Bishop T.D. Jakes isn't easily intimidated. He is, after all, a best-selling author of 29 books, a Grammy-winning gospel singer, a nationally renowned preacher and the subject of a 2001 Time magazine cover story that asked: "Is This Man The Next Billy Graham?"
Yet here he is, the 6-foot-2, 260-pound pastor with the famously recognizable shaved head, standing in his empty 8,000-seat seat sanctuary and talking about the daunting nature of his latest role — acting in his new movie, "Woman, Thou Art Loosed."
"I won't give up my day job," jokes Jakes, the 47-year-old founding minister of The Potter's House, a 30,000-member megachurch in Dallas. His sermons are broadcast nationally on the Trinity Broadcasting Network and Black Entertainment Television.
Lately, Jakes has balanced his pulpit duties with advance screenings across the country to promote his new movie, "Woman, Thou Art Loosed," which deals with child molestation.
"It's really difficult," he says, "because by it being an independent film, so much of the groundswell is dependent on us going out and working it up. That, plus all the duties I have, has got me stretched pretty thin right now."
How well does Jakes expect the screen adaptation of his book and play to do at the box office?
"I'm not an expert with movies, and ignorance is bliss," says Jakes. He does know enough about promotion, however, to have an appearance scheduled on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" for Oct. 1, the day the film opens.
The film is a collaboration between Jakes' for-profit T.D. Jakes Enterprises and Reuben Cannon, a Hollywood producer ("Love Don't Cost a Thing," "Get on the Bus") and veteran casting director ("Johnson Family Vacation," the TV sitcom "My Wife and Kids").
It stars Kimberly Elise, recently seen opposite Denzel Washington in "The Manchurian Candidate," as Michelle Jordan, a victim of childhood abuse who becomes a criminal and winds up on Death Row. The fictional story intersperses graphic scenes of sexual abuse, drug use and domestic violence with Jakes preaching a Los Angeles revival and ministering to the condemned prisoner.
It has already drawn comparisons to Mel Gibson (news)'s "The Passion of the Christ" because of its R rating and the way Jakes has marketed it — showing it to dozens of pastors and encouraging churches to rent out theaters.
"I'm not offended by that comparison at all, and I think it is R-rated for similar reasons," says Jakes, although he's quick to point out his low-budget film lacked Gibson's deep pockets. "Many places that I've gone and talked about it, they said it was R for real. We did keep it real."
Dr. Diane Langberg, executive board chairwoman for the American Association of Christian Counselors, says Jakes' film clearly and powerfully demonstrates the reality of childhood sexual abuse and domestic violence.
"I think that human beings, certainly the church at large, just sort of instinctively want to minimize the reality of such things," says Langberg, a clinical psychologist in Philadelphia. "They're ugly, they're frightening, and we don't want to believe such things go in homes and in families. I think we have to be startled out of apathy."
Jakes describes Jordan, the main character, as a composite of the many abuse victims he has counseled over 28 years. He feels that the film offers not just a harsh dose of reality, but a healthy supply of hope.
"It's not just divine forgiveness, which is a part of the message," Jakes says. "But also, it deals with the struggle that we have to forgive people who have done things to us and how you're never really free until you forgive people who have mishandled you."
While "Woman, Thou Art Loosed" features poor, black characters, the problem of sexual abuse transcends socio-economic and racial boundaries, Jakes says. It's important to him, he says, that the film reach a wide, diverse audience — not just church people.
It's unlikely, though, that Jakes' film can create the kind of secular buzz generated by Gibson's "Passion," which combined a Hollywood superstar taking on a religious cause with widespread public attention due to accusations of anti-Semitism.
"This is a different phenomenon," says William Blizek, editor of the Journal of Religion and Film at the University of Nebraska in Omaha. "It may be a very good and important movie. But generally speaking, people are not likely to go to movies that they find depressing."
Jakes says his film has "a range of emotions in it — from being sometimes funny to sometimes very, very serious."
He kidded his co-star about leaving his set to shoot "The Manchurian Candidate," but he says the roles speak to Elise's talent and versatility.
Source: The AP