Sweeping Expectations in 'Jumping the Broom'

Laz Alonso and Paula Patton in Jumping the Broom.

Jumping the Broom is like a 21st century rendition of The Inkwell, only someone gets married.

Jumping the Broom

Director: Salim Akil
Cast: Paula Patton, Angela Bassett, Laz Alonso, Loretta Devine
Distributor: Sony
Release date: 2011-08-09

I’m often taken aback about the usual stories of black women: why black women can’t find (and keep) a man, why black women are angry and bitter, why black women can’t breathe on their own…apparently women of color are just a monolith of black problems and despair with hips. In other words: when in doubt, talk about black women. It worked for Steve Harvey. And Tyler Perry.

As I watched Jumping the Broom, the latest film endeavor by Bishop T.D. Jakes, my expectations were low. I expected to see a similar “woe the black woman” narrative. Jakes, a popular minister and founder of the megachurch The Potters House in Dallas, Texas, is known for his sermons and books about healing the human spirit, faith, and resilience. Many of those renditions of “the word” are directed towards (black) women – Woman Thou Art Loosed, The Lady, Her Lover, and Her Lord, and Loose that Man and Let Him Go are only a sample of the titles Jakes released over the past 20 years. Two of his works adapted into movies, Woman Thou Art Loosed and Not Easily Broken. Jumping the Broom is his third film.

I was ready to voice my concerns throughout the movie like it was revival Sunday. Instead, I screamed and I hollered. Not because I was taken over by the spirit or outraged by the film’s representations of black women. Oh, no. I’m a heathen. Jakes recruited some of the best eye candy on the planet for his leading roles – Laz Alonso, Pooch Hall, Gary Dourdan, and Romeo Miller, rapper Master P’s now grown son who I swore if I kept looking at him I’d go to jail for harassing a minor. And, amazingly, comedian Mike Epps’ delivers a refreshingly subtle yet memorable performance.

Focused on the whirlwind romance, engagement, and wedding of Jason Taylor (Laz Alonso) and Sabrina Watson (Paula Patton), Jumping the Broom takes on a series challenges and beliefs that are linchpins of the African American community: family, marriage, gender roles, and, wait for it, identity politics for black women. Unfortunately, Jakes’ maintained close proximity to popular (mis)conceptions: Loretta Devine plays Mrs. Taylor, Jason’s overprotective and seemingly bitter mother, Angela Bassett plays Mrs. Watson, Sabrina’s overly controlling and angry mother.

Mrs. Watson’s anger is heightened upon the arrival of her sister Geneva, played by actress Valarie Pettiford. Bassett’s character is further miffed at the interaction between Geneva and Sabrina, the cause of the tension revealed later in the film. The only female characters that display any kind of balance are Geneva and Shonda (played by Tasha Smith), Mrs. Taylor’s best friend, who is kept hilariously aloof by the pursuits of the (much) younger Sebastian (played by Romeo Miller).

The story rolls along quickly, building on the understanding that the Watsons and Taylors have never met each other nor has the bride met the groom’s family. Mrs. Taylor heavily objects to the union, lamenting over how Sabrina introduces herself and communicates with her– “a text message?! She sends me a text message?!” This scene struck a chord and I found myself talking to the movie. As a southern African American woman, I couldn’t get with that. Sabrina never met Jason’s family before the wedding? I flashed back to my own "courting" days, remembering being interrogated whenever I announced I was seeing someone new:

“When he coming over?”

“When you going over there?”

And, the clincher: “Who his people?”

The plot develops too quickly and falls into procession with such run-of-the-mill movie plots: families don’t like each other, gossipy friends judge their friend’s significant other while battling their own romantic demons, somebody drops an explosive family secret in front of everyone (which is never their business to discuss), the couple splits, someone prays, miraculous reconciliation, and scene. While I appreciate Jakes’ nuanced approach to faith and religion, scenes where prayer and God are introduced to the plot are forced and awkward, stifling the powerful sentiment lying behind its purpose. The film’s conclusion was slightly disappointing and would’ve been much more believable if the complexities of the situation were allowed to breathe and play out.

I was also intrigued by Jumping the Broom’s attempts to create African diasporic connections. The Watson family speaks French and references “the island”, which could possibly be Haiti, but is never identified. This dynamic helps the film complicate popular notions of blackness – it's not a monolith nor is it strictly American. Issues of class, however, cannot be ignored here. The use of the French language also provides a buffer between the Taylors, a working class family, and the Watson’s upper-class affiliation.

For the most part, Jakes’ efforts to talk about marriage, black folks, and the black family were more balanced than the efforts of other similarly themed releases. Jumping the Broom is like a 21st century rendition of The Inkwell, only someone gets married. I appreciate Jakes’ attempt to speak to the complexities of the black experience, although at times he fell short of his goals. And, unlike a certain other producer, Jakes appears an astounding two times in the film. Amazing.

Jumping the Broom’s special features were limited yet covered the basic extras: a standard behind the scenes commentary about the development of the movie and the cast’s selection, the option for the viewer to hear commentary from director Salim Akil and stars Paula Patton and Laz Alonso during the movie, and a discussion of the significance of the broom in both the movie and the African American community. I tried playing the movie with the commentary; it was distracting and similar to overhearing a conversation happening with people watching the movie around me.

Most intriguing about the Jumping the Broom extras, however, was the discussion of the actual jumping of the broom. In mockumentary fashion, the cast members and writers solemnly discuss jumping the broom as an important act of resistance in slave culture while soft music played in the background. It reminded me of a segment of Eyes on the Prize. Of course, the solemnity is brief and thrown out when cast members talk about their personal experiences (or lack thereof) with jumping the broom. Many of the stars and crew (including Jakes himself) admit to never seeing it occur in a wedding. Paula Patton sheepishly admits to never hearing of the tradition before reading the script. While the accuracy of this tradition’s context in the African American community is contested by historians, the broom in this movie signifies the re-union of black folks from various backgrounds in celebration of fellowship and black love.

Accessible and "full of heart", as the saying goes, Jumping the Broom is, all and all, a savory and enjoyable film.


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