Friday, February 17, 2017

Black Movie Churches Month: Woman, Thou Art Loosed

Woman Thou Art Loosed (2004)
“Wasn’t your picture on the cover of Time Magazine with the question, ‘Is this man the next Billy Graham?’” Someone asks T. D. Jakes this question near the beginning of the film Woman Thou Art Loosed, which is based on Jakes’ self-help novel of the same name.

Jakes and Graham have a number of things in common. Obviously, they’re both preachers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Both have preached to thousands of people in their day. Both have taken advantage of a variety of media, -- writing books, speaking on the radio, and appearing on TV. With the production of this movie, both have appeared in a feature film.

World Wide Pictures is a subsidiary company of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and their policy was that the famed evangelist would, in some manner, appear in every film. Whether the film was about a troubled teen or a businessman in a midlife crisis, the protagonist would eventually find his or her way into one of Graham’s evangelistic crusades or stumble across a crusade on the TV dial. No matter how awkward the transition, Graham’s Gospel presentation would be jammed into the narrative. (Thankfully, an exception was made for the Holocaust drama, The Hiding Place.)

In T.D. Jakes’ drama, the protagonist,  Michelle (a victim of sexual assault, a drug addict, and an ex-con) isn’t the only person who goes to the revival at Jakes’ church. It seems like the whole city is there, including the man that sexually assaulted Michelle. Also, Jakes’ preaching seems to be the only thing on television, including on the sets at a strip club and in the drug dealer’s den. The radio seems to play only ads for Jakes’ revival. Not only that, but Jakes plays himself in the film as the pastor Michelle shares her story with while she’s in prison.

The film opens with Jakes preaching in his church, in a classic African American lyrical style, “I believe that God can set people free, even me! You’ve got to come DOWN out of the balcony! Backslider! I’m talking to you! You need a good anointed church like this so you can be healed!”
His preaching is backed by a powerful choir as he urges everyone to come to the cross to be made free. The film certainly opens with a bang.

t is interesting that though the film tells a fictional story, it seems to feature actual church services in progress. The actors seem to be interspersed with actual congregants in worship. And the church is filled to capacity. When Michelle comes to the revival meeting, an usher first warns her there is no room. “The fire marshall won’t allow more,” he tells her. When she protests, another usher assures her there’s room “in the usher area or the balcony.” It’s always good to see the ushers on the ball, trying to meet people’s needs.

The single negative thing the viewer notices about the church is that Michelle’s mother, Cassey, is a member. Cassey’s boyfriend Reggie had abused Michelle when she was a little girl.. When Michelle mentions that assault to her mother in the church, Cassey rages, “Don’t bring those lies about molestation into the church!” (I perhaps should have said that Cassey and Reggie’s presence at the worship service is a negative thing for Michelle more than for anyone else. They, like each of us, need the Gospel message Jakes presents from Luke 13, the story of a woman healed after years of suffering. The message also serves as the title drop.)

Not only does the church in the film seem to be a place where God’s truth is presented in a loving and healing fashion, Jakes himself comes across very well in the film. Michelle is astounded that a man of his stature would come to visit her in prison. In fact, Jakes (in real life) has made prison visitation a regular part of his ministry. (Jesus’ command to visit the prisoner is, I’m afraid, greatly neglected by many in the church. Even worse. It’s ignored by many in the clergy.)

Jakes’ work in prisons led him to be concerned about the abuse of children and women that leads to many other social ills and sins. I might argue with some of the statistics used in the film (“one in three women has been sexually assaulted” is a statistic that has been widely disputed),  but there is no doubt the sexual abuse of women and minors is a serious issue the church should address and often does not.

It is a pleasure to know that the four steeples we give to this Movie Church could probably also be given the real church depicted in the film.

(The director of the film, Michael Schultz, was also the director of a couple of cult classics, Carwash and The Last Dragon along with the ignominious flop, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band which starred the Bee Gees as the Beatles.)

No comments:

Post a Comment