What Camlyn Thought About Playing Mary

 

Oh, Mary is so fun! I loved reading her autobiographies. I cracked up. I cried. I loved seeing the relationship that the Lord had with her because it opened up possibilities I could try in my own relationship with Him.

 

I learned that it's not impossible for the Spirit to work with a rebellious and hard-hearted soul. She described herself as full of hate—but the Spirit could still reach her! She was not beyond His reach. I think that's amazing. It gives hope to those of us who struggle with
faith. That's what I wanted. I wanted a modern story of wrestling with God. I wanted a story of someone that had questions. I wanted a true story of someone that struggled
with uncertainty.

 

When we experience these things, it does not mean that we are without faith. And when we can't run forward with faith, its okay to inch our way. And it was incredibly nice to read the story of first, a woman, and second, a black woman, because these were perspectives I was hungry to hear from.

 

—Camlyn Giddins

 

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Biography

 

“I sat crying, my whole body filled with hopelessness... I shouted out loud to God, “Please let me know what you want. Mama said you loved me. If you do, let me know or please go away and leave me alone.” (1)

 

A truly remarkable woman, Mary Frances Sturlaugson was born to a large Southern family in 1955. Her parents, Frank and Corine, had twenty-four children, of which Mary was the fifteenth. The family grew up in a climate of extreme poverty and racism in Chattanooga, Tennessee during the years that preceded the Civil Rights movement.

 

Mary was a mold-breaker from the beginning. She was the first member of her family to graduate from high school, and the first of the Sturlaugsons to attend college. In the fall that followed her high school graduation she moved to Mitchell, South Dakota where she studied at Dakota Wesleyan University. After her first year as a student at Wesleyan she took a job on the local Native American Reservation. There she had her first encounter
with Mormon missionaries.

 

It didn’t go well.

 

But the elders were extremely persistent.

 

Over many months Mary gradually came to gain a testimony. She converted before the Priesthood ban was lifted in 1978. After her conversion she had deep desires to serve a proselytizing mission for the Church. This was impossible because that same ban that did not allow blacks of African descent access to the Priesthood also prohibited blacks from entering the temple. It was a trying time for Mary, who didn’t believe that she would live to see the change in the Church that she so desperately desired. But she couldn’t have known that a miracle was on its way.

 

When the ban was lifted Mary immediately submitted her mission papers. She became
the first LDS black sister missionary when she arrived in San Antonio, Texas on September 28th, 1978.

 

After her mission she wrote several memoirs about her experiences that were published
by Deseret Book. She went on to marry, raise a daughter, and become a high school
English teacher.

 

Mary is a fighter, in the truest sense of the word. She holds onto her faith and is a living example of what conviction means. She understands that she is of a divine heritage. In
her words:

 

“I do have a joy inside me, and that’s the joy of the gospel of Jesus Christ... Many times people look at me and frown or say unkind things simply because of the color of my skin. It’s at times like these that my Father in Heaven reaches out and puts his arms around me and gives me a fatherly squeeze full of love, full of forgiveness, and full of strength to go on.” (2)

 

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Poetic Licenses Taken in the Film

 

The missionaries who taught Mary the Gospel were most definitely not sister

missionaries—they were elders! Which means, as you can probably infer, that Sister Dinnell is in fact, fictional.

 

As far as we know, there was never a conversation quite like the one pictured in the film between Mary and her missionaries. That scene is kind of an accelerated representation of her entire incredible conversion story.

 

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Questions Mary Inspired Us to Ask

 

How do we fulfill our roles as sisters in Zion?

What is the process for overcoming difficulty and changing into better people?

How does God expect us to express our faith?

 

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Quotations used in the Biography

1. Sturlaugson, Mary Frances. A Soul So Rebellious. Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1980. pg. 43

2. Ibid, pg. 60

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