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Sundance 2022 Review: Adamma Ebo’s ‘Honk for Jesus, Save Your Soul’ Shines a Light on Megachurch Culture

Sundance 2022 Review: Adamma Ebo’s ‘Honk for Jesus, Save Your Soul’ Shines a Light on Megachurch Culture

Based on the 2018 short film of the same name, Adamma Ebo’s Honk for Jesus, Save Your Soul takes a satirical look at the booming business of organized religion. The writer-director, along with her twin sister and producing partner Adanne, explores what goes into projecting a perfect pastoral image and what it looks like when that image is torn apart.

Honk for Jesus, Save Your Soul follows Pastor Lee-Curtis Childs (Sterling K. Brown) and First Lady Trinitie Childs (Regina Hall), a couple from a once popular Southern Baptist Mega Church in Atlanta. Wander To Greater Paths’ attendance dropped significantly after the pastor was accused of sexual misconduct. The Childs also feel threatened by the new pastors on the block, Shakura and Keon Sumpter, and their church Heaven’s House. The optimistic couple hires a documentary crew to chronicle their process of re-opening on Easter Sunday. But what the documentarians also capture is how they deal with their new legal issues.

If you grew up around organized religion, especially Baptist or Southern Baptist, then a lot of this will seem familiar to you. Megachurch culture in itself is hilarious because it’s so over-the-top that it’s hard to believe that people do this weekly. Do people really sit and listen to their pastor flaunt his opulence? Yes.

Ebo told Variety, “I’m a spiritual person. I still see the communal value of the church. That’s where the nuances of Honk for Jesus come from — there are all of these critiques and some blatant ‘F**k You’s,’ while also being a love letter to this culture.” The film doesn’t exist to make fun of spirituality. It critiques the spectacle of organized religion and how pastors act as salesmen for God.

The church itself is massive, but the campus looks like a combination of a university and a shopping mall. It’s full of unnecessary features like water fountains and an NBA-level basketball court. It’s completely over the top and hilariously accurate. Despite sharing the stage and sitting side by side on literal thrones, there’s a palpable disconnect between the pastor and his wife. They don’t see things the same way, and though they’re both dealing with the consequences of the allegations against him, they’re not actually having the same experience. 

Lee-Curtis Childs is a showman more than anything, and material possessions are a big part of his life. He wears the nicest suits and drives the most expensive cars, and his massive, color-coded closet filled with designer clothes and shoes is impressive. He weaves in plenty of humblebrags throughout his sermons, promoting his excess, implying that this is how he’s rewarded for being a devoted Christian.

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Sterling K. Brown perfectly embodies the flashy arrogance of a megachurch pastor. He’s also able to humanize a character that would usually be too self-centered to care about. Lee-Curtis’ internal struggle peeks through at times, showing there’s more to him than what he projects to the world. There’s clearly some truth to the allegations against him, and Brown conveys that through his performance.

Lee-Curtis may be the one preaching on stage and being the face of the congregation, but Trinitie holds it all together. Trinitie’s image stays manicured and elegant as she takes her role as First Lady very seriously. Naturally, she regularly dons elaborate, bedazzled church hats with gawdy bows and designs. But behind the glamor is a woman desperately holding onto her livelihood and marriage.

Regina Hall captures the nervous energy of a pastor’s wife always trying to laugh off any awkwardness or possible negativity. Trinitie shares with the crew that being the First Lady involves a lot of “mental and psychological gymnastics.” The documentarians zoom in on her moments of self-reflection and realization. Hall delivers such a nuanced performance as this woman going through hell trying to stay holy.

What makes the film stand out the most is its transition from faux documentary to a regular film. These changes in filming style could’ve easily been messy and distracting, but Adamma Ebo keeps it smooth and making sense. The film successfully balances slapstick comedy with genuinely heartbreaking moments.

Honk for Jesus, Save Your Soul showcases all of the ridiculous theatrics of organized religion from the chaotic organ music to the various iterations of the phrase “praying on it.” It can be compared to many mockumentaries, but the overall tone is very similar to Drop Dead Gorgeous. The two films share super dark humor as they pull back the curtains on worlds we suspect to be deceptive.

Honk for Jesus, Save Your Soul stars Sterling K. Brown (This Is Us) as Lee-Curtis Childs, Regina Hall (Black Monday) as Trinitie Childs, Nicole Beharie (892) as Shakura Sumpter, Conphidance (Little America) as Keon Sumpter, Avis-Marie Barnes (Greenleaf) as Sabina, and Austin Crute (Atlanta) as Khalil. The film is produced by Adanne Ebo, Kara Durrett, Hall, Brown, along with Daniel Kaluuya, Rowan Riley, and Amandla Crichlow for 59%, and Jessamine Burgum and Matthew R. Cooper for Pinky Promise. 

Honk for Jesus, Save Your Soul premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.

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