Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soapbox

Reckon So Productions. <i>88 minutes</i>.

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If you’ve ever purchased a bottle of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap, you’ve no doubt wondered what’s up with the rambling phrases crammed onto the label, with their references to the “Moral ABC,” “All-One-God-Faith,” and “God’s Spaceship Earth.”

The story behind the tiny, disjointed doctrines, as told in the entertaining Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soapbox, is likely stranger, and sadder, than your wildest speculations. They were written by Emanuel Bronner, a German Jewish immigrant who escaped from an Illinois mental hospital in 1948 before making his way to California, where he established himself as a “master soapmaker chemist.” (It’s unclear where he picked up the “doctor.”) Bronner was a man obsessed, pushing his soap as everything from mouthwash to contraception while pursuing a fanatical, if somewhat endearing, desire to unite the human race.

Bronner, whose parents were killed in the Holocaust, repeatedly abandoned his two sons and a daughter in orphanages and foster homes. Director Sara Lamm reserves judgment, but the soapmaker’s progeny’s feelings are mixed. One son clearly thinks the old man was insane. The other has followed his dad’s spiritual path. “All of us that love the soap,” he says, “including me, are abnormal.” Bronner’s grandsons, who took over the multimillion-dollar business after he died in 1997, come across as savvy pragmatists. They’ve kept the famously cryptic label—but only as a quirky branding device.

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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