Utah film about Mormon heroines Emma Smith and Jane Manning James gains Hollywood honor for its gender balance and racial diversity

(Courtesy of Excel Entertainment) Danielle Deadwyler and Emily Goss portray Jane Manning James and Emma Smith, respectively, in the upcoming feature film "Jane & Emma."

A Utah-made film about two famous women from Latter-day Saint history — a determined black convert and the first lady of the faith — earned a place on a new Hollywood list of “gender-balanced and racially diverse films both in front of and behind the camera.”

The movie, “Jane and Emma,” tells the story of the unlikely, even risky, friendship between Jane Manning James and Emma Smith, wife of church founder Joseph Smith, in the 1840s as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was facing mounting opposition.

The film, with a scheduled showing in Los Angeles next month and a Utah opening Oct. 12, was directed by a woman, Chantelle Squires, and written by a woman, Melissa Leilani Larson, with collaboration from two other women, Tamu Smith and Zandra Vranes. It was produced by Jenn Lee Smith, Madeline Jorgensen and others.

The gender-equity list was compiled by ReFrame — a coalition of industry leaders founded by Women in Film and the Utah-based Sundance Institute, according to an article in Variety magazine, “to recognize and promote gender-balanced films and television shows.”

ReFrame assesses projects “to see how many women were involved in the production, and how much screen time female characters had,” the article reports. “To earn the ReFrame Stamp, a film or TV show must meet a handful of requirements that call for women in key roles like starring, directing, producing and writing.”

This week, the group announced 22 new films had earned ReFrame’s stamp of approval, including the box office smash “Crazy Rich Asians” and the Mormon-themed “Jane & Emma."

The fact that women made this movie is important because “representation matters,” Larson, the “Jane & Emma” writer, said on a recent episode of The Salt Lake Tribune’s podcast “Mormon Land.” “I’m an Asian-American. I’m brown and white. I just saw ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ for the second time. I thought how exciting it is that it was made by Asians, about Asians and for Asians. That’s what we are doing here. This is a film made by women, about women, for women. … Through that specificity, it’s for everybody.”

About the ReFrame approval, the Utah writer tweeted: “This is a huge deal.”