(The Root) — While there have been major outcries about the abysmal state of television programming recently, Oprah Winfrey's OWN network has been running a series called Super Soul Sunday, which is dedicated to nourishing the "mind, body and spirit" of the viewer in order to "help viewers awaken to their best selves and discover a deeper connection to the world around them." Self-help gurus Deepak Chopra, Tony Robbins and Iyanla Vanzant have appeared on the show.
Sunday's show will feature 2011 The Root 100 honoree DeVon Franklin, described as "Columbia Pictures' 33-year-old wunderkind vice-president of production." Franklin, who is a high-profile producer in the Hollywood film industry, is also a devout Seventh-day Adventist and preacher, who puts his faith first in his life and career. Franklin will not accept a job if he is unable to observe his Sabbath, a stipulation he made and has maintained since his first college internship.
Last year, Franklin published a book called Produced by Faith, a guide to success in life and one's career by embracing your true self — Christian in this case — and using faith to navigate the sometimes treacherous terrain of life, including the workplace.
"I am helping people understand not lessons that I have learned," he told The Root, "but lessons that I am living right now."
The Root had a chance to catch up with the man behind The Karate Kid (2010), Jumping the Broom (2011), Moneyball (2011) and the upcoming remake of the film classic Sparkle (2012) to find out how this opportunity with Winfrey came about, what he hopes to add to the spiritual conversation and how his faith led him to his fiancée, actress Meagan Good.
The Root: How did your relationship with God begin?
DeVon Franklin: From a young age, I can always remember being intimately aware of God and wanting to live a life that would please Him. I would say that my freshman year of college [at the University of Southern California] is when I went through a growth process where I was questioning if I believed what I believed because I believed it, or I believed what I believed because of everything I was taught. I literally pulled up the floorboards on everything that I believed and reclaimed all of it because it was truly what I believed in my heart. It was a difficult and rewarding time, but it gave me ownership over everything that I stand for today.
TR: When did you realize that you could be spiritual and have a career in Hollywood? Was it a conscious decision or an evolution?
DF: In starting in Hollywood, I didn't say, "Here's what I'm going to do," but organically, what I began to understand is that my belief and my faith are so much a part of who I am, and the key to success is embracing it. At an interview for an internship, God impressed upon me to tell the interviewer about my stipulation of Sabbath observance, which means that I don't work Friday night from sundown to Saturday at sundown, which is unusual for people in this business.
That was my one stipulation, so I let her know that if you can accommodate that stipulation, then I can take the job. If you can't, I can't take the job. I was just trying to be true to myself, but what I didn't realize was what I was doing from the beginning was letting people know that my faith was important to me. It wasn't methodical; it was just honest.
TR: How did your Super Soul Sunday appearance with Oprah come about?
DF: The whole Oprah interview came about because I made a mistake. Super Soul Sunday started with a mistake. There was a very powerful agent in the business that called me. For whatever reason, I was caught up in something and because I was caught up I returned her phone call a couple of days later. Bad move. As soon as I called her back, she basically let me know not calling her back sooner was a mistake …
I felt terrible about it and I tried to make amends. I sent a note along with an advance copy of my book, Produced by Faith. Months pass and I get an email from this agent saying that she read my book, thinks it's incredible and thinks Oprah would love it. [She's from] the same agency that represents Oprah. She sends the book to one of the agents on Oprah's team … Almost a year to the day from when I made my mistake, I was sitting in the offices at OWN with Sheri Salata [co-president of OWN] and Oprah Winfrey discussing the book and getting the invitation from Oprah personally to come on and tape an episode of Super Soul Sunday. It is literally faith in action.
TR: What do you add to the conversation about spirituality that Deepak Chopra, Tony Robbins and Iyanla Vanzant have introduced?
DF: What you should be looking for from me on Super Soul Sunday is a pop-culture perspective on faith that is living out in real time. I am young. I'm working in Hollywood, one of the most competitive and high-profile industries in the world, and I'm successful not because of position but because of my faith in pursuing purpose. I'm adding to the conversation. You will get a younger perspective of faith, an understanding where faith fits into this generation and a how-to guide on how to use who you are and unlock the potential of who you are to find success on your job and in your life right now …
I'm in the movie business and our goal is to make movies about fictitious superheroes so that people can have wish fulfillment. I believe that faith is the real superpower. I am adding to the conversation a real-time example for this new, young generation on the values and importance of faith and saying that anything is possible if you embrace who you are.
TR: How did your approach to spirituality help you decide that Meagan Good was the one for you?
DF: She produced and starred in this movie that Ty Hodges directed called Miles From Home (2006) and they did a phenomenal job on the movie, which had a really strong message of faith that really spoke to me. Out of that meeting I set up a general meeting with her to just talk to her about this message and movie. In that first meeting, it became clear to me that she was Christian, which I didn't know, and that she had her heart for God. It was in that first meeting that we had a spiritual connection. Years later when we cast her in Jumping the Broom, I wasn't thinking anything about her other than I'm glad we could get her in the film and she was great in the movie.
It wasn't until the premiere of the film [that] we both had a conversation, and said to each other, "Wait a minute, something is going on here." Everything started with a connection about God. A commitment to being Christian, and that foundation for us has allowed us so much freedom in communication. The world doesn't always know that. People say, "We see her embracing her faith now." No, she has always embraced her faith and I've always known who she was, so I think it's great that now the world can see who she really is. That spiritual foundation has and is and will continue to be the concrete that we're building our marriage on.
TR: Some critics say that it's impossible for someone to be a Christian and to work in Hollywood or be a Christian and a preacher and to be married to someone who has grown up in Hollywood. What do you say to them?
DF: I would say, Have your read the Bible? The story of Shadrach, the story of Joseph and Moses — these were men that God used in strategic places in a "secular" environment … I don't even buy into the argument that you can't be Christian in Hollywood. Hollywood is a man-made industry. God is God. At the end of the day, it's about your intention and who you're serving. If you know that you're serving God and you're committed to His will in your life, then it is about how He is using your industry or your job to help get you closer to your purpose …
I have to follow God and I have to go where he is leading me, and even if you don't get it because you're only watching one scene of my movie, that's OK. Stay tuned and see how He works out the rest of my story.
Super Soul Sunday airs at 11 a.m. EST on OWN.
Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., is editor-at-large for The Root. Follow her on Twitter.
Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., a media scholar, is digital editor in chief at Grady Newsource and a faculty member of the Cox Institute of Journalism, Innovation, Management & Leadership at the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia. She is founder and editor in chief of the award-winning news blog the Burton Wire. Follow her on Twitter here or here.