NEW YORK – Bishop T.D. Jakes is attempting to change the "Hollywood machine" – what has at times been considered a "tool of the devil" by Christians – into a platform to potentially reach millions of unchurched with Christian messages.
Jakes' film company, T.D. Jakes Enterprises , is concluding film shoots this week in Manhattan for "Jumping the Broom," an upcoming faith and family movie that follows the clashing of two families from different backgrounds during a weekend wedding..
"We haven't spoken to each other for a while," said the well-known megachurch pastor of the relationship between Hollywood and Christians. He looks to widen the lines of communication between the two with the release of his family-friendly film.
Pastor of the more than 30,000-member church The Potter's House, Jakes told The Christian Post that he was drawn to this film when he looked at the script and saw the many ways it speaks about bringing together people from different backgrounds. The story about a husband and a wife from fictional Taylor and Watson families with divergent socioeconomic backgrounds is also a step – in the bishop's mind – to de-alienate Christians from Hollywood. It's a chance for Christians to get their message out through Hollywood's "megaphone."
"There are millions of people who are going to theater who would not come to church, and we have an opportunity to just break down barriers and to reshape how we are viewed in the mainstream," said Jakes. "We can go in there and bring our message."
Jakes seeks to send a message through film, but not without wholesome entertainment and a good laugh from audiences.
"It's funny, and it doesn't take itself too seriously," he said of the film.
The movie features actress Angela Basset (known for her Oscar nominated role playing Tina Turner and Emmy nominated role playing Rosa Parks) teaming up with Loretta Devine, Mike Epps, Paula Patton, Romeo Miller and Bishop Jakes himself, as they humorously address cultural and spiritual challenges. Abstinence, motherhood, family, and cultural and spiritual relationships are dealt with using comedy instead of a moral rod. The film is intended to firstly entertain and not preach to the audience like Christian films can tend to do, Jakes said.
"I think I will hold onto my day job," the Dallas pastor noted.
The bottom line is that Hollywood movies with Christian and family values have to be profitable for Christianity's relationship with Hollywood to grow, and more people are likely to see a movie that's entertaining, he said.
As a megachurch pastor, however, Jakes is looking for that "sweet spot" where he can find harmony between Hollywood's definition of entertainment – where blood, gore and sex often overrule moral concern – and Christian, family values.
"We are trying to find balance. I find that people, as a rule, don't go to see films that are overtly medicinal. They really want to be entertained, so we are trying to find our sweet spot between entertainment and humor and message."
From a pastor's standpoint, he hopes the film, which will be released Mother's Day 2011, will be a conversation starter for deeper conversations.
"I was very interested in the groom coming to that point where he was convicted and converted and had a faith experience," he said of his unique perspective as a pastor involved in film production. "I was very interested and instrumental to make sure that we grappled with the complexities of adult dating and abstinence and what brought [the bride-to-be in the film] to abstinence."
"We are trying to tweak the Hollywood machine to say things Hollywood wouldn't normally say. I've never seen a Hollywood film dealing with abstinence, which alone is shocking to them."
In the film, the couple tries to keep their vow of abstinence, which is where Jakes comes in, playing a pastor who urges the couple to maintain their moral standards.
Although Jakes jokingly claimed his involvement as an actor in the film was purely a last-minute solution to find "cheap labor," he later on confessed that acting is "really fun." He originally got into the film industry after producing and acting in Gospel plays and later winning in a prominent film festival with his first movie attempt.
Jakes also believes the film will help bring understanding among people from different racial backgrounds.
"This is something underserved in the media, that African-Americans are not monolithic at all. We are very diverse in our community," he remarked.
The film's title, "Jumping the Broom," is a term originating with American slavery when it was illegal for slaves to marry. Slaves entering a vow to marry would literally jump over a broom stick to symbolize their commitment to each other – similar to exchanging wedding rings. In the movie, "jumping the broom" symbolizes the families, one from a lower class and one from a higher class, coming together, but can also refer to cultural and spiritual commitments in family.
The film also speaks to husbands, wives, and families about the expectations and realities of marriage. Jakes, meanwhile, was busy preparing for the reality of his own family – his wife's birthday was coming up the next day.
Jakes, who met The Christian Post at a café in Columbus Circle, eagerly discussed his experience as a Christian getting involved in Hollywood.
"You would be shocked at how many Christians there are in Hollywood," he said.
Not all of them are apparent, however, because they are also human beings trying to "balance their career and their convictions." But Jakes said there are Christians in Hollywood "hungry for Christian material." So Jakes plans a step-by-step strategy of garnering Hollywood support of films with Christian themes.
"We are people of faith, but we are people. We have issues like any other people," he said in justification of his approach. "We smile and laugh and cry and get on each other's nerves. We are not strange, alien beings."
"'The Passion of the Christ' sent shockwaves through Hollywood. Now they are looking for films with Christian values," he went on. The Jewish head of Sony Pictures, Michael Lynton, is not opposed to seeing "Jesus" or "God" appear in a film, Jakes said after partnering with Sony on the film.
"What they are opposed to, however, is making a film that doesn't sell," said Jakes. "The secular world is only moved by box office."
The key is for Christians to support the family-friendly films when the films do come to theaters.
"The most important time for Christians to go out to the box office is the first weekend. That's when the producers measure how strongly they are going to push the film."
"Jumping the Broom" was produced with a budget of around $10 million, which is higher than what most Christian-themed films are made with. It was filmed mostly in Nova Scotia, Canada, in an area that looks similar to the films setting, Martha's Vineyard.
"It's going to be a smorgasbord of visually stunning material," Jakes noted.
For Jakes, the movie is another step forward as he puts his foot in the door as a Christian producer in Hollywood. He hopes that in the long-run, the film company can take flight one day, possibly with one of his sons at the helm.
Meanwhile, Jakes is also trying to get a sitcom on television airwaves – another way of infusing discussions about faith into millions of American homes.
There have been challenges – some coming from fellow Christians – for Jakes getting into the film industry. Gathering credibility and unity from Christians about film has been one of them, along with attempting to reach out and continue that discussion of a film's message with the secular audience.
He may be easily misunderstood as a pastor whose church is getting into film, but Jakes emphasized that his film company is separate from his role in the church. In the big picture, however, Jakes ties together his role in a variety of different fields, such as church, film, and music, with a "common thread" – his emphasis on "communication."
Part of that communication means stepping out of his comfort zone to reach more people through film.
"We [Christians] are the salt of the earth. We have to go out, get out of our comfort zone. Rather than screaming at the darkness, I want to light a candle," concluded Jakes.
"We are trying … to really make a difference in Hollywood."