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Why this first-time director opted to make a film about a Black Latter-day Saint pioneer

Proceeds from the movie will go to build a new monument

Cast and crew members of “His Name is Green Flake” gather around a fire during filming.
Cast and crew members of the film, “His Name is Green Flake” sit by a fire. The film, which opens on June 8, tells about the true experiences and faith of Green Flake, an enslaved Latter-day Saint pioneer.
Mauli Junior Bonner

Mauli Junior Bonner had never heard of Green Flake before he and his family performed at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Be One celebration in June 2018.

The memorable event, which commemorated the 40th anniversary of the church’s priesthood ban being lifted, opened Bonner’s eyes to a new side of Latter-day Saint history.

“I learned things I didn’t know about early Black pioneers,” he said. “It really swung the door wide open for me to want to learn more. I began meeting with historians. Reading turned into writing. That summer, the film was written.”

In a matter of months, the first-time writer, producer and director with a songwriting background began working on the film, “His Name is Green Flake.” The movie tells the true story of an early Latter-day Saint who is remembered for his unwavering faith and pioneering spirit.

The film opens June 8, in timing with the 43rd anniversary of the priesthood ban being lifted. It has already received recognition as “best film” in 10 different film festivals, including the Venice Film Awards, the London Independent Film Awards, and most recently, the LA Film Awards.

Proceeds from the movie will be used to build a new monument honoring Flake and other early Black pioneers.

Who is Green Flake?

Flake was born into slavery in North Carolina in 1828. His owner, James Madison Flake, and his wife Agnes, joined the Latter-day Saint faith at their plantation in Mississippi circa 1844. Flake and other slaves were also baptized. The family then moved to be with the saints in Nauvoo, Illinois, according to the University of Utah’s Century of Black Mormons database.

The headstone of Latter-day Saint pioneer Green Flake is found in the Union Cemetery in Cottonwood Heights.
Green Flake was a member of the first 1847 pioneer company. He and his wife, Martha, are buried in Union Cemetery in Cottonwood Heights, Utah. Their burial site is marked by a gravestone Green Flake carved himself.
Amy Tanner Thiriot

James Flake sent Green to accompany Brigham Young to the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. Green and two other enslaved men, Hark Lay and Oscar Crosby, arrived in the valley with the advance party on July 22. The trio was asked to build homes, plant crops and prepare for the arrival of their enslavers and others on the trail.

Flake received his freedom in the 1850s and married Martha Ann Morris. They had two children, Lucinda and Abraham.

An 1897 newspaper article described Flake as a “vigorous, broad-shouldered, good-natured, bright old gentleman.”

Very little of Flake’s life history was recorded, Bonner said.

“There is little bits and pieces to start connecting the dots of who he was, what he did and what he meant to those early pioneers,” the director said.

Flake died in 1903 and is buried in the Union Cemetery in Cottonwood Heights, Utah.

Who is in the film?

“His Name is Green Flake” stars Bonner’s younger brother, Yahosh Bonner, as the ax-wielding Flake, and features Casey Elliott (Joseph Smith), Dallyn Vail Bales (Brigham Young), David Osmond (Porter Rockwell), Alex Boyé and many others.

Viewers can get a taste of the film and its cast from a short, behind-the-scenes YouTube video released last November.

The drive to tell Flake’s story

There are a number of early Black Latter-day Saints with incredible stories of faith and sacrifice. Yet, for some reason, Bonner felt drawn to Flake.

“I don’t know why I was so drawn to him because there is so little on him, and there are so many other stories that could be told,” Bonner said. “After learning about him specifically, you would think it would shake or rock my testimony. But it did quite the opposite and strengthened my beliefs, and I found that fascinating.”

Director Mauli Bonner helps his little brother Yahosh Bonner, who plays Green Flake, prepare for a scene in the film, “His Name is Green Flake.”
Right, director Mauli Bonner helps his little brother Yahosh Bonner, who plays Green Flake, prepare for a scene in the film, “His Name is Green Flake.”
Mauli Junior Bonner

Learning Flake’s story helped Bonner to better understand the early church. As a Latter-day Saint leader who mentors youth in his southern California congregation, Bonner wanted young people to “hear these stories, the right way from the right place, so they could have the same faith-building experience he did,” he said.

Why build a monument?

After learning about these early Black pioneer Latter-day Saints, Bonner assumed there was a monument somewhere, celebrating and honoring these historical figures.

“That’s when I realized, ‘Oh, that’s what this needs to go towards,’” he said. “With the monument, we can leave something not only to honor the faith they must have had ... and what they contributed, we can visually represent this inclusive church and lead out, like the prophet asking us to, against racism.”

Director Mauli Junior Bonner speaks with actors Yahosh Bonner and Katec Ruiz before filming a scene of “His Name is Green Flake.”
Left, director Mauli Junior Bonner speaks with actors Yahosh Bonner and Katec Ruiz before filming a scene of “His Name is Green Flake.”
Mauli Junior Bonner

A benefit concert featuring the Bonner Family, The Piano Guys, Boyé, Michael McLean, Bayles and others was held May 15 to raise funds for the monument.

Learn more about how to donate at greenflakemovie.org/donate.

How to watch

“His Name is Green Flake” is virtual only, not in theaters.

The movie opens June 8 and 9, with screenings each Friday and Saturday until Pioneer Day on July 24. Each screening will feature dialogue with the cast and crew before and after the film. More information for how to buy virtual tickets and watch the film is found at GreenFlakeMovie.com.

“People can choose which day and who they watch with,” Mauli Bonner said. “Your ticket is a contribution to the monument. I won’t be making a penny from any screenings. It’s all going towards the making of the film and the monument.”