Bishop T.D. Jakes doesn't want to be limited to Christian films. “That is a wonderful market done by Christians for Christians, but by nature it tends to alienate the broader audience," he says.
“Jesus said 'go to all the world,' not go to all the church. So often, people imprison you by how they define you. I want to break out of that prison and be liberated to the point where I can take my message to the world.”
This Mother’s Day, he did just that with the release of his third film, Jumping the Broom, on 2,000 screens around the country. The film stars Angela Bassett, Loretta Devine, Paula Patton, Laz Alonso, Mike Epps, Tasha Smith, Gary Dourdan, Valarie Pettiford, Meagan Good and Romeo Miller.
The $6.5 million film – the story of two families from different backgrounds who clash during a weekend wedding on Martha’s Vineyard – explores the cultural and spiritual issues of abstinence, motherhood and relationships, alongside themes such as forgiveness and family secrets.
"The entire weekend is meant to send a message," Jakes said to media from more than 50 outlets across the nation. "It's a new day for diversity in filmmaking.”
That new day has been a long time coming. For writers Elizabeth Hunter and Glendon Palmer, the path to the big screen began 10 years ago.
“I was at the NAACP Image Awards,” Hunter recalls, “and my date at the time was the handsome and brilliant Glendon Palmer. We were sitting in the audience trying to figure out what images of African Americans we’d like to see. We came up with the idea that we would like to see men who love women and women who love men, no matter what. We wanted to set it in a world that you haven’t seen, which is the wealthy Martha’s Vineyard. We wanted to see a wedding because we wanted to see the idea of a community coming together. So from the moment we came up with the idea, I fleshed out the characters and the story, wrote a treatment and pitched it around town.”
Unfortunately, there were no takers and so they put it on the shelf, only to surface with the changing guard of Hollywood studios when they’d dust it off and pitch to the incoming regime. Still, they couldn’t get it going for six more years.
“Then, one of the executives we pitched it to became a writer. She emailed us from Rome and said, 'I was wondering if I can script out the movie you pitched?' We went back and forth until finally we had a great draft.”
Once fine-tuned, Hunter pitched the script to longtime friend, president/COO of Our Stories Films, Tracy Edmonds (Soul Food, Light It Up, Who’s Your Caddy), for whom the movie became a labor of love.
“It was exactly what I was looking for,” Edmonds said.
“Thematically this movie is the idea of a community coming together, and there is no better way than at a wedding: the idea of jumping the broom and the history that goes with it.”
And for Edmonds, getting the film done came with its own share of ironies, not the least of which was pitching it to a former assistant for distribution.
“[Sony Pictures Entertainment exec] DeVon Franklin used to be my assistant, so how ironic that I’m going to this kid to pitch a movie to get money out of Sony. And because Sony already had a deal with T.D. Jakes, he suggested that I partner with T.D. Jakes.”
Edmonds hadn’t known much about Jakes up to that point, but quickly found him to be a very astute businessman as well as a national religious leader.
“If you’re around him for five minutes, you know that he’s going to be in this business for a long time,” Edmonds observes. “He brought a lot of the faith-based element.
In fact, for Jakes, the film opened up an opportunity for a conversation that was long overdue.
“To remind people of the simplicity of faith, and to get them to understand that there is a God who cares about you, and to do it in a way that’s subtle and not preachy… not condemning...”
It is the third go-round for the pastor of the 20,000-member-strong, Dallas-based Potter’s House. He executive produced “Woman Thou Art Loosed” in 2004 and “Not Easily Broken,” with Taraji P. Henson and Morris Chestnut, in 2009.
“Every time we get better at it,” says Jakes. “We increased the budget. We have a wonderful cast. We have a great story and we’re working together to refine not only our development of the film but also to refine and better understand the demographics of our audience and to present them something that is classy, entertaining, and done well… trying to find that sweet spot between slapstick humor and classic filmmaking.
“That’s the goal,” he continues. “The sweet spot that brings grandma out with the kids, that brings Slim Dog out with Lawyer Wilson and they can all sit and laugh, because the great thing about our community – as diverse as we are – is we all have common denominators.”
“One of the things that we all shared the same vision for is we wanted to make a film that was smart,” Edmonds said of the movie whose release comes on the heels of the controversy surrounding the flap over Tyler Perry's "Madea’s Big Happy Family." “We didn’t want to go too broad with the comedy, we didn’t want to make any silly, slap-sticky type scenes at all.”
So it was little wonder that the first person Edmonds reached out to was Angela Bassett.
