A bold new film about a disputed Mormon-led massacre angers the LDS church

By Jeff Labrecque
Updated August 10, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT

Religion has always been a touchy subject on the big screen. Jewish moviegoers were angered by The Passion of the Christ; Catholics felt misrepresented by The Da Vinci Code; and now Mormons are preparing for some inflammatory cinematic fare of their own.

September Dawn — an independent film starring Jon Voight and Terence Stamp — tells the story of the 1857 Mountain Meadows Massacre, in which Utah Mormons murdered some 120 settlers headed for California. Historians have long argued over who ordered the massacre, and while the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints now admits that Mormons led it, it denies that church leader Brigham Young was responsible. The film, however, places the blame squarely on Young (Stamp), who intones, ”I am the voice of God, and anyone who doesn’t like it will be hewn down.” Explains director/co-writer Christopher Cain (Young Guns), ”My interest in the subject had less to do with Mormons and more to do with the reality of religious fanaticism and how it’s affecting the globe today.”

The LDS, which rebuffed offers to preview the film (and declined to comment to EW), issued a statement calling the film a ”serious distortion of history,” and Kathleen Flake, a Mormon professor of religious history at Vanderbilt University who has seen Dawn, dismisses it as prejudicial: ”The only conclusion this movie allows you to come to is that Mormons are evil.” The Mormon church has clashed with Hollywood before — most recently over HBO’s soap Big Love, about a polygamous family of LDS defectors — but Cain says Dawn has no agenda. ”We always knew there was going to be some controversy,” he says. ”[The massacre] took place 150 years ago. Religions have evolved and this country has evolved.”