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October 2004
Woman Thou Art Loosed: An Interview with Bishop T.D. Jakes

Woman Thou Art Loosed: An Interview with Bishop T.D. Jakes

By Tonisha Johnson

In the film, you stated that this was a real life story. What made you turn this into a book?

Actually, in Woman thou Art Loosed Michelle is a composite character of all the women that I have counseled throughout the 28 years that I have been in pastoral counseling. And I turned it into a book because I think that somewhere in her story there's a little to take for everybody. I turned it into a book because most of the women who talked to me don't have the platform to have their story told. I brought Michelle to screen to dedicate to the lives of all those women who have endeared hardship. Some of them are in prison right now because they took the law into their own hands. They shot to death somebody that they couldn't get away from.

It happens all the time. A vast majority of women are incarcerated because the law wouldn't hear it, the police couldn't stop it and she ends up shooting him. And because we've done so much work in the penal institutions, working with inmates, women and men, I know that there are many many stories in that prison that are Michelle. And I wrote because nobody will ever interview them. Nobody will ever do a film on them. Maybe when they see this, they will get some vindication.

You're breaking ground here, as one of the first major gospel genres. How do you think the community will respond to this?

I don't know. But I can tell you what; so far but I am pretty amazed. We were just discussing right before this interview that it must be that God is somewhere behind this blowing on it because it has caught a fire. People are writing about it everywhere and doing interviews like crazy. Churches are buying out theatres. I'm really blown away. We will know in the end on the terms of how much the tickets and the attending and all of that. It has created a barrage of articles and conversations about sexual abuse, about parenting, about theatre; that I'm already excited. It's been well received. We have had little criticism overall across cultures. And it's not just been the Black community the White community has embraced it. The Christian community has embraced it. By enlarge the naysayer are few and far between. And there are great films that have had more criticism then this has. I'm deeply honored and excited.

It is always unfortunate to have to deal with the aspects in which your film touches. What can you offer as a healing process?

They can log on to our website, www.wtalthemovie.com and anybody that's a victim of sexual abuse and there they will find a list of institutions and services that will help them work through the emotional process. We need to educate our pastors, our leaders, our teachers in public school systems and physicians that if a child comes to you and alleges abuse then it must be reported. It's not optional. There are no pastoral member privileges. No attorney client privileges in sexual abuse. It must be reported. We need to do more to teach parents to look for tell tale signs. To suspect everybody and trust no one. Children are often molested by their own brothers, by their fathers, by their stepfathers, by their stepmothers, and by their mothers. When it comes to sexual abuse; looking for silence, depression, why the child doesn't want to go to aunties house. Mommy take me with you, I don't want to go. So, little warning signs like that; why don't you want to go? What's going on? Take them out of the situation. Sit down and have talks with them. Investigate; investigate. Everybody in this case, is guilty until proven innocent.

Why don't African Americans want to talk about sexual abuse?

Well we were raised culturally to believe that what goes on in this house stays in this house. But there are some things can't stay in this house. We have had to deal with secrets all of our lives. Whether the master was coming over to the slave cabin at night or whatever it is. We've had to deal with secrets. That Black people are secret keepers. We keep secrets like nobody else in the world. But this is a secret that we can't afford to keep. Because it stinks in our house. Because the smoke as filled our nostrils and we've got to break the silence and talk about it. We feel like if we tell, we betray the family and we betray the community. Telling doesn't mean that you can't love the man or love the person, or love your uncle, love your daddy or whatever. Love them enough to get them some help. Don't love them enough to get some help.

Based on the film and other pressing issues involving young black children, what state would you describe the black family and the path that their headed?

As it relates to the Black family; I think you kind of have to at the Black family in context of its historicity. In reality we were from various tribes, placed on boats and brought over to this country. Compressed together, labeled as one people though we weren't just one color, we were actually many people. In the process of slavery, we were denied family and family concept. And I think that in some ways it's important to put that in context from where the Black family is today. You won't understand today if you don't know the historicity. It's like coming in at the end of the movie and trying to get the point. The reasons that we are having so many troubles, well, one of the reasons why we are having so many troubles is for many of years we were denied family. Men were encouraged to have babies and father them because they were going to be sold in New Orleans as a new crop. The passing of the bucks from house to house and all of those issues are still subliminally being acted out on how we look at the family unit

Were do I think the family is going?

