“If Jesus was alive today he would probably make movies,” says Bishop T.D. Jakes. So you could say that Jakes and producer DeVon Franklin are taking a divine cue in bringing the memoir, Miracles From Heaven, to the big screen with big name actors attached.
The team is hoping to strike gold again, after the success that their last joint producing venture, Heaven Is For Real grossed $101 million worldwide in box office sales.
Miracles isn’t a direct sequel, but continues a theme seated firmly in the faith-based genre that has definitely found its place in Hollywood, clearly demonstrated after the tiny-budgeted ($2 million) faith-based picture, War Room, shook the film world up raking in an astonishing $67 million.
It’s a testament to great filmmaking, according to Franklin, and Miracles has all the ingredients to follow in its footsteps. Starring Jennifer Garner and Queen Latifah, the film is based on the incredible true story of the Beam family. When Christy (Garner) discovers her 10-year-old daughter Anna (Kylie Rogers) has a rare, incurable disease, she becomes a ferocious advocate for her daughter’s healing as she searches for a solution. After Anna has a freak accident, an extraordinary miracle unfolds in the wake of her dramatic rescue that leaves medical specialists mystified, her family restored and their community inspired.
EBONY.com spoke with Bishop T.D. Jakes and DeVon Franklin about why they were drawn to this project, about the juggernaut that the faith-based film industry has become, why Christians and non-Christians alike will want to see this movie and more.
EBONY: Why this project?
T.D. Jakes: We started out with Heaven is For Real and it was very, very successful so we decided to do a sequel to it. We were looking for the right story to do and my literary agent had the book. Then Devon found out how to buy the rights to the book – we got involved in it and did this movie because, while it is not a straight sequel to Heaven is For Real, it is synergistic nonetheless, it’s a great story about real people who went through an extraordinary situation.
EBONY: Is there something personal that stands out to you about it? And is that important for any projects that you work on, that they have a personal meaning to both of you or either of you?
Jakes: This particular case for me it is [personal]. It’s not always a criteria through which I get involved. The criteria for me is that the film ultimately is uplifting. But for me personally, I grew up in hospitals. My father was sick. So I grew up in hospitals from the age of 10. Got to see a lot of suffering. Got to see that while everybody was having life outside people in hospitals were having a terrible time. And so for me it was kind of like déjà vu to watch the family. I know the smells, the feel – it all took me back to a very painful time in my own life and my own family and because I grew up with a family in dourest I relate to the Beam family in a very personal way.
DeVon Franklin: My father passed away when I was nine years old, 36. He was an alcoholic. So at the time that thing that really helped me was watching film. It gave me hope, and going to church. And so being able to now make films that can touch people when they’re going through trials is really part of one of my personal connections to it because film helped me. A story like this I think will be very healing for other people.
EBONY: What was a particular message or something you want viewers to take away from this project?
Jakes: I live in the world of miracles. The big biblical proportion miracles and this story has a biblical proportion miracle in it. But the thing that’s absolutely amazing to me were the little miracles that the film points out, the little things that happen along the way that we often overlook. And in my own life it reminded me to take the time to recognize that the choices that we make, whether we’re a hat check girl at a restaurant, or whether we’re a bellhop at the airport, or a hotel, the choices that we make to help people that we don’t have to can have miraculous impacts on the outcomes of their lives. And I think if we can dignify people who are used to being overlooked, that would be a wonderful outcome to come from this movie.
Franklin: I think that when you look at entertainment it’s like everything right now is so one-note, in one thing, and I think audiences are tired of the same thing over and over and over again so when you have a movie that is entertaining and a great story and it will make you laugh and it will make you cry and you walk out of the theater feeling better about life, hugging your family, feeling optimistic – that is the feeling I think we really want.
How do you challenge and or speak to the viewership that doesn’t believe in Godly miracles or share your same set of beliefs?
