I’ve never attended the black southern megachurches at the center of Honk For Jesus. Save Your Soul yet I did grow up around this environment. Since today is Sept. 11, I was assigned to contact a popular black church in Americus, Ga. to see if they were doing anything for the day. The local Catholic Church was doing services. The publisher attended that one. Well, I went there and within 20 minutes I was ready to leave as they were “getting all into the spirit.” At one point, someone was on the floor showing their love for the Lord.
This movie is set in the Atlanta metropolitan area focusing on a disgraced pastor Lee-Curtis Childs (Sterling K. Brown) and his wife, Trinite (Reginal Hall) who’s also known by First Lady. It’s set one year after Lee-Curtis’ church Wander to Greater Baths, a Southern Baptist congregation more or less closed down. They still have about five members who show up for Wednesday sermons. It’s revealed that he’s probably been paying off people from coming forward. He even had to fire his deacons because as he says, “What good are disciples when they are not disciplined?”
What happened to Lee-Curtis? Adamma Ebo, who wrote and directed the movie, constantly tiptoes around what happened with dropping enough hints it’s very obvious. Lee-Curtis is a closeted homosexual yet he has preached hatred toward the LGBTQIA community. When he and Trinite engage in sex, he only wants to do certain acts and positions. During a scene with a younger man, he makes a comment about his beard and even inappropriately touches it. When the man nervously talks about his boyfriend, Lee-Curtis replies by saying he can’t covert them all. He’s really talking about getting the younger man interested in him while he still preaches hatred.
The Childs live a life of wealth and luxury in a mansion and even sit on thrones in front of their congregation. They have huge closets of expensive clothes including Prada. Lee-Curtis preaches like the the luxury is part of what God wants. There’s also snippets of people calling into the radios to voice their opinions of the controversy. What has Lee-Curtis and Trinite worried is another pastoral couple Keon and Shakura Sumpter (Conphidance and Nicole Beharie), who look younger and dress more common, are planning to open their own church, Heaven’s House, on Easter Sunday. This is the same time Lee-Curtis is planning to reopen his church and has a filmmaker, only known as Anita (Andrea Laing) who remains mostly silent and behind the camera for most of the movie, to document his return.
But cracks begin to show as some people don’t want to return. Trinite bumps into a former parrishioner who hints that she is going to join Heaven’s House and they both lay on the southern passive agressiveness so thick you’d need a Ginsu filet knife to cut through it. They even say “Bless your heart.” For anyone not family with southern terminology, that means politely, “Go fuck yourself!” or simply “Fuck you!”
And the Childs let the four-letter Anglo-Saxon words fly as they show their hypocrisy as they plan to reopen a week earlier to draw attention away from the Sumpters. To do this, they walk up and down the road holding signs that read “Honk for Jesus” advertising the reopening. In one scene that shows nothing more than humiliation and degradation, Trinite puts on white face and does mime work for the motorists.
While the movie is mostly satire, Ebo actually takes a more serious tone toward the movie’s ending as it looks at how long Trinite is going to put up with this and why she hasn’t left him so far. Her response is brutally honest and probably why a lot of wives put up with their clergy husband’s infedelity. And from what I’ve heard from pastor wives and former church members, it’s a common issue. So is child molestation and sexual harassment. It’s obvious the Childs have lost sight of what they really should be doing but are too blind to see it.
During one scene that seems serious, Lee-Curtis delivers one of those “redemption for sinners” sermons that walks a very thin line between being sincere and just pandering. And Trinite criticizes it. How many people watching Jimmy Swaggart “I have sinned against you” speech actually believed he was being serious and how many believed he was mugging for the cameras. Clergy members often like to talk about how they sinned with adultery when they have committed far worse sex crimes such as rape, lewd molestation and child molestation. If they can their congregation to feel they are weak, they can get them to feel it wasn’t really their fault.
But it was.
Ebo doesn’t shy away from portraying Lee-Curtis as nothing more than a narcissistic sexual predator and Brown gives him a voice that makes you see how he can swindle people. At the end as he watches a motorist in a Ford Mustang do donuts in the parking lot, he still believes that the motorist is there for him. Not for Him.
Hall also gives a wonderful performance I would argue is Oscar-worthy. The way she walks the tightrope between a woman who can tell the obvious and a character who is intentionally a parody is the best. The movie was produced through Jordan Peele’s Monkeypaw Productions. Both Brown and Hall are listed as credits as well.
While the movie has gotten good reviews, the audience score isn’t so high, with some people criticizing the shift to drama toward the end. I agree with that but a lot of satire is hard because it’s not trying to make everyone happy. The people not liking it saying it criticizes religion and Christianity don’t realize that’s the point. There are megachurches all around cities like Atlanta in America with clergy driving luxurious vehicles with the end goal of making as much money as possible.
And there are people like Lee-Curtis wagging their fingers at us for even looking at another woman while they are having sexual relations with people other than their spouses left and right. But someone like Lee-Curtis would convince people he needed to have sex with all the women and men as he was doing the Lord’s work. Just as people actually believed Donald Trump was preaching the gospel with Stormy Daniels rather than having sex, people will believe that Lee-Curtis and many other pastors are just sinners we need to forgive. And women like Trinite will stay with him as she says she would rather kill Lee-Curtis than leave him.
What do you think? Please comment.