Home Atlanta News Atlanta-set “Honk For Jesus” pokes fun at the Black church, but with fondness

Atlanta-set “Honk For Jesus” pokes fun at the Black church, but with fondness

by Atlanta Business Journal

Identical twins Adamma and Adanne Ebo grew up in Atlanta, the children of Nigerian immigrants, thinking one day they’d become lawyers. While Adanne did indeed attend law school, Adamma changed courses and enrolled in UCLA to study directing. These days, the two are working together as part of their Ejime Productions and are Sundance darlings, with their new film Honk For Jesus. Save Your Soul bowing in theaters and on Peacock Friday. 

In the mockumentary, directed and written by Adamma with Adanne as producer, Regina Hall and Sterling K. Brown star as Lee-Curtis and Trinitie Childs, who are married and act as the Pastor and First Lady of the Greater Paths Baptist Church in Atlanta. At one time, they served the Southern Baptist congregation with tens of thousands of patrons. Times are tough, now, though — Lee-Curtis is involved in a sex scandal with a number of young men and, as the couple attempt an Easter Sunday re-opening, they face stiff competition from a pair of younger preachers (Nicole Beharie and Conphidance). As if the tension isn’t high enough, the Childs have hired a documentary crew to follow them and help resurrect their image. 

Adamma wrote Honk as a feature in her first year of film school, turned it into a short film, and then made it into a feature. It’s a story very close to the sisters’ personal experience.

They grew up in the height of the mega-church culture, regularly attending their large house of worship. “This was born of our experiences being both extremely frustrated with a lot of aspects of the church,” Adanne says, “but being in this weird limbo of still having love and reverence for it.” 

Star Regina Hall and writer-director Adamma Ebo on location in Atlanta with their film “Honk For Jesus. Save Your Soul.”

The duo, who were selected as Sundance fellows in 2019 before debuting Honk at the Sundance festival earlier this year, always knew they wanted Hall to play Trinitie, but it took a little longer to find their male lead. Watching an episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine convinced them of Brown’s comedic chops. 

The Emmy-winning actor, who joined King and the sisters (now Los Angeles residents) in town last week to promote the film, is full of praise for Adamma and Adanne. 

“It was exciting to work with African-American filmmakers who were interested in doing something different than what we are accustomed to as a community consuming,” Brown says. “They are talented and have a clear vision of what they want their movie to be. They are familial and comfortable. They are young but don’t carry a lot of anxiety with them.”

In front of the cameras and their congregation, Trinitie and Lee-Curtis are all smiles and positivity. Behind closed doors, however, there are cracks, including sexually. “It’s a . . . faulty relationship,” King says and laughs. “It has some flaws that you don’t want in a marriage. But it is a good friendship. They are both connected to the same ideology of church, religion and Christ. If they had not been indoctrinated to what a Christian looks like, and must do, what is sinful behavior and what this person’s role is and that person’s role, they would realize they enjoy each other on a lot of levels and in certain levels are different and would have changed the nature of their relationship.”

Brown believes Lee-Curtis is a man who means well but can’t always control himself. “You see these people here who can be as wretched as anyone else but just because these are people of faith doesn’t mean they aren’t people. Lee-Curtis is that dude who wants to be of service, and really wants to mentor. From a distance he wants to help and has the purest of intentions, and the closer he gets, he sees he could help this young man — and help himself.”

Adamma views the Childs’ marriage as a tragic love story. “Despite the love that they have for each other, they are consistently not on the same page.”   

On Sundays, Lee-Curtis preaches against homosexuality, but outside has relationships with men. The church “breeds a lot of internal conflict,” Adanne says. “When you don’t allow people to be themselves because that it is divinely wrong, it breeds abuse and abuse of power. Not being able to reconcile that within yourself, that is why we have Lee-Curtis. He in fact thinks he did not do anything wrong and can be excused for it.”

Determining the right balance for the film was a tricky proposition for the filmmakers. While they have critiques against the church and see a lot of harm going on, there is nonetheless great admiration.

“It’s almost inextricable for Black culture — Christianity, definitely Southern Baptist culture,” Adamma says. “The critiques are supposed to be like holding up a mirror. I didn’t want to make fun of anything. There is a lot of comedy in this but the comedy comes from the culture that exists. If you ask any Black person who is in these churches, they will tell you this is how people dress and how they act.” 

The pair didn’t want to approach the tone with anything that wasn’t true or turn this into a farce or parody because it would be easy — and would strip away the complicated conversation they are trying to have with the film. 

Finding the right location to shoot it, however, was a much easier decision. Atlanta always seemed the place to make the movie — and the central church, the House of Hope Atlanta, is near where the Ebos were raised.

“There is not a better place to shoot it,” Adanne says. “Having the city as a character was very important for us. The churches here contribute to the look of the city. I wanted (the film) to feel very Atlanta.” 

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Jim Farmer covers theater and film for ArtsATL. A graduate of the University of Georgia, he has written about the arts for 30-plus years. Jim is the festival director of Out on Film, Atlanta’s LGBTQ film festival. He lives in Avondale Estates with his husband, Craig, and dog Douglas.

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