Today ReadTheSpirit welcomes back popular faith-and-film critic Edward McNulty for coverage of a remarkable new movie, “Jumping the Broom.” The film is getting mixed reviews from major newspapers nationwide and opens against the blockbuster “Thor,” which is sure to dominate the first-week box-office rankings. But, this new romantic comedy is earning praise for its unique spirit. Why “unique”? And what is that distinctive “spirit”? Ed both reviews the film and profiles a preacher who worked behind the scenes to produce the romantic comedy. If you enjoy Ed’s coverage here, you may enjoy his earlier ReadTheSpirit series: “The Top 10 Jesus Films of All Time.”
Why “Jumping for Joy” Has Such a Unique Spirit
By Edward McNulty
Lots of people are jumping for joy over “Jumping the Broom.” There’s a story behind this film that is as enjoyable and inspiring as the movie itself. That story involves a key creative force who helped to push this movie to completion: DeVon Franklin, a filmmaker making headlines himself this spring as both a successful Hollywood executive and a Christian minister.
Over the years, a lot of readers have been surprised that, as a Presbyterian minister, I have also been a film critic encouraging people to watch a wide range of movies. Many of these surprised readers tell me they regard Hollywood as a den of iniquity that Christians should avoid at all costs. I wish DeVon Franklin had written his new book Produced by Faith: Enjoy Real Success without Losing Your True Self earlier. The book is doing very well in Amazon’s ranking of books on “Business Ethics,” and Franklin is becoming Exhibit A in making the case that many Hollywood professionals are people of integrity and deep faith.
Movie Review of “Jumping the Broom”
I’ll tell you more about Franklin in a moment, but here’s my review of “Jumping the Broom”: It is refreshing to see a film in which two lovers are Christians who vow to wait until marriage to consummate their union (well, one of them at least), rather than stripping off their clothes ten minutes after their first cute meeting. Despite the opinion of our cultural arbiters, there are such folk of restraint. You would never know that from watching most romantic comedies today, but such couples do exist.
Best of all in this new comedy is the development of the four main characters, especially the two mothers. These mothers learn the difficult lesson of letting go of their old relationships with their children and opening themselves up to new, if uncomfortable, relationships with them.
“Jumping the Broom” contains mature life lessons, but it never preaches, not even in the brief scene in which a minister meets with the couple to discuss their ceremony. If you know your Christian clergy, you’ll recognize immediately that the minister is played by Bishop T.D. Jakes himself.
“Jumping the Broom” has more than a touch of what is referred to as “the outrageous humor” of Tyler Perry, well blended with some of the seriousness of Jakes’ powerful film about redemption, Woman Thou Art Loosed. In “Jumping,” Loretta Devine plays the groom’s combative mother as a toned-down Madea, the kind of Tyler Perry character who can walk into a room and stop all conversation with a single utterance. Compared to her, Angela Bassett’s mother of the bride is a Mary Poppins, despite her off-putting snobbishness.
Here’s some of the plot: Beautiful Sabrina Watson (Paula Patton), intent on her make-up and texting while driving in Manhattan, almost runs down handsome Jason Taylor (Laz Alonso). While lying on the pavement as she hovers over him, Jason is smitten, and enters into a whirlwind romance with her. Raised by his caustic mother in Brooklyn, Jason enjoys opera and other cultural pursuits that Sabrina introduces into his life. During their six-month courtship, however, the two never meet the other’s parents until just before the wedding. That’s partly because the Watsons live in a posh mansion on Martha’s Vineyard. And partly, we suspect, it’s due to Jason’s apprehension of how his acerbic mother will relate to his prospective in-laws. The Watsons are refined, even aristocratic, whereas Mrs. Taylor is an abrasive US Postal worker who treats her customers only slightly better than Genghis Khan. Jason does meet the Watsons for a luncheon at a posh Manhattan restaurant, but does not tell his Mom of this.
As events unfold, the Brooklynites provide plenty of humor and contrast to the cultured Martha’s Vineyard crowd. Despite their opulence, however, the Watsons are not all that they appear to be, Mrs. Watson’s frosty relationship with her husband having deteriorated to a point at which she is convinced he has a mistress. Matters come to a boil at the rehearsal dinner when Mrs. Taylor says that she expects the bride and groom to jump over the broom that she has brought along, the very broom that she and her deceased husband used at their wedding. She is taken aback when Mrs. Watson replies that her family has never observed that custom because they have never been slaves. Not only that, her ancestors once owned slaves, a revelation that almost sends Mrs. Taylor into an angry rant on top of the table.
