Diary of a Mad Black Preacher

T.D. Jakes' new film seeks a convergence of box-office success and divine revelation.

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eversleynoteasilybroken

America is gearing up to welcome a new president whose theme is hope, and many Americans are trying to muster up all the faith they can to get through these tough economic times. And in keeping with the mood, a new message movie opens today that encourages us to seek strength from a higher power.

Not Easily Broken is based on the novel by Bishop T.D. Jakes, the mega-church pastor of the Potter's House in Dallas. The movie stars Taraji P. Henson and Morris Chestnut as Clarice and Dave Johnson, an outwardly successful young couple struggling with major bumps in their marriage. The film features an all-star cast, with supporting roles by Jenifer Lewis as Clarice's convincingly unlikable and troubled mother, Niecy Nash of television's Clean House as Clarice's friend, and appearances by Jakes and his wife, Serita Jakes.

"'Not Easily Broken' is written as a love story from a man's perspective," explained Jakes, who responded to questions by e-mail. "So many movies and novels show love from a woman's mind. I wanted to flip the script and show where it portrayed a man's thoughts, his emotions, his feelings; how he deals with pain, disappointment, temptation."

The story opens with Clarice suffering major injuries in a car accident. She recuperates with the help of a physical therapist, but we learn of Dave's unfulfilled yearning for a child, his dashed dreams of athletic stardom, Clarice's commitment to her real estate career and Dave's romantic temptation by the physical therapist. And it's Clarice's meddling mom who amplifies all this. The story comes to a head with a tragedy and its aftermath, to tie all the loose ends together.

Woven throughout are proddings from Clarice's and Dave's pastor, who counsels them and suggests they look to the basics for answers. "That three-stranded cord I wrapped around your shoulders will always be there, unless you've chosen to remove it," the pastor tells the troubled couple one day in his office. It is a reference to Ecclesiastes 4:12, which declares that, "A cord of three strands is not easily broken," meaning good marriages include husband, wife and God.

Like other movies of this genre—including Woman Thou Art Loosed, the 2004 film based on Jakes' book about a woman inmate fighting personal demons and movies written by Tyler Perry, the creator of comedic matriarch "Madea,"—the characters reflect the range and diversity of the African-American community or any community for that matter. The plot is clean and careful, making sure that audiences understand the message. While this slow surety can occasionally render the plot a little simplistic, the depth and believability of the acting performances more than makes up for that drawback.

Jakes says he believes African-American moviegoers are open to messages underscored by spirituality, as well as seeing themselves in believable Hollywood roles. "I believe people are hungry not only for messages of faith, hope, redemption—a rebirth of their souls, if you will—but by and large, we are also hungry for stories that are told by us, about us and portray us as professional, multi-faceted, responsible people with feelings, hopes and dreams," he explained.

Despite the heavy religious backdrop, Not Easily Broken is being pitched as a secular movie.

Says Jakes, "Even though this story is borne from a person of faith, I feel that mainstream people will feel welcome and inspired rather than preached at by the movie's ability to entertain and inspire those who may not share my faith or views."

That crossover into the mainstream seems evident in theatergoers' behavior. Tyler Perry's movies, which include his 2005 film, Diary of a Mad Black Woman, in which actress Kimberly Elise portrays an abused wife who eventually finds herself, and the 2006 film, Madea's Family Reunion, took in $21.9 million and $30 million, respectively, according to published reports.

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