Well I still think we are going through a healing. I still think the family is somewhat tribal. That we divide into groups and cliques and we have yet to develop the unity that we need to be the community that we ought to be. That's the family that relates to the African American family in general/ specifically through our homes we are going through a healing. Strong matriarchs. The search for the father has led to I wrote the book He-motions that talks about the fatherhood and the struggle that we're having. I think that we are getting better but in some ways we are still suffering as a family. The second thing I'd like to bring up is our economy. Anytime you don't have the same economic advantages and opportunities, you suffer. And anytime you are lead to believe you can't take advantage of those opportunities; sometimes there are visible walls that alienate us. And sometimes there are visible walls of low self-esteem, cultural boundaries and poor parenting that dement the process as well. And we've got a lot of work to do on the Black family. We've survived slavery, and the civil rights and we'll survive drug addiction, racism and everything else that life hands at us because we were made to survive.

What is the state of black men?

Very diverse. In many regards, I tell people that there is a new sheriff in town. And upwardly mobile African American; they are CEOs over Fortune 500 companies like never before. Moving into rank and other military positions. They don't get the press. They don't get the recognition. But there are black men who are single parents and doing a great job. But it's a lot of complicated issues. There are sexual complications. There is destruction of the family. There is diversity of the sexual options that are available to black men that are being exploited and in some cases being encouraged in the media and on TV. And so, I think there is a lot that black men are up against. And so I think that's its very important that we do two things; that we challenge the black men who are not doing well. While we don't neglect the tremendous responsibility and encouraging the ones that are doing well. So many times we are so busy reprimanding those that don't do well that we don't appreciate the ones that do do well. So as long as you do that, you are going to increase the odds against your men to respond to encourage men. Whoever claps to loud; that's who men are going to respond to. So when there is a man who's doing well, in any way, we have to be careful and give him his props.

Based on your readership with the book, Black women are the majority of readers. Will men come to see this film?

I just did a book called he motions. And it was written to for men and the women who love them. And it's #10 on the New York Times Best Sellers list. I had 50,000 men to come to my event in Atlanta. I have a huge audience of men who appreciate my ministry and I think that men will come to see the film and I think they will deeply enjoy it. I'm probably well known for the Women thou Art Loosed because it's why people are generally interviewing me. But in reality there is an increasing following of men in my community; The Potters House in Dallas Texas is 45% men out of the 30,000 members of our church. In church that's highly unusual. I want to say about the film that there are various types of men. There is no male bashing. There are positive men and negative men. There are men like men like me who are doing counseling working to build this women up. There are men like Todd in the film who is a single parents taking care of his own child. , taking care of his own mother, working everyday. He is willing to step into Michelle's life and love her despite of her past. And there are men like Reggie. There are just different types of men and I think that the men will enjoy the movie and more importantly they will walk away and begin to understand what sexual abuse does to the woman.

What about the role of black mothers in lives of their children and communities today?

In the role of black mothers in lives of their children continues to be a great force of influence. I was blessed to have a great mother who shaped my destiny and my career and most of who I am today. And I am a direct derivative of what she poured inside of me. Although I realized that there are many people who were not blessed to have that kind of mother and the reason that Cassie is in the film and the way that she is; is to point to the fact that many many times when daughters are abused, mothers don't always support them like they should. Stereotypically, the mother has a tendency to side with the man at the expense of the child. And I think that this is an opportunity for woman to rethink their priorities. There are more and more young girls having babies today. We have younger mothers who sexuality is peaking at a time when they are having young children. This is a dangerous concoction that can cause the family to blow up. Because which urge is gonna be the strongest? The urge for sexual contact or the urge to be a mother. And everyone has to prioritize in her life, which urge is going to be the strongest. Unfortunately, in the case of the movie, the mother makes the wrong choice.

What can mothers of color, as well as any mother, take away from this film?

I want mothers to walk away from this film and listen to their daughters and listen to their children. Watch out for boyfriends who are overly interested in children. Who may compromise their positions; drunk boyfriends coming home late at night, wondering into the wrong bedroom. Men who are overly fascinated with bathing their daughters; and the door is closed. Why is the door closed? I want mothers to look at what's going on in the house and not be so busy going to work, seeking careers or going to a club so that they won't put their children in the hands of just anybody so that they can go do what they want to do.

And what can we expect next from Bishop T.D.Jakes?

I don't know. Probably a long vacation on a deserted island (laughing).

Are you sure about that Deserted Island? Maybe that Alaskan Cruise you are hosting next summer will do much better?

Yes. (laughing) That Alaskan cruise would be great. Yeah. And sleep late and wear raggedy clothes for two weeks will be fine.

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