Jakes on the Loose
With the October 1 release of Woman, Thou Art Loosed: The Movie, one of Bishop T.D. Jakes' most popular messages—a story of hope for wounded women—hits the big screen. The story had been adapted into a stage play, and now it's a feature-length film that deals with the issue of childhood sexual abuse, tracing protagonist Michelle's journey toward healing. Jakes spoke to us about his hopes for the movie, the risks of dealing with a difficult topic, and the importance of interaction between churches and social service agencies.
You're known for your ability to minister to hurting women. But how did you come to the point where you decided to address the issue of sexual abuse through a film?
T.D. Jakes: It's been an ongoing conversation since I wrote the book Woman, Thou Art Loosed! I'd wanted to re-enter the conversation because I learned more about these issues after I wrote the book than I'd known before, because so many people wrote me with their stories. This movie is dedicated to all of those stories. There are slices of all of them here.
The response to the play was overwhelming. Many times, we would need to stop a scene and wait for the audience because they began to pray or to worship during the performance. Eventually, we started doing altar calls.
As we saw that response, we began to talk about maybe doing something with video. I started dreaming. Stan Foster, a fantastic scriptwriter, started putting it together. Things started to develop. I was also amazed by the number of actors and actresses who didn't mind that we didn't have much money to offer, because they were so hungry to do something positive.
It's a positive film, but it's definitely not a light one. Are you concerned about the way potential audiences will respond to the R rating?
Jakes: The film deals with difficult subject matter and does include some violence. I felt a responsibility to be true to the audience. You cannot sugarcoat child abuse. You can't make that light, and I think that's part of the ministry.
When a child has been abused, counselors often give them dolls to help them talk about it because sometimes it's easier for them to say what happened to the doll than it is to say this happened to me. See the movie as a doll. It's not appropriate for little children, but a teenager may be able to point to the character of Michelle and say that happened to me.
The film deals with these difficult issues primarily from the perspective of women-and in this case, African-American women. In the past, black men criticized films like The Color Purple and Waiting To Exhale, because they felt vilified. Are you concerned about that happening here?
Jakes: That's exactly why we've included Todd's character. He's a church guy, squeaky-clean, passionate and concerned about Michelle. He represents the good guys who come to the rescue and walk women through that process. He's the redemptive masculine character that helps us say all men are not like Reggie, the abuser.
Do you have strategies in place to make sure the movie crosses into different demographic markets?
Jakes: I think since September 11 we've begun to recognize that we're Americans more than anything else. Something about a great threat and a huge attack brings about a certain level of unity. Some problems are simply everybody's problems. This is one of those issues that goes across the board.
If the reception is anything like the Woman Thou Art Loosed message, it will be pretty universal. When I wrote the book, I was shocked at how many responses I received from white women and Asian women as well as black women. Old, young, rich, poor. We had the film translated into Spanish for the Spanish-speaking community. When we held the screening in a predominantly Hispanic church, the pastor felt adamantly that this was an issue that would speak to his community. So it's probably universal. And that universality is the gate that I hope breaks open the wall.