Adamma and Adanne Ebo’s debut feature premiered at the Sundance Film Festival
Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul. is a bold satire on the hypocrisy of prosperity gospel, starring Sterling K. Brown and Regina Hall as married leaders of an Atlanta megachurch that has undergone a member exodus due to scandal. To recover their brand, if you will, Pastor Lee-Curtis Childs (Brown) allows a documentary crew to follow them around as they plan the reopening of Wander to Greater Paths Baptist Church. The couple takes the crew through the church campus, behind the scenes — even into a church closet, packed with designer clothing (“There’s something about a pastor in Prada,” one of them remarks on camera).
Lee-Curtis and Trinitie (Hall) switch between the versions of themselves they want people to see and the more uncertain selves they show each other. Meanwhile, the story behind the controversy involving the pastor begins to unfold for the viewer. Throw in some praise miming, some dealings with a competing church — led by younger married couple the Sumpters (Nicole Beharie and Conphidance) — and a simmering performance by one Ms. Regina Hall, and you have Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.
Shot in Atlanta in 21 days, Adamma Ebo adapted and directed this feature based off her original 2018 short, and her sister Adanne produced the film. The day after the Sundance premiere, I spoke to twin filmmakers Adamma and Adanne Ebo about their debut feature.
On the casting of Sterling K. Brown and Regina Hall:
Adanne: The casting process was really about having the right connections to be able to get the material in front of our leads. We got lucky that, one, that it got to them, and two, that [the] schedule worked out. But that was really key, was having the right network in order to get the material in front of them.
Adamma: It was phenomenal… they really dug into their characters and, like, committed to it, and also really committed to the production. They were also producers on the film, and they really worked hard to contribute creatively, definitely during post-production. They gave notes on cuts and things like that.
In production, they just were very committed to providing a real nurturing environment for me and Adanne. They seemed like they were very passionate on making sure that we could succeed.
On the faux-documentary style used for the film:
Adamma: I wanted to make it feel as much like a real documentary as possible, which is why we — my DP and I—were like, this isn’t a mockumentary. It’s a faux-documentary. Because mockumentaries tend to sort of be on the joke, and like wink — and we wanted this to feel real.
And so we wanted the camera to be like purely observational. If something funny happens in the scene, it’s because of what the people and the characters are doing, and not because the camera is part of the joke.
And in that, I wanted to explore this idea of what’s true, what’s not true, and everything in between. So, people take documentaries as fact, oftentimes, and I wanted Trinitie and Lee-Curtis to sort of do the antithesis of that. Like they aren’t their real selves, or they’re putting on every time that they know the camera is on, versus when the camera switches off and the audience gets more authenticity. We see the true complications of these people.
On the limitations on women’s leadership within the church:
Adanne: In the Baptist church, for sure, things are changing now. But definitely when we were growing up and before, in our parents’ generation, our grandparents’ generation, and beyond, there’s this idea that women are there are as a support system, but definitely not in leadership positions.
Adamma: It’s very traditional.
Adanne: It’s very traditional, it’s very, you know — it’s misogynistic. Let’s call it out. And I think that feeds into Trinitie’s character because she chose to abide by that. She believes in that.
Adamma: Yeah. And she thinks that she has a very specific place within this. And I also think because of that, she feels trapped.
Adanne: Yeah, and it’s also part of what makes things so complicated when the Sumpters come into play, because she’s seeing this other woman in a leadership position.
On the Sumpters’ competing church:
Adamma: It definitely wasn’t part of the short, and it wasn’t part of the feature for a while. It took a few drafts to get to that point.
But I was really interested in exploring a couple of things. I think the first was like the differences between faith leaders generationally, but also this idea that like everyone — not everyone, but a lot of people, start off from this genuine place where they really believe the word of God, they really want to help the community. They really want to make a difference in people’s lives, and how that could start to tip over the edge once, you know, the bigness and the commodified nature of it comes into play.
The Prada in the church closet:
Adanne: That speaks to the lavish lifestyle that these specific people are trying to get back.
Adamma: Yeah, and the reason they’re showing this to the documentary crew is because they’re, you know, in their own way, showing what they lost, or what they feel like is at stake, which is this lifestyle they’ve cultivated for themselves.
On praise-miming: Is it a real thing?
Together: It’s a real thing.
Adamma: People always — a lot of people think that I made it up. I didn’t.
Adanne: YouTube it.
Adamma: YouTube it, go down a rabbit hole. It’s very, very real.
Adanne: It’s a form of praise in worship that is a valid form of praise in worship. We’re not really — we’re not trying to knock it. It’s just a form of praise in worship that unsettles us. But yes, it’s a very real thing.
Adamma: It’s not for me. I think it goes over my head. I don’t quite understand. You know…
Adanne: We never got there.
On Regina Hall wearing praise mime makeup:
Adamma: She was a trooper. It was, I think, tough to have on for extended periods of time, but I think it really helped her performances and her really, truly feeling that frustration and discomfort that was necessary for the scenes with the praise miming.
On working together as sisters:
Adanne: It feels really natural. It feels kind of like an extension of our non-working relationship.
Adamma: Yeah. We always say that it feels more unnatural not to be working together. It’s seamless.