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The Beehive State is abuzz about Excel Entertainment’s newest film, “Jane and Emma,” which opened in Utah theaters Oct. 12. The day before the film’s release, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Foundation and Bonneville Charitable Foundation agreed to match every box office dollar (up to $40,000) brought in on the movie’s opening day, with a donation to the NAACP.
That match was reached the first night and the film grossed nearly $100,000 in its opening weekend. The $4,800 per screen average was highest nationally for the weekend and if proceeds from the second week meet that of the first week, expect to see Jane and Emma expand across the nation quickly.
The groundbreaking movie tells the unfamiliar and unsung story of the genuine friendship of Jane Manning James, a free black woman and convert to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and Emma Hale Smith.
In 1843, James and her family were not allowed to board a steamship because of their skin color, according to the film’s Facebook page. Determined to follow God's calling, they walked 800 miles from Buffalo, New York, to Nauvoo, Illinois, where they found themselves on the doorstep of Emma Hale Smith, wife of the Prophet Joseph Smith.
"Despite the social disparities of the time, Emma answered the door and said, 'Come in, come in,'" the film description says. "Thus began the unlikely friendship of Jane and Emma."
Moviegoers filled Utah theaters in support of the film and simultaneously handed the NAACP Salt Lake Branch a generous donation.
"The NAACP applauds the producers of the film, 'Jane and Emma,' for working to bring to light (a) figure in Latter-day Saints history," said Jeanetta Williams, president of the NAACP Salt Lake Branch, as reported in the Deseret News. "The donation will help further the NAACP’s mission to ensure the political, educational, social and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate race-based discrimination.”
The film, which was inspired by true events, underscores the fortitude found through true friendship and sisterhood.
“In this film, we are with these two women as they are in the middle of their own tunnel of thorns, trying desperately to understand what it is they have faith in, who they really are in their own eyes and in the eyes of God, and how they can possibly endure the trials they are faced with,” said Chantelle Squires, director of “Jane and Emma.”
Squires said that the story of the two women can help people when looking at their own lives.
“I personally believe that by being honest with the struggles of these women, and by telling their story sincerely and unflinchingly, we can be honest with our own story, and come to love these women as well as God, our Savior and ourselves more fully,” Squires said.
“I get emotional about this movie,” Arthur VanWagenen, product director for film at Deseret Book and Excel Entertainment said, “The fundamental truth of the Church as I know it is that we are all alike unto God. And that’s what this movie shares.”
Jane and Emma expanded to 31 theaters in Utah for its second weekend.
For more information about the film and its history, visit janeandemmamovie.com. “Jane and Emma” is playing in theaters throughout Utah and opens in Afton, Wyoming, Oct. 19. Petition Excel Entertainment to bring the movie to your area by visiting janeandemmamovie.com/demand.