The new movie “His Name is Green Flake” is based on the true story of a slave pioneer who helped pave the way across the plains for the Saints to settle in Utah.
Mauli Junior Bonner, the film’s creator and director hopes it will help viewers appreciate the strength and faith of the early Black Saints.
Bonner had never heard of Green Flake until he performed at the “Be One” celebration with his family, The Bonner Family. The Be One celebration was hosted by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 2018 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the lifting of the ban on the priesthood for black members.
At the event, there was a presentation on early black pioneers including Jane Manning James, Elijah Abel, Green Flake and more. Bonner said he left the celebration wanting to learn more about all those early Saints he had never heard of before.
Bonner delved into researching early black saints, meeting historians, perusing newspapers, and learning as much as he could about enslaved members, early blacks to gain the priesthood, and others. As a songwriter, Bonner’s research quickly turned into songwriting to help him release his creative thoughts and deal with the emotional burden that many stories had on him.
Somewhere during this writing and reading process, Bonner ended up writing 200 pages of information about Green Flake and other Saints that could be made into a movie.
âAt first I had no intention, but over time the songs and the reading turned into writing scenes. I had never written a screenplay or thought about making a film and being a director. It just happened during this process, âBonner said.
Importance of Sharing Black Saint Stories
Watching this script he wrote, Bonner said he knew he had to make the film to help others learn what he did on the sensitive subject of slavery in state history. -United and Latter-day Saints. âLearning from their stories strengthened my testimony. I realized that I had to share these stories in the same spirit that I learned them, âhe said.
Dana King is a BYU alumnus and white member of the Church who lives in St. Louis, Missouri. She said learning the stories of early Black Saints and today’s Black Saints has helped her testimony immensely.
âToo often I hear that black history is only black and I think we really miss out on the blessing it can be for us,â King said. She said learning the âblack struggleâ can teach you to resist evil and find joy in hardship. She also said that Black Saints’ resilience can teach members today to be more resilient and give people stories to draw their strength from.
King has served in Church public affairs and worked with the National Urban League, the Griot Museum of Black History, and more to advocate for unity in the community of St. Louis. She is a former member of the board of directors of Blacklatterdaysaints.org, a website that celebrates the contributions of Black Saints to the Church and also helped organize Discover Your Roots, an African-American family history conference. Her goal in all of this, she said, is to be a bridge builder between white and black communities, especially in the Church and in Missouri.
She said she appreciates storytellers like Bonner who come out of the dark with stories like Green Flake’s. Black history is âthe history of all of us,â King said. “It’s everyone’s story and leaving some part out is like leaving people out of the Restoration.”
While making a movie is usually a two-year process, Bonner was able to complete the script, assemble a cast and crew, and start filming âHis Name is Green Flakeâ just months after learning of it. They shot almost the entire movie in just a week and a half in snow-capped Utah in December 2018. They completed the final scenes, which required a different season, in May 2019.
Bonner then took a year off to spend time with his family and return to his normal job. When the pandemic hit in 2020, he had enough extra time and could edit the film together, add music, and finalize the details.
The impact of the film
âThe film turned out to be beautiful and I’m not saying that because I’m the director. I feel like I had nothing to do with it! “Said Bonner.” The Lord guided everyone’s hands and lips and their scenes, and it was amazing. “
The film was officially released on June 8, 2021, the 43rd anniversary of the lifting of the priesthood ban for black members.
âHer Name is Green Flakeâ has won âBest Filmâ awards at 10 film festivals, including the London Independent Film Awards, Los Angeles Film Awards, Venice Film Awards and more. The film also received more than 40 other awards for writing, costumes, sheet music and acting, Bonner said.
Bonner said the film was well received by those inside and outside the Church. He believes he is âan incredible healing agentâ who opens the way for education and discussion of the contributions and history of Black Saints and Church pioneers.
“By raising awareness for Green Flake and other important contributors to this sacred history, we can come together to celebrate these forgotten heroes,” said the Green Flake website States.
BYU alumnus and Church member Lauren Halversen said the film instilled in her a respect for the faith and sacrifice the Black Saints had while enduring racial injustices.
âThe film does a fantastic job of not only establishing the complexities regarding race in the early years of the church, but also developing the characters of the individuals portrayed,â said Halversen. “Too many of us don’t know their stories, and I am grateful to Mauli and the work he has done to resolve this issue.”
Honoring the History of the Black Saints
King said as people exposed themselves to the stories of black members: “You will get to know each other and know that black life is a blessing.” Listening to the stories of others helps people see Christ in different ways.
By further shedding light on the perspective of Black Latter-day Saints, King said Church members will be more united in Christ and will have the opportunity to be more effective ambassadors to the gathering of Israel. She hopes all members can better learn the history of black members in the Church and actively make today’s world a better place for them.
King said that while individuals cannot change the whole world, “we can secure the spaces we occupy and it starts in our families and our services.”
After finishing the movie, Bonner realized that there was no monument in Utah dedicated to the black Saints who helped establish Utah and contributed to the early Church. For this reason, Bonner decided that all proceeds from the film would go towards funding a monument to honor and remember the sacrifice and faith of black pioneers. He hopes this monument “will add a memory for generations to come.”
Bonner pointed to the strength and testimony that black members had to work on and donate to build the Salt Lake Temple when they knew they couldn’t set foot inside. âTheir faith allows me to realize that there is nothing I cannot stand for the Lord,â said Bonner. He hopes that all members of the Church today will find strength in their faith and testimonies.
Official plans and details of the monument are unclear at this time, but Bonner is working hard to make his dream come true. He has already met This is the Place Heritage Park and started discussions with them about building a monument for black pioneers in the park.
Bonner also met with Church leaders to discuss another potential monument to be built in Temple Square in honor of the early pioneer contributions to the Salt Lake City Temple. At the moment, the outlook for both monuments is positive and Bonner hopes they will be built in the next few years.
To watch the film, individuals can purchase a “watch party” on the Green snowflake website that includes access to the film for 24 hours and a question-and-answer session with the director and some of the cast. There are only four screenings left which will take place on July 9, 10, 23 and the final screening on Pioneer Day on July 24. All the profits from the vigil evenings are used to finance the monuments. the website has links to resources for people to learn about the history of the Black Latter-day Saints and a dedicated free benefit concert page where viewers can watch and donate to fund the monuments.
Some resources for the history of the Black Church that King suggests starting by including “A Century of Black MormonsBy University of Utah history professor Paul Reeve, the movie “Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons” and the “Standing on the Promises” trilogy of books by Margaret Young and Darius Gray. The second book in Young and Gray’s trilogy is titled “Bound for Canaan” and includes many details about the life of Green Flake and the pioneer journey west to Utah.