“The grace, the dignity that she has always shown... she was our first choice as far as Mrs. Watson, and once we signed Angela it just became easier to get the rest of the cast. But all these people were first choices. With Loretta (Devine), we knew she would be the perfect Ms. Stevens.”
Devine’s character, however, needed a little tweaking.
“We had to reign it back a little bit,” says Hunter. “It was important to create that conflict, but she was pretty out there. But it’s a love story, so when Loretta got the script she said, ‘these people are going to hate me, but it’s my job to make them like me.’
“One of the great notes that Bishop Jakes had was giving her a religious foundation, which made her a more sympathetic character because you can kind of see that she’s trying to do the right thing and tries to justify her actions with the Bible.”
Said Devine, “I do cautiously try to show the humanity or the vulnerability of the character.”
The experience for star Laz Alonso was about the cohesiveness of the cast.
“A lot of these films work because you have very great people who work well together,” states Alonzo, who says that Devine literally became his mother on the set.
“I guess she’s a method actress, but she took it seriously. When I see her now, I still call her Mom.”
“You just create a character and you work on what you want it to be and then everything just unfolds,” notes Bassett. “Our director had a very firm idea of what he wanted and we did retake a lot of the scenes until there was a particular feeling that he got.
“I was very cautious and careful about not making a stereotype,” she continues. “Careful to keep it real. She’s a real woman with real concerns and real love and real misunderstandings, and it’s such a beautiful movie. You really go to a different place with this beautiful water, sky and these people. You just want to get to this wedding.”
The opportunity to work with Bishop Jakes also played a part in the Oscar-nominated actress taking the role.
"I've enjoyed T.D. Jakes, his message and his wisdom for many, many years. The chance to work with him on this film and on a script with a message common to every person – the desire for intimacy with our loved ones – hooked me from the start."
Says cast member Meagan Good: “I love the fact that they wait [to have sex]. It’s not done in an over-the-top, preachy way, but in an entertaining way where you’ll receive it. That was one of the main reasons I did the movie, because I am a Christian and I love the Lord with all of my heart. And I think the film overall will encourage people to be less critical and judgmental.”
The film title is based on a slave tradition of jumping the broom to signify a marital commitment (as slaves were prohibited from getting married) as well as the entrance into a new life and the creation of a new family by symbolically sweeping away former single lives.
“Maybe if we go back and look at how strong the love of our ancestors was and how people who were forced to be together could choose to come together in spite of their differences and the master’s whip... The master’s whip is gone and the slavery is gone, but we are being beat by other things," says Jakes. "But in spite of the oppression, we can have a 'happily ever after' ending to our lives.”
What was important to director Salim Akil ("Soul Food," "Girlfriends," "The Game") was “the fact that we were starting the conversation from a place of love, meaning the men in this film already love the women.
“So," he says, “it wasn’t a matter of ‘Are we going to get together?’ It was a matter of ‘How do we negotiate this relationship, our family relationship and our friends’ relationships?’ That’s the real conversation.
“And when you talk about intelligence? Loretta is a Phd, Angela studied, Paula went to USC film school. These are artists so I can’t come to them and have them say a curse word every moment, because I want them to keep it real for some elusive, fantastical audience that wants us to keep it real. I had to keep it real for my vision and my vision was: I know these people.”
Edmonds echoed the sentiment.
“We wanted all the dialogue to be smart. A lot of times you see these movies with these big, flamboyant characters and they were just characters. We didn’t want any of our characters to feel like that.
“I think it’s really important for this film to do well and show people that positive films actually do well at the box office. In casting the film, the producer, director, all of us reduced our fees and all joined hands and said ‘Hey let’s make something special.”
By most accounts they succeeded.
"It’s really surprising and charming and it’s about family,” Devine reflects. “I just didn’t want it to be over.”
Reprinted with permission.
About the Writer
Lisa Collins, a Los Angeles native and resident, is a syndicated columnist, writer, publisher and former Billboard Magazine columnist. Her career in gospel began in 1988 with her creation of "Inside Gospel," a daily/weekly syndicated radio series that provided news, profiles and product updates relative to the gospel music community. For the next eight years, she would also serve as executive producer of the show that was broadcast in more than 100 markets nationwide. Collins has also served as a segment producer for BET and authored well over 300 articles on a variety of issues for a number of national publications from Essence to Upscale. Her background in the field of entertainment reporting is extensive, featuring cover stories and interviews with the likes of Richard Pryor, Michael Jackson and Prince.