Still from the film War Room, starring Priscilla Shirer
YouTube screenshot

Prayer is a strategy.

That is the message of a new faith-based movie from the Kendrick Brothers, who are two of Hollywood’s most successful directors and producers in the religion-faith genre. Their past movies include Fireproof, Facing the Giants and Courageous.

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The Root was on-site for the red-carpet premiere of their latest film, War Room, in Dallas Aug. 10. This new film focuses on an upper-middle-class black family in the South, including a husband, his wife and their 10-year-old daughter. The story unfolds around some typical, modern themes: The couple’s marriage is in trouble. They have slowly grown apart. They are working too much, and their young child feels neglected by her busy and distant parents. Beautiful home. Nice cars. Life looks good from the outside, but it is badly broken on the inside.

The biggest standout of this movie is the lead character, Elizabeth Jordan, played by Priscilla Shirer, a world-renowned New York Times best-selling Christian author and motivational speaker. Shirer is the daughter of Dallas mega-church pastor Tony Evans and his wife, Lois.

What makes Shirer’s performance so impactful is that she is authentically a Christian woman and not just an actress playing the part. Shirer was raised in the church, and she is passionate about her faith in a way that touches anyone who meets her. Although the Kendrick Brothers were offered top, black female acting talent by Sony for the lead role, they knew that they wanted Shirer.

The all-Christian cast includes a new face in the character of Ms. Clara, played powerfully by North Carolina native Karen Abercrombie. Her role is one that will be familiar to African-American audiences, particularly African-American Christians. Ms. Clara is that lady we all know and love in the church and in our community. She is a prayer warrior who is on fire for God, and she is a walking dictionary of wisdom and strength.

What I loved about this movie, however, is the interplay between Ms. Clara and Elizabeth. It is the Titus 2 (Paul’s letter to Titus in the Bible) model of the older, wiser women teaching the young women how to live, dress, be and submit to their husbands. This model is sorely lacking in our modern churches that have far too often gotten caught up in the showmanship of worship, celebrity and reality-TV shows. And in mega-churches (like the kind Shirer grew up in), it can be difficult for the “first lady” or the “church mothers” to have one-on-one time with the younger women who aspire to be godly wives and mothers.

“I loved playing the part of Ms. Clara,” said Abercrombie. “I have done lots of theater and some television work, but this lead role was an amazing opportunity. A once-in-a-lifetime role of a woman calling the world and families back to their knees. How awesome is that?”

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I asked Abercrombie and T.C. Stallings, who played Shirer’s husband, Tony Jordan, in the movie, about why this movie is important for black families to see. Stallings said, “How often do you see a black man portrayed in a role like this where he gets redemption? Where he is the hero? He falls prey to his human emotions, but he finds his way back to his wife and family. And becomes a better man in the process.”

One of the best exchanges in the movie comes between Stallings and actor Michael Junior, who plays his best friend. The two men are in the gym, and Stallings’ character is lamenting about his wife and marriage and about how tired he is of her. Junior’s character does something rare: He checks his friend’s ego and attitude and says to him frankly, “There better not be someone else.”

Abercrombie took it a step further when I asked her about the dynamics of race in the movie.

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“The black family is under assault in America,” she said. “And much of it has to do with what we are no longer doing in our churches. The black church has become ‘sleepy.’ We have fallen asleep. We have to begin to once again teach respect, honoring of God and our families. I grew up with this. This new generation needs to see this modeled. The War Room movie offers a template for how we can reconnect with God through prayer as a strategy for winning at living.”

Eleven-year-old actress Alena Pitts, who plays the daughter of Tony and Elizabeth Jordan, is fantastic. She is also the niece of Priscilla Shirer. A star is born in the young Pitts, whom we can expect to watch grow up on film in more roles and blossom into an amazing young woman. She was brave. Authentic. Funny. And believable as a young daughter caught in the middle between two warring parents.

As for Shirer, she was truly outstanding in her debut role as Elizabeth. Her performance is worthy of recognition during award season next year. I had a chance not only to interview her but also to spend time fellowshipping with her (and much of the cast and director) over a late-night meal after the premiere. She summed up the power, importance and impact of this movie for married couples and her role like this:

Married couples should see this movie for several reasons. One, it very clearly shows how the enemy you think you have is probably not the enemy. And the problem you think you see is probably not the problem. The problem is that we have left the gate open so that the enemy can run roughshod over our peace, our households and with our loved ones. Secondly, this movie is not just entertainment; it is teaching you how to push back from the challenges of life, of love, of relationship. It teaches you how to go to war in prayer. And third, for those who are not Christian or who do not know how to pray, it allows them to see that there may be another layer they are not aware of, and how they can fight beyond what they can see. Prayer is that layer. Prayer is that weapon. 

Sophia A. Nelson is an award-winning journalist and author of the best-selling book The Woman Code: 20 Powerful Keys to Unlock Your Life. Follow her on Twitter.

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