Bishop T.D. Jakes is a speaker, author and pastor of The Potter's House, a 30,000-member, predominantly African-American megachurch in Dallas. He's also a movie producer, and his second film—Jumping the Broom—rolled out to theaters nationwide May 6.
Jumping the Broom isn't your typical "Christian" film, and Jakes isn't your typical Christian producer. Jakes' productions (his first was Not Easily Broken) show not how Christians should behave, but rather how they often do—that is, imperfectly. They can be filled with problematic content, and in confronting that issue, Jakes says he isn't trying to reach churchgoing folks who might be offended. He's trying to bring in people who'd rather see a movie than the inside of a church.
I had an opportunity to talk by phone with Bishop Jakes, and he spoke about Jumping the Broom, his philosophy of filmmaking and why for years Christians demonized their television sets.
Paul Asay: You've been involved in making films for a few years now. Why did you feel it was important to dive into this mode of communication?
T.D. Jakes: We have two options when it comes to any medium of communication. Either you scream at the darkness or you light a candle. And I chose to light a candle. We have a propensity of always complaining about what is coming out of Hollywood rather than getting involved in giving people another option. Both communities that I'm involved with, the faith community and the African-American community, have expressed frustration historically about the images that are projected onscreen, and neither have fully asserted themselves to alter those images. And I wanted to be part of the answer and not the question.
Asay: It's interesting when you talk about those frustrations, because the characters in Jumping the Broom are pretty complex in some ways. You don't have cookie-cutter good guys or bad guys here.
Jakes: We tend to oversimplify people in stories, and especially Christians. [We say,] "This person is good, that person is bad," but really, most of us are far more complex than that, and I thought this movie did a great job depicting that. And that was part of the allure [of this project]. The second thing that really interested me about it is that it covers subject matter that I thought was important to talk about. The art of forgiveness is really important in this movie. And I think when families lose their ability to forgive, they lose their ability to survive.
Another thing the movie points out is something that I don't think many non-black audiences understand: That the African-American community is not monolithic, that we are extremely diverse, and that the further we get away from slavery the more diverse our community becomes. There's a huge discussion going on in the African-American community between upwardly mobile African-Americans and grassroots African-Americans. … That's been going on for years, but nobody talks about it.
Asay: Onscreen you show how faith can integrate into people's lives—something that most movies kind of ignore, even though religion and spirituality are so important to most Americans. Was that part of your intent?
Jakes: I am trying to show a very practical application of how faith informs our decisions, and I'm also pointing to the fact that just because we're people of faith, that doesn't mean we have it right all the time. The character Mrs. Taylor is a person of faith, but she felt like God had told her to straighten out other people's lives. Anybody who's gone to church over two years knows a Mrs. Taylor who prayed about tearing up your life. Church people can be lethal with scriptures. We always like to see ourselves in such a positive light. We don't want to see honesty on any level. And the reality is we struggle. All people of faith struggle to manage their faith and [integrate it properly into] life.
Asay: At a screening in Denver, you talked about there being two kinds of Christian movies—those that try to bring in the church and those that try to bring in the world.
Jakes: That is the balance that you have as a film producer, to appease the demands of the core audience—for me that's the Christian community and the African-American community—and still give an honest projection [of life] … that really rings true across the board. I chose to be a part of a group that doesn't segregate its efforts to the church. I want it to have faith elements in it, but I don't want to say, "This is a faith film made for the church." Because when I get ready to talk to the church, I [already] have a platform to do so. I can do it in my books. I can do it in the pulpit. I do it on Christian television. I stream it on the Internet. But the problem is the church is not talking to the world. Jesus said, "Go into all the world," but the church is focusing in on trying to get the world to come to church. We're in the "come" phase, instead of the "go" phase. We can't go into all the world by camel. We have to go into all the world with the technology that presents itself, available to us in contemporary society. Consequently, I think movies are a great option to be able to go into all the world. They literally reach people in every walk of life.
Asay: What should Christians be doing more of in the film world?
Jakes: I think we should do everything. Christians are not monolithic, and when we whitewash our ideas into something that avoids anybody's criticism, it becomes so vague and so ambiguous that it's not anything at all. I think we should be who we are and let the chips fall where they may. We're so afraid of anybody criticizing us that we won't say anything. Be yourself and be honest and say this is what I think and this is where I am. I just think we should be engaged, and I think we should be authentic when we get the opportunities [and not be afraid when an opportunity comes]. I can remember when we were having great debates about television. Television was demonic until we found out that we could get airtime. And now it's "God's tool to reach the world." Anything you don't infiltrate the world will take over. The world has taken over Hollywood and it's our fault.
Read our reviews of Jumping the Broom and Not Easily Broken.