Adamma and Adanne Ebo are not afraid to stand their ground.
The director-producer twins that created the comedy-drama “Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.” developed their first feature film based on a short they created in 2018. While the film debuted at the Sundance Film Festival and stars A-list talent, being a first-time filmmaker is never easy.
“I was a first time feature filmmaker and I’m a Black woman,” Adamma said in an interview with The Daily Californian. “When we first started shooting, there were a lot of people trying to control what was going on. I really learned to stand my ground, even though I probably had the least amount of experience.”
“Honk for Jesus” plays with perspective often, choosing to switch between public perceptions of its characters through a documentary lens and a private lens of the characters solo. This choice feels marked as Trinitie, the protagonist played by Regina Hall, seems to navigate the differences between her public and private lives as the wife of a megachurch pastor.
“People often take documentary filmmaking as fact, be it from the filmmaker, or the people in front of the camera, the people who are being interviewed, and that’s oftentimes not the case,” Adamma said. “There’s a lot of subjectivity in it, a lot of critical liberties taken, and because the point of the movie is a little ambiguous, I wanted these styles to show that visual ambiguity.”
In terms of producing, much of constructing the film comes down to ensuring the elements work from both holistic and detailed points of view.
“You look for things that will stand out, and you don’t usually get films that mix styles like that,” Adanne added. “We have the faux documentary, the cinematic style and also archival footage. We shot on a total of three cameras to get everything — so it makes it a more arresting film.”
In many senses, the film is hyperlocal, telling a very specific story of specific types of churchgoers and pastors in Atlanta.
“Something that I was told after the premiere, a couple of days ago by a few people, Black people, was that they appreciated that there wasn’t any whitesplaining in the film,” Adamma said. “People of color, we don’t have that privilege, you know — we consume it, we like it, and things we don’t understand, we figure it out or we look it up. But also, I think it would feel false and disingenuous to the community that this was like made for and is about, if we were constantly breaking things down.”
The film doesn’t go to great lengths to explain inherent cultural tidbits — its vernacular, why these characters are so entrenched in church culture or how deeply rooted judgment can be in these tight-knit circles — yet there are moments of the film that are strikingly clear about church culture.
What the Ebo twins excel at in their direction and production is building nuanced relationships through textbook examples of showing, not telling. The duo not only reveals to the audience the ways in which the characters cover for each other, but also exposes the ways they are unable to.
For instance, Adamma noted the importance of the scene where Trinitie and Lee-Curtis Childs, the disgraced pastor played by Sterling K. Brown, rap enthusiastically in their car after a congregation at their church.
“I wanted there to be a moment where you see, at some point, they were a functioning team, and this is like a little snippet of that. They enjoy being around each other and having fun being around each other, and this is something that they’ve done over and over again,” Adamma said. “I wanted to show a part of these characters where they kind of get it right, cause otherwise, I think the stakes are less nuanced.”
“Honk for Jesus” spends much of its time detailing the pitfalls of Trinitie and Lee-Curtis’ relationship. The moment where they perform together in their car is perhaps one of the only moments where they are truly in sync — the pleasure they derive from the song and their harmony together is that of a long-standing relationship, one where familiarity stands out even in everyday moments.
“I also think it’s perfectly representative of this duality that people in our culture, specifically in our Southern Baptist church culture have, is that we are extremely secular, while also being very devout,” Adanne added. “It’s to the point where literally people will go out to the club on Saturday, and hours later, are at church receiving the word. Or you know, a lot of us listen to gangster rap on the way to church, and you turn it off when you get to the church parking lot!”
The director-producer duo spin specificity into a standout narrative in “Honk For Jesus,” choosing to show, not tell, a story bursting with complexity and color.