Adamma & Adanne

Nigeria US: Ebo’s ‘Honk for Jesus. Save your Soul’ is just the start of this dynamic duo

By Wilfred Okiche

Posted on January 6, 2023 09:05

 © Photo from film ‘Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul’ (photo: @honkforjesus)
Photo from film ‘Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul’ (photo: @honkforjesus)

The Hollywood awards season is currently up and running, and this year African cinema is making its mark, particularly with the debut film by Nigerian American filmmaker Adamma Ebo.

The frontrunners are being coronated, but don’t forget Honk For Jesus. Save Your Soul, the debut film written and directed by Nigerian American filmmaker Adamma Ebo.

The riotous comedy premiered at the Sundance film festival and is now streaming on Peacock stars Regina Hall and Sterling K. Brown, both doing the most assured work of their careers.

Brand of evangelism

The beloved thespians play Trinitie and Lee-Curtis Childs, an Atlanta-based Southern Baptist megachurch pastoring couple attempting to mount a comeback after an ugly scandal had shuttered their once prosperous ministry.

Upon release, the film struck a nerve for its explicit indictment of the particular brand of evangelism- think plenty of showmanship, flashy wardrobes and outsize influence- that America has successfully exported to other parts of the world.

In the week leading up to their big reopening, the Childs hire a film crew to document their big comeback. So much of the film’s humour is derived from this situation as the Childs engage with and perform for the cameras.

Underneath their extravagant, carefully coiffed packaging lies a storm of corruption and deception. The onus is then on the mostly unseen film crew to filter out more genuine or unguarded moments beyond the controlled narrative.

It is performed on several levels, especially for the actors. Ebo talks through navigating these complexities with The Africa Report: “Sometimes what you portray outwards is different from what you are feeling emotionally. We would break down where the characters are at any given moment in time – at the point the cameras are on, when they are getting a little tired of the cameras, when they are absolutely broken, then to the point when they are so out of themselves that they don’t even remember that the cameras are there. I think the actors found a perfect way to thread those nuances. It felt very real.”

Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul adopts the mockumentary format, bringing the audience in on the joke at the expense of its protagonists.

But the director stresses that there is a more complex reading of the film to be found. Ebo talks a bit more about her process: “I was super interested in the idea of what is real and what isn’t. We were insistent on drawing this line between mockumentary and what we are calling faux documentary. In mockumentary format, the camera tends to be in on the joke. We wanted this to also feel like a real documentary and for the camera to be purely observational. So, if something funny is happening it is because the situation is funny not because the camera is joking.”

‘Unnatural to not work together’

The odds of landing a first feature at Sundance are very slim but thanks to the support of Ebo’s identical twin sister and producing partner, Adanne, it has been feasible- and less lonely.