Faith-enhanced wedding rom-coms like Jumping the Broom reveal a lot of what’s right — and wrong — with modern Black America.
As a way to celebrate Mother’s Day, I jumped on the bandwagon and saw Jumping the Broom with my wife, sister, aunt, and mom. And despite my low expectations (or maybe because of them?), I enjoyed the movie and had a good time — as did many others, apparently.
By most entertainment metrics for romantic comedies, Jumping the Broom succeeds. Though broadly written and cast, it shows characters and situations that most of us have seen before, though maybe not quite as exaggerated. And these characters and situations reveal a lot about the core demographic of the film’s intended audience, the African American faith community. In this movie, we are shown at our best and worst.
Matter of fact, if I had to rename Jumping the Broom based solely on my emotional reaction to it, I would call it For Better or For Worse. Because despite owing much of its box office appeal to the Tyler Perry brand of faith-conscious family comedies, it also has a lot in common with Lynn Johnston’s enduring comic strip about domestic life. Both are lighthearted depictions of interlocking family struggles with lovable characters and familiar plotlines. They both get the little things right, those moments that make viewers and readers light up with recognition.
(Speaking of Tyler Perry, he’s launching another series on TBS focusing on marriage, called For Better or Worse. Apparently I’m not the only one who sees the connection there.)
The truth is, overbearing mothers, lovable-but-backward uncles, and promiscuous friends are more than just common plot devices; they are often supporting characters in our own real-life stories. And when they experience a measure of redemption, diligent viewers who dabble in at least a modicum of critical analysis can learn valuable lessons from it.
Some of the life lessons in the film are clearly intended and articulated. Others lie below the surface. And despite a wholesome spiritual message, there are some disturbing mixed messages concerning sexuality, relationships, and conflict resolution.Discerning viewers should always draw their own conclusions, but here are a few sets of obvious (and less obvious) lessons I gathered after a viewing at the local multiplex:
[WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW]
Lessons from Beyond the Broom
Obvious lesson #1: Abstinence is a powerful motivator.
Less-obvious lesson #1: Communication is just as essential to a marriage as sex.
In the beginning of the film, Sabrina Watson (Paula Patton) makes a promise to God to stop “giving up the cookies” if He would lead her to a virtuous man worth marrying. As the film progresses, it’s clear that her fiancé Jason Taylor (Laz Alonso) is motivated by both his emotional connection and his physical desire to be united with her as one flesh. Guys will often go to amazing lengths to have sex with a woman, and in the right context this desire can be a powerful motivator for good. It’s amazing how many people miss this basic principle of human interaction. Absence may make the heart grow fonder, but abstinence can help a man get his act together.
However, the less obvious lesson is no less important. Sexual desire often clouds our judgment, and it’s no coincidence that the moments in which Jason and Sabrina seemed to be the most physically aroused, they were also communicating poorly. I know that such plot contrivances are common in wedding films, but most of the biggest sources of conflict in the movie were due to people not communicating clearly or honestly (the upscale lunch appointment, the best man decision, the Watson family secrets, etc.).
Obvious lesson: Trusting God leads to a happier life.
Less-obvious lesson: Bad behavior cloaked in religiosity is still bad behavior.
Clearly there should be a positive spiritual message in a film partially produced by T.D. Jakes, but the most valuable spiritual lesson was not displayed when Jason was observed crying out to God in a field or when Mama Taylor (Loretta Devine) is seen reading her Bible, but rather when her brother Willie Earl (Mike Epps) confronts her over her poor attitude and choices.
“But I prayed over this decision,” she laments, and Willie cuts her off. “Jesus didn’t tell you to do that.”
Too many films aimed at African American people of faith are too forgiving of their protagonists’ over-the-top behavior because it’s assumed their hearts are in the right place (yes, Madea, I’m talking to you). It’s nice to see that kind of foolishness addressed directly on the silver screen. Being a Christian is not just about going to church and not having sex before marriage; it’s also about learning how to tame the tongue.
Obvious lesson: Christians can make enjoyable movies that aren’t horrible.
Less-obvious lesson: That doesn’t mean they’re appropriate for all Christians.
Optimists can herald the success of this film as proof that films with spiritual messages made by and for Black people can be successful at the box office. Most of my friends, when faced with the option of going to a “Christian” movie or a “regular” movie, are going to take the latter option more often than not. Poor production values, B-list casting, and clichéd storytelling have traditionally doomed films made by Christian gatekeepers and aimed at Christian audiences. In this regard, Jumping the Broom succeeds where others have failed. (Well, mostly succeeds; the story is still pretty clichéd.)
But, this is one film where the MPAA rating (PG-13) is there for a reason. Clearly this film was appropriately rated, as children younger than 13 should not be present unless parents want to take the time to explain the myriad sexual references and themes, including masturbation, pedophilia, and intersexuality. (And that doesn’t even include a painfully awkward rendition of Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing.”)
And even if all of those references go over their head, there is no mistaking the amount of skin on display throughout, from both men and women, including several lingering shots of Paula Patton in bikini lingerie. Though the dominant themes are admirable, the unintentional effect is a mixing of messages — premarital sex is bad, but everything else is fine as long as that line does not get crossed.
Bigger Issues At Play
The truth is, there are bigger issues at play in the African American faith community, too many for a film like Jumping the Broom to adequately illuminate or touch on. Even so, some of the ones it tries to address are covered in a fair to middling job at best.
For example, chastity doesn’t emerge in a vacuum, but it flows out of the virtue of modesty. It happens when young people in relationships decide they love God and want His plan for their lives more than they want momentary pleasure. It’s reinforced through good friends and sensible boundaries.This is not the lifestyle on display in Jumping the Broom. Jason and Sabrina’s friends were, for the most part, incredulous they were able to restrain themselves for more than a few weeks. A few of them even jeered at the idea.
On one level, I’m fine with that. People who grow up with worldly relational models need a film they can relate to, and Jumping the Broom is nothing if not relatable. And that kind of keeping-it-real aesthetic is a good thing, even if it scares off some White evangelicals.
(I quote Beliefnet reviewer Ash Greyson: “Ever walk through the mall? Victoria’s not keeping much a secret these days.”)
But that doesn’t mean that I’d want a 15-year-old daughter of my own watching it, even if she is only hypothetical at this point. Movie stars are the default role models for every generation, and if all of our sons and daughters aspire to emulate everything they see in Jumping the Broom, we’re in for a long couple of decades.
Lest it seem like I’m ripping the movie to shreds, I must reiterate what I said in the beginning: I like the movie … a lot. But just like we need to use discernment in how we classify and evaluate Christian music, we must continue to examine all of the media we consume through the lens of Scripture, even the media that are supposed to be safe and family-friendly.
Because if we, as Christ-followers, do not, then we’re sending another unintentional, mixed message. We’re saying, essentially, that the only alternative for Christians to Jumping the Broom is jumping the shark and sliding into irrelevancy.
Oh, and one final note … for any White viewers who might’ve been offended by the token White character (Amy the wedding planner, played by Julie Bowen), relax — you’re not alone.