The film September Dawn tells the story of a little-known black spot in the history of Mormonism. In 110 minutes, September Dawn chronicles the 1857 Mountain Meadows Massacre, during which 120 men, women and children were killed by members of the bourgeoning Church of Latter Day Saints.
Vast amounts of negative commentary have stemmed from the movie, ranging from its historical accuracy and its inflammatory tone. This commentary proves entirely uncalled for.
A columnist for The Washington Times called it a “bigoted hatchet job,” and The Seattle Times said it mixes fact and fiction.
There is also the question of whether the timing of its release is a political ploy, as Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney is a Mormon.
“Even a modest motion picture like this one with little chance of achieving blockbuster status will spark intense new discussion of Mormonism’s origins, while powerfully reinforcing negative stereotypes that already lead millions of Americans to tell pollsters that they wouldn’t vote for a Mormon,” wrote Michael Medved in USA Today.
And a religious blogger on the Miracles in Everyday Life Web site believes that the movie was made to turn Americans against Mormons and Romney.
“The movie September Dawn was created to ignite and fan fires of hatred against the Mormon church, and, of course, by extension, against the presidential candidacy of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who is a Mormon,” wrote the blogger.
Such theories would be well and good, however, if it weren’t for the concrete facts about the film’s production and its release.
According to the Aspen Times, production of September Dawn began two years ago, far before Romney ever decided to enter the presidential fray. His formal announcement,
moreover, didn’t come until Feb. 13, 2007.
And as far as the release goes, the first presidential primaries are slated for January. Again, this makes the release a full four months before the primary.
Its release has even less to do with politics, moreover, than it does historical reference.
September Dawn was released Aug. 24 because the date falls in time for the 150th anniversary of the massacre, which took place on Sept. 11, 1857.
Lead actor Jon Voigt rightfully dismissed these concerns as taking the film out of its context.
“This is a true part of our American history – very well-documented as well – but we’re not pointing a finger at the [Mormon] church today,” he said.
“Nor does it have anything to do with Mitt Romney’s
Romney agrees the massacre was a horrible event, adding that the massacre does not mean all Mormons are to blame.
“That was a terrible, awful act carried out by members of my faith,” Romney said. “There are bad people in any church, and it’s true of members of my church, too.”
Even supposing the film was written purely as an inflammatory rag, there is little suggestion that a political movie necessarily sways voters at the polls. Fahrenheit 9/11 was released the summer before the 2004 election and was clearly a blow against the Bush administration. It obviously did little to prevent his victory.
September Dawn is based on a true story, and it does contain both factual and fictional elements. In any case, Americans are right to judge the movie – and Mormonism – for themselves, without bowing to the loaded cautions of
Candace Kaw is a junior
majoring in mass