Soon, it looks like there may be no wedding! Resolving this farce makes for a delightful time.
DeVon Franklin and the Role of Faith in His Life
Now that DeVon Franklin has published his new autobiography, we are learning that he is a dedicated Seventh Day Adventist who will not work after sundown on Fridays, because he observes Saturdays as his Sabbath and often has God’s work to do. One weekend each month, he preaches the gospel at his home church Wings of Love Maranatha Ministries in Oakland, California. He’s involved in other ministries as well—but Franklin describes his life’s main vocation as working in media. He is vice president of production for Sony-owned Columbia Pictures.
Some have described this as “a double life,” half as a Christian preacher and half as a Hollywood studio executive. But, in an interview about his new book and film, he talks about his life as unified—serving God as both a preacher and a media executive. Consider some of the films he has developed—the remake of The 2010 Karate Kid, The Pursuit of Happyness, Hancock and now Jumping the Broom—and see if you don’t agree.
When we talked over the telephone, I mentioned a quotation that has informed my approach to film ever since I was a fledgling pastor. Father John Culkin, SJ, a pioneer in getting Christians to take film seriously, wrote, “If Jesus were to come today and wanted to reach a mass audience, he would become a filmmaker.”
Franklin exclaimed, “Yes, yes, he would!”
I added, “While reading your book I thought, that is just what you have done.”
“Yes, I have,” he said. “Very early on in my life, after other options were closed off, I felt called to make movies. God has so blessed me and been with me in this.” In Chapter Two of his book Franklin chronicles his early life and the sad addiction and early death of his father, leaving his mother to struggle to support herself and her three children, and then the years when his church and the movies played such an important part in his development.
Produced by Faith is a fascinating combination of memoir (even though Franklin is just in his early thirties), devotional testimony and what some might regard as a self-help book. Actually, Franklin would prefer it be described as a “God-help” book.
On page 3 he describes working in Beijing China as Sony’s point man overseeing the remake of The Karate Kid. The idea of writing an autobiography struck him as he was sitting on a park bench reading Paul’s Letter to the Romans. I asked him if there was a particular passage, thinking of how Romans had been so influential in the spiritual awakening of Martin Luther and John Wesley.
His answer, “Well, I had had a busy week. Flown to London for a premier, and then back to the US, and then on to Beijing—clear around the world. Some would say that I live in the fast lane, so busy, always on the go and all. But it really isn’t that way for me. I am always taking with me and reading my Bible, and God is with me. I see myself as living in the ‘faith lane.’
“I had been reading Romans, and when I got to the 8th chapter, I knew that I should write a book to help those seeking success in their lives to see that they do not need to downplay their faith, that God wants to bless them and bring them success, if they stay with their principles.”
One principle Franklin describes in his book is keeping the Sabbath, which he says has had a very positive result in his career and life. Franklin means it when he says he keeps the Sabbath “without compromising.” He even shuts off his cellphone on the Sabbath. “I have found that people in Hollywood have been very understanding of my beliefs,” he said. “I’ve talked about them at times with members of the film crew, and we’ve prayed together and such. People sometimes think of Hollywood as being so full of evil and such, but it’s not been that way for me.”
When I first opened his new book, I told him, I feared it might be another one of those “gospel of success” offerings peddled by TV preachers who promise that God wants people to be rich and famous.
“No, it isn’t that at all,” he said, “although I do think that God wants to bless us, both spiritually and physically. But it’s the spiritual that is the most important, not success in terms of money and prestige and all. It’s about being equipped so that we can be a blessing to others. And God expects us to do our part, God expects us to get ready, prepare ourselves and all. He doesn’t just take over and do everything for us.”
There are many doctrinal differences between us, but the exuberant faith of this Hollywood producer was enough to make me feel I was conversing with a brother in Christ. His book is obviously addressed to young evangelical Christians seeking guidance along the bumpy road of life. I believe that it will be helpful as well to all believers, conservative or liberal; and even for those who are not believers, the book will be a fascinating read that gives us a peek into the inner workings of the movie industry.
Franklin writes at the conclusion of Chapter One: “My primary God-given assignment and goal is to inspire you. If I can take my personal ambition and my service to Christ and make both more successful without compromising—you can. Let this be your handbook for progressing in your career and your faith at the same time, without compromising either one.”
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Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online journal covering religion and cultural diversity.