Sharp satire and lived experience come together with style and flair in Adamma Ebo’s Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul., which explores the messy truth behind the showy facade of a Southern Baptist megachurch. Starring Regina Hall and Sterling K. Brown as Trinitie and Lee-Curtis Childs — the first couple of the fictional Greater Paths church in Atlanta, GA — the movie is a memorable feature debut for talented writer-director Adamma Ebo.
Filmed in a mockumentary style, Honk for Jesus follows the Childs as they work to relaunch their church and rebuild their reputations after a sexual scandal threatens to bring Lee-Curtis down for good. We see glimpses of them at the height of their glory, with thousands of worshippers hanging on Lee-Curtis’ every word, but we also see them floundering, left adrift without the adulation (and cash flow) they’re addicted to. Trinitie in particular struggles to reconcile her devotion to her husband and their church with her growing cynicism and frustration. Nichole Beharie and Conphidance co-star as up-and-comers Shakura and Keon Sumpter, whose own fledgling congregation seems poised to pick up right where Greater Paths left off.
The movie’s production has a backstory as compelling as its main characters’: Ebo, who based the movie on her own same-named 2018 short (which was also her master’s thesis at UCLA), worked with her identical twin sister, Adanne, to get it made, championed by the likes of Issa Rae and Daniel Kaluuya. They were inspired by their own upbringing, and when the feature version premiered at Sundance in January 2022, it was one of the festival’s hottest commodities.
Whether you have lived experience with megachurches like Greater Paths — and/or the art of praise-miming, which is a key element of Trinitie’s journey in the film and part of one of the movie’s most memorable sequences — or this type of enthusiastic, over-the-top Christianity is new to you, it’s impossible to deny that Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul. offers an enthralling examination of religion, power, and identity. — Betsy Bozdech
Team #MOTW’s comments:
Sherin Nicole In a thriller cleverly hidden within the satin robes of satire, writer/director Adamma Ebo questions morality, marriage, and the power of a message. Adamma Ebo is sharp with her pen and with the camera, taking the story of a disgraced megachurch pastor and his wife to the brink of absurdity but always with an edge of truth. Honk For Jesus. Save Your Soul. isn’t a morality play but the dissection of two characters who worship at the altar of fame but refuse to allow their labors to be more than vain. Read full review.
Nell Minow: You will not see better acting this year than Regina Hall, Sterling K. Brown, and Nicole Beharie, all playing characters who are exquisitely sensitive to the way they present themselves to the public, yet showing us what is going on beneath the performative pleasantries — fear, ambition, anger, greed, and panic when those feelings get too close to the surface.
Loren King Regina Hall is such a brilliant actor that she delivers in unexpected ways even with uneasy material. At first, her Trinitie Childs, wife of a disgraced Southern Baptist pastor Lee-Curtis (Sterling K. Brown) who’s eager to get back to the rewards of running a megachurch, is a fairly one note, occasionally humorous creation. But as Lee-Curtis’s narcissism veers into bullying and attempts to control his wife, Hall conveys Trinitie’s wavering loyalties and manages a surprising empathy. Even when forced to wear whiteface in one of the film’s more uncomfortable scenes, Hall finds some measure of dignity in Trinitie’s deep conflicts. Writer-director Adamma Ebo struggles with tone; the film is billed as a comedy but there’s some dark material here since Lee-Curtis is accused of sexual misconduct with young men in the congregation. Hypocrisy gets a proper skewering, similar to The Eyes of Tammy Faye, but it’s the performances of all the principals, particularly Hall, that indicate Ebo’s skill with actors.
Leslie Combemale Beyond the truly brilliant insights this satirical comedy offer about the personal politics and hypocrisy of megachurches, it’s the nuanced performances by Regina Hall and Sterling K. Brown that will make Honk For Jesus a film that will become a cult classic. As scene partners, they lift each other up and feed each other in ways that will make their scenes together worthy of study by acting students for years to come. As husband and wife Lee-Curtis and Trinitie, they are at times flamboyant, in others wound so tightly they look like they’ll explode onscreen. Both actors better find themselves nominated at awards time.
Jennifer Merin Honk For Jesus. Save your Soul is the brilliant first feature from Nigerian-American twin sister filmmakers Adamma Ebo and Adanne Ebo. The film is a scathing satire that bravely delves into the hypocrisy and questionable values of Bible belt megachurch culture. Regina Hall stars as the high-heeled, fancy-hatted wife of a popular and powerful pastor (Sterling K. Brown) whose scandalous behavior has emptied their church and ended their influence in their church-going community. The story is all about what they’re willing to do to get their life back. Hall and Brown, joined by Nicole Beharie and Conphidance (as married ministers with a competing church), approach their characters with just the right mix of palpable pathos and audacious absurdity. Their behavior is dicey, their morals are iffy and they raise the roof on the smart and funny script that expresses the Ebo sisters’ distinctly entertaining and insightful point of view.
