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“Jane and Emma” Actress and Non-Member Tells NPR the Uplifting Insights She Learned About Joseph Smith, Faith Playing Jane Manning

by | Oct. 02, 2018

FunMormon Life

The upcoming movie Jane and Emma is already making waves in the entertainment industry with its controversial topics and strong female presence in the cast and crew. The movie shows the relationship between Jane Manning, Emma Smith, and the prophet Joseph Smith. 

Jane Manning was one of the first African American Latter-day Saints to join the Church. She was a woman of great faith and led her family from Connecticut to Nauvoo to better participate in the Church. 

Her story is one of faith, heartbreaking trials, and endurance. It confronts controversial topics such as race, gender, and polygamy head on. Danielle Deadwyler plays Jane Manning in Jane and Emma and sat down with Lois Reitzes on NPR's the City Lights podcast to discuss her role in the movie and share some incredible stories from Jane’s life.

When asked, “Who was Jane Manning,” Deadwyler confidently and proudly said, “Jane Manning was a woman of fierce conviction.” This was the first thing that came to Deadwyler's mind when thinking about Jane, and it accurately illustrates her strong personality and dedication to the Church. 

Deadwyler isn’t a Latter-day Saint herself, but the way she speaks of Jane Manning and others shows her love and respect for the characters in the movie and their stories. She spoke of how Jane was one of the first African Americans to join the Church and moved her family to Nauvoo from Connecticut after having a vision that it was what she needed to do. 

The trek from Connecticut was full of challenges. Although she was born a free black woman, she and her family had many struggles in reaching Nauvoo because of their race. They weren’t allowed to get on the boat that would take them on their journey, but they pressed forward. Jane and her family walked 700 miles to be in Nauvoo with the prophet Joseph Smith. 

With their feet cracked and bleeding, they pleaded with God to get them to their destination safely. And after enduring racism and physical hardships on their journey, Emma Smith welcomed them into her home. 

Deadwyler mentioned that Jane wanted so badly to participate in the Church in Nauvoo and was ready to make the trek there “because God told her to.” Deadwyler said, “She came upon the prophet Joseph Smith and she said she saw him in a vision. When she got there she knew who he was.” 

But even after arriving in Nauvoo, the social climate continued to be a problem. Deadwyler noted that the community commented on Jane’s relationship with the Smiths, although Joseph and Emma continued to treat her like family. As Reitzes asks, "We learn that Joseph Smith had no prejudice against black people, in fact at one point in the film he says, 'To curse the negro is to tempt damnation.' Why don't we know that the founder of the Latter-day Saints didn't believe in excluding black people?" Deadwyler noted that there are many questions as to "why certain narratives are muted," but shared that Joseph Smith was opposed to slavery and planned to run for president on an abolitionist platform. But despite this example, racism continued to be an issue among the Latter-day Saints. 

Deadwyler also discussed how she prepared to play Jane in the movie and researched her life. There isn’t much historical information on Jane. However, she did keep a small diary about her experiences with Emma and Joseph and documented her visions. 

Regarding the historical documentation on Jane, Deadwyler said, “You dig as much as you can . . . she has less than [Joseph and Emma] but she does have a particular document where she drives home the visions that come to her and why she did what she did. Why she fought literally for the rest of her life to be sealed to the prophet Joseph Smith’s family and why she stayed in a faith that did not receive her the way the prophet received her.” 

When asked why Jane stayed even with the hardship of being a black woman in the Church at the time, Deadwyler said, “She knew what was for her. You stick to what is for you . . . and that’s all I can cling to.” 

Race isn’t the only controversial topic covered in Jane and Emma. The film addresses polygamy and how it affected Emma. Deadwyler noted that Jane questioned whether or not Emma was accepting of Joseph's other wives because it took an obvious toll on her. But Emma stayed and wanted to remain connected to Joseph. That alone took great faith, and the movie will depict some of what that struggle entails. 

Jane was obviously a woman of great faith and endurance who believed in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ with her whole heart. Reitzes asks whether Deadwyler is concerned that the movie will be taken from an “apologist” point of view, but Deadwyler doesn’t see it as that. 

“I look at it as a conversation starter,” she said. “We are beginning the dialogue.” She hopes that the movie will get people talking about the issues addressed and that they’ll keep talking about it. 

The movie will show a side of the Joseph Smith story that we don’t often see or talk about. “This film is about his murder. Not purely his murder but the after-effects of his murder,” Deadwyler explained. This somber point of view reveals what it was like to lose the prophet joseph Smith. Jane lost her prophet and one of the only people who treated her as a human being—she lost a friend. And Emma lost her husband whom she loved dearly. 

Deadwyler concluded the interview with wise advice for anyone struggling. “Regardless of your faith, people are dealing with extreme challenges. And whomever God you serve, you can go through the wilderness.” She explained that the “wilderness” can include anything from darkness to unknown spaces. We all struggle with our own personal “wilderness,” but with God, we can endure anything. 

Jane and Emma will be in theaters on October 12, 2018.

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