Jakes: While faith is an element of the film, I think that this film is also about strong relentless women, a fighting warring mother, the trauma that goes on behind closed doors in everybody’s family. And I don’t see how you can live in this world and not relate to this film, because to categorize it purely on the element of faith I think is an injustice to the integrity of the film. Because I think that it is much more than faith. It’s about faith. It’s about fear. It’s about doubt. It’s about worry. It’s about pain. It’s about resilience. It’s about motherhood. It’s about marriage. And when you take all those strands and weave them together you have Miracles from Heaven. The God component really crowns the human narrative in such a spectacular way.
Franklin: And alongside that – it’s all medically documented. So someone can come along and be as skeptical as they want to be but talk to the real Dr. Nurko. Ask the families that were with the Beams while they were suffering what life was like then and what life is like now. Ask the specialists that were treating her along the way when they see her then and when they see her now. And I can guarantee that the testimonies from those people will reduce the skepticism because you can’t argue with that. And that’s what’s so great about the movie, the movie doesn’t preach to you. You walk out the movie making up your own mind. Was that a miracle, was it not? Whether you call it a spiritual miracle or you call it a medical miracle, we still think it’s a miracle.
Faith based films like War Room and Heaven is For Real seem to strike a chord with viewing audiences. Is this a moment for you all to say, “well welcome to the party!”
Jakes: We’re all learning. Hollywood is learning that there is a market for this film. This film supersedes the traditional cookie-cutter way of which they’ve done films historically. But I also think the faith-based community is learning too because some of the earlier attempts at faith-based films weren’t really that good and we’re learning as we go of how to do a better job of telling our stories, but we are determined to tell our own stories rather than to have stories told about us. And the interesting and ironic thing about these types of films is that when they come from authentic faith places, they actually do better at the box office than when Hollywood tries to simulate something that is insulting to people of faith.
Franklin: It’s true and we’re trying to, whether you call it break the genre or transcend the genre, just with good stories. Sometimes that faith-based label comes with so much baggage of lower quality, and wear your heart on your sleeve, and it’s going to preach to you – and we both love entertainment and love good stories and good movies and so we want to make that. And we’re hoping that just through telling good stories, with good production value and amazing cast, integrity in the story-telling that that can stand alone and be successful like a Heaven Is For Real was at the box office in the general market, as well as to a faith audience. Our hope is to transcend a genre and perform like a regular film that touches everybody.
EBONY: Being men of God and looked at as leaders – is it a fine line to walk in, working in entertainment?
Jakes: It’s funny that you should say that because I personally believe that if Jesus was alive today he would probably make movies.
Franklin: Yes! He spoke in parables! He told stories! That’s right!
Jakes: Jesus taught truth through telling stories. The Prodigal Son was a story Jesus told. Over and over we see Jesus telling stories to teach truth. And he was a teacher and he used stories to do it and I don’t see that any different from what we’re doing today in a contemporary society [and that’s] using stories to tell truths that people would not receive in the synagogue. Jesus’ ministry was not in the synagogue it was out there in the street with ordinary people. Over and over Jesus told stories to teach truth and if you were to do that in a contemporary society perhaps it would be film.
EBONY: DeVon, do you feel like there’s a project that you can work on similar to this or in the future do you have something in the pipeline with your wife Meagan Good?
Franklin: No (laughs). People keep asking us to make The Wait a movie. Years ago Bishop really helped plant the seed of the idea to do the book. When we talked about it he said, “You should do a book titled They That Wait.” And that sparked the idea to call it The Wait and when we were talking about it he was like, “Oh man you’d have a hot movie!” He was pitching us the movie! And so now that the book is out there and it’s doing well we keep getting the inquiry but I don’t know. I want to produce stuff that she’s in, no question. That would be amazing, and so yes, there’s things that we’ve talked about that would be great. But we don’t have any specific plans. Right now the thing is keep working on the book and keep that message out there.
Miracles From Heaven premieres in theaters March 16.