Thousands of people have seen Mormon missionaries in Africa—at least as represented on a Broadway stage. Only a few hundred actually know what it’s like to be a Mormon missionary in Africa. They’ve been there and done that.
Elder Price in The Book of Mormon musical proclaims “A Mormon just believes.”
Elder Price in Heart of Africa says to his Congolese companion: “I don’t have a clue what Jesus looks like. I think his skin was closer to your color than mine.” His Congolese companion, Elder Kando, has spent years as a revolutionary, but is nothing like the war lord Parker and Stone have scripted in their Book of Mormon satire. Kando is trying to understand his new religion. He has been trained to hate whites and all emblems of colonialism. Elder Price is his first Anglo companion. As for Price, he is a new missionary, fresh from a farm in Marley, Idaho. Together, these missionaries will confront their cultural differences, and the realities of the Congo—including poverty, malaria, and polio. They will have to answer Rodney King’s famous question, “Can’t we all just get along?” There will be no catchy tunes repeating “Hello” or “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream.” Instead, the songs will be those which Congolese revolutionaries sing today, in a dialect called Lingala, as well as street music from African musicians. This is a film about Mormons, but intended for all.
Few people, Mormon and non-Mormon, are aware that there has been an African American presence in the LDS Church from its earliest days, that the vanguard company of Mormon pioneers included three “colored servants” (slaves), and that subsequent pioneer companies included both freeborn Blacks (such as Jane Manning and Isaac James) and enslaved Blacks, such as Biddy Smith Mason and Elizabeth Flake.
This documentary talks about that little-known legacy, and confronts the hard issues which surfaced in the most turbulent years of the Civil Rights Movement, when the Church continued to restrict its priesthood from those of African descent (a policy put into place in 1852). It discusses the context for that restriction, and how it was finally lifted. It also addresses the challenges of modern Black Mormon pioneers.