Honolulu Star Bulletin Article
COURTESY BLACK DIAMOND PICTURES
Jon Voight won an Academy Award for best actor for his performance in "Coming Home" in 1979, and received Oscar nominations for three other roles.
Screenwriter strikes gold with visionSTORY SUMMARY »
"September Dawn," a new independent movie dramatizing the massacre of 120 people on Sept. 11, 1857, by a group of Mormons, is attracting plenty of attention nationally for its controversial subject matter. But it also has strong local ties.
Kalani High School and University of Hawaii graduate Carole Whang Schutter wrote the screenplay (and a follow-up book) with director/producer Christopher Cain. The film stars Academy Award winner Jon Voight and Cain's son, Dean Cain.
"Creating likable characters that take part in unimaginably atrocious acts is a chilling reminder that terrorists can be anyone who chooses to blindly follow fanatical, charismatic leaders," Schutter wrote on her Web site. She also notes that she's currently working on an historical novel about her "home state Hawaii."
FULL STORY »
COURTESY CAROLE WHANG SCHUTTER
"September Dawn" screenwriter Carole Whang Schutter on set with actors Dean Cain and Jon Voight, who star in the movie.
While Carole Whang Schutter's movie stirs controversy and publicity, she remains largely behind the scenes.
The Kalani High School and University of Hawaii graduate wrote the screenplay for "September Dawn," which opens in 1,000 theaters today. Starring Academy Award winner Jon Voight and Dean Cain, the film uses fictional characters to re-create the Mountain Meadows Massacre of Sept. 11, 1857, when a group of Mormons slaughtered 120 mostly women and children. Because she accumulated so much information for the movie, Whang decided to supplement the two-hour drama with a book.
To understand how Schutter, a local girl with strong ties to Hawaii, came to write about this undisputed moment in history requires starting at the beginning.
"I've been unemployed most of my life," said Schutter, former wife of attorney David Schutter, with whom she has two children, and widow of Monte Goldman, the one-time owner of the Kaiser Estate in Portlock (his father invented the shopping cart) who died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 1995.
"I've always wanted to be a writer. I didn't even know how to write a movie, so it was a pretty amazing journey."
While contemplating her struggle to break into professional writing, a vision of a pioneer woman appeared to Whang. She suddenly realized that she was supposed to write a story about a pioneer woman in a wagon train on its way to the gold rush.
Extensive research led her to what she describes as the "first act of religious terrorism in the United States." She wrote the story and shared it with her friend Christopher Cain (director of "Young Guns" and Dean's father). He liked the premise and guided her to a polished product. Together they raised $9.5 million to make the independent movie. "The money just came to us," she said. "Some of (the investors) didn't even bother to read the screenplay."
The period piece contains an internal Romeo and Juliet-type love story amid a massacre that Brigham Young allegedly approved and concealed. Everyone over age 8 was killed. The Mormons who participated took the remaining young children and gave them to other Mormon families to raise.
"Some people think we're Mormon-bashing," Whang said from her Aspen, Colo., home, "or that this is a Hollywood conspiracy to attack Mitt Romney's presidential candidacy. But we'd never even heard of Mitt Romney when we started this!"
A born-again Christian, Whang said that her book focuses on forgiveness. But part of that process means allowing the truth to emerge. Harboring hostility against the Mormons "is like saying we should continue punishing Southerners for being slaveholders. It's ridiculous. All religions have done things they're not proud of, and we need to learn from that."
Whang said Voight's riveting performance is receiving Oscar buzz. Publicity thus far, however, has centered on the controversy.
In an interview published in the Boston Globe, Christopher Cain said, "I started running into parallels with the world we're living in today. You ask yourself, what causes a 20-year-old kid to put a bomb on his back? The religious fanatical world pushes you to that point, and it's not the religion, but the specific input of specific leaders at specific times."
Despite such qualifications, an article in the Los Angeles Times indicated that the Mormon Church has blacklisted the film. Nobody disputes that the massacre occurred, but why it happened remains a source of debate in and out of the Mormon Church, also known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
None of it has hurt Whang's vocation. She finished another screenplay, which was optioned, and she's enjoying the ride that only a movie ready to hit theaters can provide. "I've gone through a lot of really bad things in my life." But everything looks different now. Besides, she laughed, "How many people over 50 have a new career?