Bishop T.D. Jakes is a master marketer. It’s the reason why Hollywood – very smartly – came knocking at his door and he (through his company TDJ Enterprises) inked a multi-year production and distribution deal for theatrical releases and DVD exclusives with Sony back in 2006.
And the bestselling author and influential clergyman doesn’t just put his name (ahem, and brand) on and behind just any old project.
Last year, Jumping the Broom - the film he executive produced along with successful producer Tracey Edmonds—shocked much of Hollywood when they opened at a healthy $15.2 million opening weekend, trumping—insert dramatic gasp here—a Kate Hudson film.
It wasn’t a shock to Jakes. He employed what he already knows works: take it to the church. He helped to create a film that families can go see, a film that portrays Black folks in varying degrees of light and a film that has a strong message.
He’s about to do it again.
Up next for the Dallas-based Bishop is the highly-anticipated Sparkle; he also is executive producing the forthcoming Winnie Mandela biopic.
EBONY.com chats with Bishop Jakes about Hollywood, the 2012 presidential election and why the Black church is still relevant.
EBONY: This renewed version of Sparkle is a message movie. Can you talk a little bit about the message of this movie and why that was a message that you wanted to get behind?
Bishop T.D Jakes: I think it’s a very inspiring message, first of all, encouraging people to believe in their dreams and to fight for those dreams against all adversity. I love the inspiration in it. The other message in it, I think it shows the resilience of family, the diversity that exists within families, the resilience of our families and what it really takes to hold a family together through the vicissitudes of life.
EBONY: You really have the ear of Hollywood in a way that people who have been working in film for a long time don’t have that ear. What do you bring to the table that makes executives at powerhouses like Sony stop, look at listen?
TDJ: First of all, I was blessed with the fact that the current president of Sony Pictures, Michael Lynton comes from the publishing world and had a point of reference based on my vast array of literary works and influence. I think that helped to demystify my presence in Hollywood. Secondly, I think that movies that preceded me helped to inform Hollywood, dating all the way back to The Passion of the Christ to the Tyler Perry films and others and there is another audience of people that will support positive messages if they are projected correctly. And it is an audience to which Hollywood does not have a lot of experience with amassing and marketing to that audience. And so I think I bring that constituency. But I think that the largest thing is that having done pastoral counseling for over 30 years, I have a wide array of stories that are inspired from the lives of people I touched and a good understanding of my audience, of my core base and a good teacher of areas of interest to that particular audience.
EBONY: And the thing that is interesting about you, Bishop Jakes, is that you really don’t stay in your lane. You touch projects that we wouldn’t necessarily think a Bishop would touch, like the Winnie Mandela biopic …
TDJ: Well, you know, the thing about the Winnie movie is it’s a love story painted on the canvass of national chaos and I think that it was inspirational. I have, for a long time, wanted for Americans, and African Americans in particular, to be more astute of understanding the plight that goes on in South Africa. Though it is not a faith film, it certainly is an opportunity to close the divide in the African Diaspora, and to add further information to the arsenal that Americans have as it relates to a deeper and richer understanding of the similarities between the conditions that existed during apartheid and the Civil Rights Movement and some of the consequences of that. Even though it wasn’t a faith film, I thought it was a film well worth doing. The story of Winnie Mandela brings to the screen the story of a strong woman who stood in her own right and fought for what she believed in, in a way that I think is a good picture of what African American women often have had to do—though not in apartheid—in their own lives and in the cultural conundrums that we’ve lived in they’ve had to be very tough and resilient. I think that people will be inspired by it, even as Dr. King was inspired by the fight that went on during the apartheid, and there was such a relationships that existed