NPR’s Ailsa Chang chats with Honk For Jesus Save Your Soul director Adamma Ebo and producer Adanne Ebo about their new film – which examines a disgraced mega-church pastor’s attempted comeback.
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
In the new film “Honk For Jesus. Save Your Soul”, Pastor Lee-Curtis Childs and his wife, Trinitie, played by Sterling K. Brown and Regina Hall, try to fight their way to the top of the world of mega- churches.
(SOUNDTRACK FROM THE FILM, “HONK FOR JESUS. SAVE YOUR SOUL”)
STERLING K BROWN: (As Lee-Curtis Childs) You married a winner, and that’s all I intend to do. Hey. I’m Rocky in this fight (laughs).
REGINA HALL: (As Trinitie Childs) Rocky didn’t win.
HALL: (As Lee-Curtis Childs) How’s it going now?
ADAMMA EBO: Where we find them in the film is that about a year ago a massive scandal kicked out the majority of their huge mega-church. And they’ve since hired a documentary film crew to somehow record their rise from the ashes.
CHANG: This is Adamma Ebo, director of “Honk For Jesus. Save Your Soul”. She and her twin sister, Adanne Ebo, who produced the film, grew up nuns. So we wanted to know how their upbringing as Southern Baptists influenced their film, a film that is as much a love letter to faith as it is a satire on organized religion.
ADANNE EBO: It’s Adanne. We come from a very devout Christian family. For example, you go to church every Sunday. You study the Bible on Wednesdays. You do Sunday school. You are doing a vacation Bible school in the summer. So it’s like it’s really part of our identity.
On the other hand, somehow, for some reason, our parents encouraged us to ask questions. They kind of fostered that duality in us. And quite frankly, there’s a duality, I think, in most people who go to church that we know and have known growing up. Yes, we were Christians and went to church all the time, but we were also encouraged not to take everything for granted…
ADANNE EBO: …Or as truth.
CHANG: What kind of questions did you have growing up, questions about the influence of the church on your life?
ADANNE EBO: It’s Adanne again. I think, honestly, we started our questioning young, I think around the age of 10. We are millennials. And so we grew up with and loved “Harry Potter”. And I remember hearing a sermon in church on a Sunday that was dedicated – the whole sermon was dedicated to the evils of “Harry Potter”.
ADANNE EBO: I was like, I don’t understand that. Like, clearly, these people haven’t read the book because none of that is happening. Spells don’t work. Believe me, I tried. It’s not like – Adamma and I weren’t willing to give up “Harry Potter”.
But a big one, I think, for me was, like, carte blanche, like, if you’re gay, you’re going to hell. And I don’t identify as queer or, you know, gay or lesbian or whatever, but I remember it very well – and I recently re-read one of my old journals from school primary. But I wrote, I think God is more open-minded than that.
CHANG: Oh, wow. Yeah.
ADANNE EBO: And I don’t know – and I still believe that. And I – it just didn’t make sense to me that people would choose to love who they love and literally mind their own business and not hurt anyone, why would that automatically put them in hell. And I was a big – like, praying all the time. I still pray most nights and stuff like that. And so I feel like I was constantly talking to God. Where my spirituality was or where it was at the time, even as a young person, I felt like he was telling me, like, this is bull ****.
CHANG: It’s so fascinating. How, as a child, you looked at all those devotees and thought, wait, wait, wait, you were wrong about God. I know what God means.
ADANNE EBO: Yeah. You know, as an older person, I think I decided to define my own faith and my own spirituality. I don’t have to exist within these limits. But at the time, it kind of manifested as, y’all are wrong. There’s no way.
CHANG: I’m so curious about this trip you just referred to. How religious would you say you are now? I mean, did you two go down different paths on this?
ADANNE EBO: It’s Adanne again. I think – Adamma, correct me if I’m wrong – I think our paths have been pretty close – yeah – in most cases, I think in life, in most cases, but definitely that way. And I think now we feel like we’re more spiritual than anything. But I think our spirituality is mainly guided by Christianity. But we, I think, separate spirituality and our relationship with God from the institution of the church.
CHANG: I’m asking you all these questions about your current faith, because even though there’s a lot in this movie that’s very critical of mega-churches – like the reflexive blind faith of congregants and their leaders, and the way these leaders seem to expect that blind faith – there’s also a lot of almost loving ribbing in this film that comes from a tender place. Like, oh my, that $2,000 spider-silk church hat? It was hilarious. But it was so beautiful.
ADAMMA EBO: There are so many things about the culture of the Southern Baptist Church that we find beautiful. I think the music is exceptional. I think gospel music is probably where I feel closest to God. But there are also times – like Adanne talked about the “Harry Potter” sermon on evils where we were like, whoa, whoa, whoa, y’all gotta slow down on this. We don’t like that.
ADAMMA EBO: But there are sermons that genuinely touched me. And so it’s weird, you know what I mean? Like, there’s this constant back and forth. I think we’re just at a point in our lives where we’re welcoming…
ADAMMA EBO: … The back and forth. And we realize that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re bad Christians, and it doesn’t necessarily mean we’re complicit members of society, letting bad things happen all the time.
CHANG: You can like something even if you look at it and see the good side by side with the not so good.
ADAMMA EBO: Absolutely. I think people do this with their family all the time and just – as a family.
CHANG: Well, for anyone watching this movie who might question their faith or question their marriage or their sexual orientation, I’m wondering to you two, what do you want people struggling with this to see in this film? What do you want this film to tell them?
ADANNE EBO: I think it’s important to always question things and always have a critical mind, especially about the particular institutions that we have decided to let govern our lives and our souls, whether it is, you know, the church or marriage as an institution, so that they continue to be relevant in our lives as they hope.
ADAMMA EBO: Yes, it’s an Adamma. And I would say I want – I want people to walk away and realize that anything can be true, you know what I mean? Like I said before, you can, you know, love church and love going to church and still be very critical of her and want her to get better. I think you can love someone very, very deeply and not want or need to be married to them. And I think you can love God and mostly be queer. I don’t think they’re opposite ends of the spectrum at all. I think all of these things can manifest as truths and be true at the same time.
ADANNE EBO: And God loves you back. And don’t let anyone tell you…
ADAMMA EBO: And God loves you back. Yeah. It’s not a one-way street.
CHANG: So beautifully said. Adamma and Adanne Ebo’s new movie is called “Honk For Jesus. Save Your Soul.” It’s in theaters and streaming on Peacock right now. Thanks a lot you two. It was so nice talking to you.
ADAMMA EBO: Thank you very much for having us. It was nice to be here.
(MUSIC SOUND EXTRACTION)
UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTISTS: (Vocals) Are you ready for your message? Are you ready…
CHANG: And Focus Features, the studio behind this movie, is an NPR funder.
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