I got an email in April from a friend about an advanced screening of Jumping the Broom in Washington, D.C. that featured a Q&A session with mega-pastor, and co-producer, T.D. Jakes. I had class and wasn’t able to attend so I took my mother and aunt to see the film over Mother’s Day weekend instead. A few years ago I probably wouldn’t have even paid attention to the film, but writing for this site has made me more conscious of the ways in which African-American relationships are portrayed in the media.
While much of the movie centered on major themes such as class differences, family secrets, and the love lives of the supporting characters, I was more interested in the topics that weren’t major plot lines. This post is not a review of the movie (for the record, I loved it), but rather an opportunity to share a few of my main takeaways from the film that relate to real life relationship issues I believe are critically important, yet rarely discussed.
Be a bodyguard
One of the prevailing themes of the movie was the conflict between the groom’s mother (played by Loretta Devine) and wife-to-be (played by Paula Patton). While Devine’s character might have seemed extreme to some people, her behavior is often displayed by our family and friends in real life through disrespectful comments, a negative attitude towards our relationships, interfering in relationship issues, or even trying to orchestrate a breakup.
Relationships require a certain amount of protection, and while guarding against infidelity seems obvious, sometimes they also need to be shielded from loved ones. As the movie demonstrated, allowing hostility to fester puts a significant strain on a couple. At some point the person whose family or friends are involved in the conflict needs to have the courage to let them know that the relationship, particularly in the case of marriage, is a major priority and that their partner deserves to be respected. I put an extra emphasis on marital relationships because they are the only ones in which both participants take vows to publicly affirm their union. This level of unity will inevitably require each person to play the role of relationship protector and bodyguard at times.
Another subplot in the movie was family finances. Without giving away too much, I’ll just say that money issues were serious enough to push the bride’s parents to the brink of divorce. I think it’s safe to say that most people recognize how damaging poor money management skills can be to a relationship, so I’ll put that issue to the side for now.
A good friend pointed out an even more compelling theme, however, when she gave me her review of the film. She was struck by the total lack of accountability on behalf of the bride’s father with regard to his financial dealings. Of all the attributes I’ve heard people list about their ideal relationship, rarely have I heard accountability and transparency listed among the top 10.
Keeping secrets leads to deception and dishonesty, whether the issue is a bad investment or the secret “work spouse” who seems to know you more intimately than your actual spouse. The reason we are not more transparent is because we fear accountability. Exposing our character failings and major mistakes generally evokes feelings of embarrassment and shame. Therefore, we often fool ourselves into thinking we can handle these situations on our own, even as they spiral out of control. Unfortunately, this type of attitude keeps us from getting to the root of a problem and starting on a path to resolution.
Don’t major on minors
The overall lavishness of the wedding itself, especially when juxtaposed with the chaotic state of the relationships within and between each family, was also striking. Most estimates put the average cost of an American wedding between $25K-30K, up almost 50% in the last 20 years, yet the average first marriage has a 40%-60% chance of ending in divorce, two and a half times more often than 20 yeas ago.
Put simply, it’s foolish to splurge on a million dollar wedding if you’re only going to have a five-cent marriage. Unfortunately, this is all too common in real life as well. Our culture has become entranced by the phenomenon of big-ticket weddings, with all of their pomp and circumstance, but has comparatively little appetite for the work that is required to build solid relationship foundations. Thankfully there are a number of resources available (e.g., premarital education) for couples who want to strengthen their bonds, but they are only effective if people actually apply what they’ve learned.
Unsurprisingly, Jumping the Broom has had both its fair share of critics and supporters. Some believed that African-American love stories should be told outside of a traditional Christian narrative. Others appreciated the film’s role in debunkingmyths related to marriage in the African-American community. While these, and others, are all useful perspectives, I hope we all take the opportunity to see how the characters on the big screen reflect some of the same issues we face in our own relationships.
BMWK, what’s the most important relationship lesson you learned from watching Jumping the Broom or some other relationship movie?