Commercial Propaganda in the Silent Film: A Case Study of “A Mormon Maid” (1917)

  • Author(s): Richard Alan Nelson
  • When: 1987-10
  • Where: Film History
  • Of the over 40 major motion pictures bearing on Mormonism made between 1905 and the release of "BRIGHAM YOUNG-FRONTIERSMAN" in 1940, most featured negative-often virulent-portrayals influenced by anti-Mormon traditions in stage melodrama, Victorian literature, and unsympathetic news accounts pandering to popular prejudices. This article concentrates on one of the more significant of these inflammatory screen thrillers using a lurid entertainment format to provide an exciting-but largely false-inside look at Mormon life. What makes "A MORMON MAID" so unusual and important is its clear (though now largely forgotten) derivation from D. W. Griffith's epochal "THE BIRTH OF A NATION", the extreme high quality of its production, and the extensive use of a Ku Klux Klan motif to promote the film for commercial and propaganda purposes. There is a need for such case studies if we are to better understand this neglected genre and its significance as a barometer of cultural attitudes towards minority religions.

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