A powerful adaptation of the book by noted Dallas' Potter's House preacher T.D. Jakes, "Woman Thou Art Loosed" was an unexpected and critically acclaimed independent film from 2004 that illustrates beautifully Jakes' message of restoration to broken women by presenting an insightful, thought-provoking script brought to life by a tremendous cast that takes a VERY Christian message and puts it in layman's terms for a wider audience.
A few years ago, Jakes began to feel called to reach out to women who had experienced abuse and began speaking out, lecturing and conducting workshops on the church and sexual abuse, along with many other childhood and developmental issues. To see Jakes, one wouldn't really expect it. Here's a large, African-American male with a booming voice and a strong presence...yet, his message is not one of strength and power but of compassion and tenderness. "Woman Thou Art Loosed" is the perfect vehicle for Jakes...who not only produced the film, but is featured (as himself) throughout it.
The story evolves around Michelle, a young woman whose rough start spirals downward even when she does everything in her power to turn her life around. The film takes place mostly in flashbacks as Michelle, now on death row after shooting a man during a Jakes revival, recounts her life, her choices, her tragedies and her dreams.
Kimberly Elise gives a mind-boggling performance as Michelle, in a performance that bounces between hope and rage and despair and surrender. Yet, she also provides that incredibly vital balance here. At no point did I excuse Michelle's behavior because of her tragic past...I felt her pain, I understood her behavior more fully but Elise's performance is so balanced that this understanding never created a pollyanna view of Michelle. It's an outstanding performance with a tremendously challenging character. Elise received an Independent Spirit Award nomination for her performance in this role, and it's impossible to conceive that there was a nominee more worthy of winning the award.
As her mother, Loretta Devine also creates a tremendously balanced portrayal of a woman who failed her daughter at a crucial time...and yet, she is not a monster. She is simply a mother, like many mothers, who is incapable of giving what she never received. She clearly, very clearly loved her daughter but simply didn't know how to express it. Devine's performance was also recognized with an Independent Spirit Award nomination as Best Supporting Actress.
Even more remarkable considering the low budget and independent nature of this film is the overwhelming consistency of the supporting cast, which includes the likes of Clifton Powell, Debbi Morgan and Michael Boatman. Jakes himself gives a remarkable performance as a preacher, though it should be noted that many of his scenes take place either in the pulpit (where Jakes truly is a natural, called preacher) or in the jail cell. As a minister myself, I felt so comfortable with Jakes' performance in a role that balanced calling with compassion, accountability with unconditional love.
As a man who has spent his life trying to end family violence in all its forms ranging from child abuse to sexual violence to domestic abuse, I found myself grateful for Jakes' willingness to produce this film and for his strong advocacy on behalf of women. In a world where too many men consider child abuse "discipline" and a spouse as "property," it is so overwhelmingly wonderful to find someone willing to shout from the mountaintops that women and children MUST be treated with love, respect, compassion, gentleness and honor.
To say that this film moved me would be an understatement. From a purely technical standpoint, is it perfect? No. It's not. The lighting is, at times, uneven and I found myself noticing at times its "low budget" look. Yet, "Woman Thou Art Loosed" is a remarkable example of the power of a low-budget film to inspire, entertain and educate. This film does all three things.
The script for "Woman Thou Art Loosed" is graphic in its portrayal of Michelle's life journey through family violence, sexual abuse (vividly portrayed), drug abuse and bad choices upon bad choices. Survivors of abuse and or other traumatic life experiences should take note that this film WILL most likely evoke flashbacks and memories. It VERY much did so with me and I am LONG into my healing process.
To Jakes' credit, this film also does not sugar coat the church and its frequent failure to address abuse and protect women and children. Several scenes throughout the film feature bits and pieces showing parishioners responding with anything but acceptance and God's love. It's an honest, real statement from Jakes that the church as an institution continues to fail women and children and families.
I admittedly find myself curious how non-Christians would respond to this film. While I find it to be a tremendously non-traditional Christian film...it is, nonetheless, a VERY Christian film with regular preaching throughout the film and repeated references to God, Jesus and salvation. Yet, I find myself believing more strongly in the script and performances contained within "Woman Thou Art Loosed" than concerned about the strong religious tone of the film.
Christians should consider this film a must-see film without a doubt. First, it proves that "Christian" films not made by Mel Gibson can be vital statements within the world of cinema. Secondly, it is a film that challenges, inspires, educates and motivates those who consider themselves Christians to spend more time building bridges and less time in judgment and condemnation.
However, I believe "Woman Thou Art Loosed" can be a valuable filmgoing experience for all filmgoers who are able to look within the soul of a film and see T.D. Jakes' vision of a world where there is always hope, women/children are not abused, sexual violence does not exist and where everyone is "loosed" of the chains of violence, hatred and despair. "Woman Thou Art Loosed" is our reminder that we have the power to choose differently...for ourselves, for our communities and in our hopes to create a better world.