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The Joy and Angst of ‘Jumping the Broom’

posted by Evan Derrick

People enjoy seeing themselves on the big screen.

And watching “Jumping the Broom” felt like part class reunion and a family gathering – complete with the joys and angst that both can generate. I couldn’t help but be reminded of friends and family, colleagues and classmates as I watched the story of two families and the significance of ancestral traditions and hope.

On Monday, I went to a screening of the film produced by Bishop T.D. Jakes, senior pastor of the Potter’s House in Dallas, through his TDJ Enterprises. The company produces live events, movies, music and provides television and Web services. (see Beliefnet’s interview with T.D. Jakes)

It hits screens nationwide Mother’s Day weekend. Featuring artists such as Angela Bassett, Loretta Devine, Paula Patton and Laz Alonso, the film spotlights two families from divergent socioeconomic backgrounds as they converge on Martha’s Vineyard for a wedding.

The title is taken from a tradition “that dates back to the days of slavery when, by law, Africans were not allowed to be formally married,” wrote life stylist Harriette Cole in her 1993 bridal handbook, “Jumping the Broom: The African-American Wedding Planner.”

“Slaves, who were deeply spiritual, created their own tradition, commonly known as ‘jumping the broom,’” Cole wrote. “During this ceremony, young couples stood before family and friends, offered their thanks while asking for the blessings of their ancestors and God, and literally jumped over a broom to symbolize their step into matrimony.” (see more on what exactly it means to ‘jump the broom’)

I love a good love story. But what initially caught my eye was witnessing an aspect of the African-American community often overlooked on the big screen. There are wealthy African Americans – not just the nouveau riche. African Americans who are bilingual – even polyglots – and intelligent. Who vacation.

“It is important as people of color to help people understand we’re not monolithic,” Jakes said about the need for films showcasing diversity among African Americans by different directors such as Spike Lee and Tyler Perry. “There’s not a right or wrong, but an ‘and’ or ‘in addition to.’”

Throughout the film, I joined several moviegoers as we demonstrated how we related to the characters via amen choruses, our tears or laugh-out-loud responses. For example, Mike Epps’s Uncle Willie Earl stole the scenes with his harmless flirtations with a wedding guest and hit-you-in-the-gut zingers directed at his sister-in-law. Or the well-meaning wedding planner – bless her heart! The class-based clashes and interactions between the bride and her sister-friend-girls talking about men and life are telling.

During a question and answer session after the movie ended, Jakes said he wanted to do a film about family secrets. He said it was important to show, despite how immersed in guilt and fear and pain the characters were, each sought to forgive.

~ Jeannine Hunter lives in Washington, D.C.



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