Marilyn Ferdinand It’s no secret that leaders of various religious communities have pursued and achieved riches over the centuries. The director and producer of Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul., Adamma and twin sister Adanne Ebo, attended college in Atlanta and certainly were exposed there to one preacher of the gospel of prosperity—Creflo Dollar, founder, with his wife Taffi, of the nondenominational Christian World Changers Church International. It is likely that the Dollars served as the models for Lee-Curtis Childs (Sterling K. Brown) and wife Trinitie (Regina Hall), the Georgia-based protagonists of their film. Regina Hall is the incredible heart of this film, giving a masterful performance as a put-upon “first lady” who is trying to get their church back on its feet after a sex scandal closed its door. Expanded from a short film, Honk for Jesus. doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be—a mockumentary, a human drama, an examination of capitalism in the church, a serious look at sexual abuse of minors by religious leaders. And for those of us unfamiliar with the practice, a scene of Trinitie praise dancing while wearing mime make-up is just baffling. Nonetheless, Hall’s performance makes Honk for Jesus worth seeing.
Sandie Angulo Chen: Audiences familiar with prosperity-gospel churches will particularly find director Adamma Ebo’s comedy Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul. a scathing indictment of the often-hypocritical underpinnings of the status-based evangelical movement. Starring the fabulous duo of Sterling K. Brown and Regina Hall as the disgraced pastor and first lady of a once 25,000-congregant megachurch, the movie – directed, written, and co-produced by Adamma Ebo and her twin sister Adanne – is clearly rooted in real experience with the shadier, salacious side of some of these charming pastors and their suspiciously luxe lifestyles. Nicole Beharie and Conphidance are also outstanding as co-pastors of a rival, up-and-coming church that benefited from the main characters’ fall from grace. A biting comedy full of wit and insider humor about an influential religious subculture.
Susan Wloszczyna: Director Adamma Ebo puts on display a Black version of Tammy Faye and Jim Baker in Honk for Jesus, Save Your Soul. In this comedic satire, a Regina Hall stars Trinitie Childs, who proudly was the first lady of a Southern Baptist megachurch in Atlanta that had a congregation in the tens of thousands. But her pastor husband, Lee-Curtis Childs, played by Sterling K. Brown, whose godly empire is brought down by a scandal. He attempts a comeback. But a younger pastor and his wife upstaged the older couple. They sit on gilded thrones in their empty place of worship as a documentary crew captures their downfall and the promise of a return. Meanwhile, Lee-Curtis is a devil who wears lots and lots of Prada and is certain that he will make a comeback. As for Trinitie, she buys herself an incredibly expensive diamond-studded hat. She ends up at the side of the road dressed as a mime, trying to attract any worshippers to their church. Brown and Hall do justice to the script as they finally accept their downfall.
Liz Whittemore To overcome a scandal, a viral pastor and his wife hire an up-and-coming festival filmmaker to revamp their image with a cinema verité documentary. Their goal is to refill their megachurch with its previous 25000 parishioners. But, it quickly becomes evident that Lee-Curtis and Trinitie are out of touch with reality. Based on writer-director-producer Adamma Ebo’s short film of the same name, Honk For Jesus. Save Your Soul. is gloriously biting satire to the nth degree. Read full review.
Cate Marquis Nigerian-American twin sisters Adamma Ebo and Adanne Ebo make a bold writing/directing debut with the fearless satire Honk for Jesus, Save Your Soul, in which a “prosperity gospel” pastor (Sterling K. Brown) and his wife (Regina Hall) try to make comeback from the huge scandal by re-opening their long-closed Black mega-church. In this hilarious, biting mix of mockumentary and satiric comedy, Sterling K. Brown is, well, sterling, as the over-the-top preacher Lee-Curtis Childs, preening in his colorful, designer wardrobe and his unflaggingly-supportive, equally well-dressed wife, “First Lady” Trinitie Childs, played with high-octane style by Regina Hall. Like all satires, there are things that might offend some but more spot-on laughs, as these African-American filmmakers take aim at both the foibles of this ethically-challenged pair. Blending elements of This is Spinal Tap, Tap and Jessica Chastain’s Eyes of Tammy Faye but with a distinctly Black view, the Ebo twins serve up a delightfully funny, pointed satire/mockumentary in Honk for Jesus, Save Your Soul.
Title: Honk For Jesus. Save Your Soul.
Director: Adamma Ebo
Release Date: September 2, 2022
Running Time: 102 minutes
Screenwriter: Adamma Ebo
Distribution Company: Focus Features
AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Betsy Bozdech, Leslie Combemale, Marilyn Ferdinand, Pam Grady, Loren King, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Sherin Nicole, Liz Whittemore, Susan Wloszczyna
Edited by Jennifer Merin