I’ve had elements of this post kicking around my head for a long time, but I finally sat down and busted it out, so it’s a little rough and could absolutely be revisited, which I may do in the future. Anyway, here are some aspects of church history that I think we could get some excellent film material out of in the right hands.
There’s so much with JS to be done. I’d love to see a Wes Anderson version of the First Vision and events leading up to it, with JS as this precocious kid, which I think could highlight some really interesting elements of the narrative that we don’t often focus on. You could also create an epic tragedy of JS’s life as the Prophet—use Rough Stone Rolling as your source text and you have immense material to work with. There are so many angles to take—Joseph as this Romantic poet-prophet visionary figure, a young charismatic leader, a tragic hero that is destroyed by his own hubris, a charlatan (that interpretation isn’t particularly interesting to me just like the white-washed pure and wholesome correlated JS isn’t). The depiction of JS in Jane and Emma (particularly the scene when he loses it about the press) gave me a glimmer of what a rich, deep JS biopic could do and I need it.
Again, Brigham is a magnetic figure that could have a fascinating on-screen portrayal. It seems like Paul Thomas Anderson could potentially do some great work with a BY film. It has the possibility for a deep interrogation of masculinity that PTA is often drawn to and an epic scope (crossing the plains, building a community, the blend of religious and political leadership, etc.).
John Taylor + Oscar Wilde
A random event in Mormon history that I’d love to see explored is Oscar Wilde’s visit to Utah when John Taylor was the prophet. It seems like JT was a big fan of Wilde’s, but the records I’ve found are less clear about Wilde’s view of the Mormons. BUT I can only imagine the fun that could be had on screen with Oscar Wilde hanging out with the Mormons.
David O. McKay
McKay’s presidency is fascinating and highly influential on the current Mormon experience and I think, rich for the right approach. I’d love a mini-series even that digs into the bureaucratic back and forth throughout McKay’s tenure, because there’s so much to get into—McConkie and Mormon Doctrine, Hugh B. Brown, various instances relating to blacks and the priesthood and temple restrictions, loads of drama with correlation, the drama surrounding McKay’s final years as questions of succession and emeritus status were raised, and of course you could do an entire spin-off on Ernest Wilkinson and BYU throughout this era, including Wilkinson’s Secret Spies.
Aaron Sorkin could make this work OR in a very different vein but perhaps equally effective would be Armando Iannucci (the genius behind In the Loop and The Death of Stalin). Even Matthew Weiner could potentially do some good stuff with it.
If you don’t know the story of brave HH, look it up right now. There’s been some film work of him (I haven’t seen the documentary or the 2012/13 film, so maybe they do what I’m hoping for). You could even use Thomas Rogers’ play as a basis for the film. The story is filled with drama and intensity and many of the tensions that are evident in our world today.
Emma deserves far more attention than we give her. She’s a deeply important and fascinating figure in Mormonism and I think we should explore her more a s a fully realized person. Jane & Emma does a fantastic job, but we need more. More of her and Joseph. More of her as she first learns about and wrestles with polygamy. More as she kickstarts the Relief Society. More as she deals with losing children, and other family difficulties. Let’s have Melissa Leilani Larsen take the reigns and show us more of what she beautifully brought to Jane and Emma.
Jane Manning James
Ditto for Jane. Her story is so rich and there’s so much more beyond the snapshot that Mel’s great film brought to us. Let’s explore it.
Eliza R Snow
Eliza is a badass and we should absolutely have a film about her. She contributed so much to early Mormonism and we can always know more about the women that pioneered the way. Maybe Lynne Ramsay could lend some interesting insight.
Emily Sophia Tanner Richards
Richards started a suffrage organization in Utah, and was a friend of Susan B Anthony, as well as other early leaders in the women’s suffrage movement. Let’s dive into the complex early dynamics of Mormon feminism.
Martha Maria Hughes Cannon
Another excellent early Mormon feminist story is that of Martha. She ran against her husband for the UT state senate and WON. She become the first female state senator in the US, and practiced medicine. Seems like Sofia Coppola could have some fun with her story.
Louie B Felt & May Anderson
Now, this one would likely be controversial. Felt and Anderson were two early leaders in general primary, very close, and arguably romantically involved. There is pretty significant documentary evidence in favor of that reading, but obviously, there are other interpretations held by fairly respected historians. Their friendship is inspiring and worth exploring regardless, but the queer possibilities make this extra compelling. Maggie Betts (who directed the severely underseen Novitiate) would be a fantastic choice to work on this.
Other stories or people that I think are worthy of the film treatment: First sister missionaries, Amanda Inez Knight and Lucy Jane Brimhall; Minerva Teichert; Susa Amelia Young Dunford Gates; Mary Fielding Smith; Council of Fifty; Porter Rockwell; Art Missionaries; Evan Stephens; Mountain Meadows; Brigham Morris Young; and the School of the Prophets.
ALSO, I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to see like a Brigham Young-era General Conference film that just focuses on Orson Pratt and Brigham Young going at it hard during GenConf. Give me some rich theological debates on screen!
Please share what actors or filmmakers you would want in a Church History film project or what stories and people you’d want covered. Very curious to hear your thoughts, dear readers.