports, “This soul-stirring music video, performed by Latter-day Saint artists the Bonner family shares a divine message: we are all children of God no matter where we are from, what we look like, or who we are.”
Tamu Smith, a black Mormon writer and speaker, and her “Sista in Zion” colleague, Zandra Vanes, serve as consultants on the Jane and Emma film. Smith said, “Theirs is a rare, real and riveting tale, but one that has been lost to our history.” So, when Excel Entertainment Group executive, Arthur Van Wagenen, approach her with a proposal about Elizabeth Jane Manning Janes, she insisted that it would be better to make a movie about both Jane and Emma Smith. Van Wagenen commented that the way Jane and Emma interacted could be “a template for how modern Mormons should behave.”
For 15 days in March, This Is the Place Heritage Park on Salt Lake City, Utah’s east side came alive as 1844 Nauvoo, Illinois, the gathering place for far-flung members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Andrus home was transformed into the Nauvoo Mansion/Hotel, where the Smiths and Jane lived. The Pine Valley Chapel served as the site where the Mormon founder delivered parts of his famed “King Follett discourse” (though the real setting for it was in an open-air service). The filmmakers also traveled to Nauvoo, Illinois, for two days to capture authentic-looking exteriors there by the Mississippi River.
The story of how Jane Elizabeth Manning James ad her family came to join the Saints in Nauvoo, Illinois, is a miracle. In 1843, Jane and eight members of her family began the strenuous journey from Connecticut to Nauvoo, Illinois, where they would join with other Latter-day Saints. Upon arriving in Buffalo, New York, they purchased tickets for passage on the steamboat, However, after their luggage had been placed on board, they were denied boarding because they were Black. Neither their luggage or their money was returned to them. With a mind set on joining the Saints in Nauvoo, Jane and her family began the journey of 800 miles by foot. When they reached Peoria, Illinois, law enforcement officials threatened to arrest them if they did not produce their freedom papers. Because they were not slaves who had been granted their freedom, they could not produce the requested documents. By God’s grace, they were able to convince the authorities that they were telling the truth. They finally reached Nauvoo, but not before having to cross a stream of ice-cold water up to their necks.
Emma Smith was a faithful wife and mother and during times of persecution, her home was always open to the sick and needy. One person she opened her home to was Jane Elizabeth Manning James. The Salt Lake Tribune reports, “Their mutual affection ran so deep that both wanted to be ‘sealed’ as family for eternity. Emma proposed the newly announced LDS ritual of ‘adoption’ to Jane while they were together in 1840s Nauvoo. Jane declined the offer but then spent the rest of her life trying to make it happen.”
The video post on Facebook on Tuesday, 18 September 2018, further exhorts, “Child of God” by The Bonner Family powerfully illustrates the soul of the Jane and Emma Movie — unity, love, friendship, and that we are ALL children of God.”