For comedian Jo Koy, attending church is inextricably intertwined with his childhood memories; it was the place where he, along with his large Filipino family, gathered, worshiped and fellowshipped at least once a week.
"When my mom came to this country, it was in the late 60s, so there was no Instagram, there was no Facebook, there was no TikTok to find her community; she moved to this country basically blind," the 51-year-old comic told The Christian Post.
"She had to find other Filipinos to associate with, and she had to find her community and build it herself. And the way she did that was through church."
Growing up, Koy said that his family was in church "every Sunday."
"One, because of [my mother's] faith, and then two, because she really wanted to see other Filipinos, and that's where she met them," he said. "Like she would literally be at church just looking around. I clearly remember my mom: 'I'm just going to walk up to her and start a conversation.' Next, we've got this full-on Filipino community. … My most memorable times were the friends that my mom met through church."
So decades later, when concocting a film based on his life experiences, stand-up comedy and family, it made sense for it to be centered around Christianity's most notable holiday: Easter Sunday.
"It's the most memorable holiday that I can think of, especially bring the whole family together. It was always Easter Sunday for me," Koy said.
Hitting theaters Friday, "Easter Sunday" tells the story of a family gathering for Easter and the chaos that inevitably surrounds the holiday get-togethers.
Loosely based on Koy's life, the cast includes Lou Diamond Phillips, Eva Noblezada, Tia Carrere and comedian Joey Guila. The holiday comedy takes a lighthearted look at complicated family dynamics while highlighting the beauty of community and sacrifice.
For Koy, the movie is, in many ways, a love letter to his culture. The Steven Spielberg-produced project features an all-Filipino cast, a first for Hollywood.
"I know for a fact that this movie is going to get our message across. We finally have a voice," Koy said. "It's going to also uplift and give a sense of pride to a lot of Filipinos out there that don't feel like they're being heard."
A film highlight is Lydia Gaston, who plays the comedian's longsuffering mother. The actress, who grew up in the Philippines, also reflected on how deeply religion is engrained in the Filipino culture. It's not just a weekly practice — it's a way of life.
"I think when you go to the churches where there are a lot of Filipinos here in the states, it really recreates what I grew up with in the Philippines. ... It's almost exactly the same. Filipinos recreate what they miss back in the states, so it's very important to the Filipino community," she said.
Despite its name, "Easter Sunday" is not a faith-based or family-friendly film. It's rated PG-13 for some strong language, including the Lord's name in vain, and suggestive references. Viewers will want to proceed with caution.
But rife with deeper themes, "Easter Sunday" reminds viewers how family and relationships are worth holding onto and fighting for, even when challenging.
A mother herself, Gaston said she hopes the movie reminds mothers, in particular, that they can relinquish some of the worries that often come along with parenting.
"I would like moms to trust that their upbringing of their children … was good. We, as parents, doubt ourselves so much: Did I do this right? Is it my fault? Did I make my daughter paranoid by always worrying about things? But they're really going to be fine because you were a good parent. You did your best. And it was good enough."
And Koy, who sees his comedy as a way to bring joy to an increasingly stressed-out and divided culture, hopes the film provides a little bit of humor and reprieve to audiences.
"We just wanted everyone to just laugh with us," he said. "We're going to show the world that we're all relatable no matter what race, religion you are. Family is a family; a mom's a mom, a son's a son. And that's what this movie is to me, and I know that's what it's going to do."
Leah M. Klett is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org