Have you ever heard of praise miming?
It’s a style of praise dance popular in some Black churches, where performers swap lyrical movement for miming and often wear mimes’ traditional white face makeup. This form of worship plays a central role in “Honk for Jesus, Save Your Soul,” the Sundance stunner from identical twin sisters, writer-director Adamma and producer Adanne Ebo.
Their film follows pastor Lee-Curtis Childs (Sterling K. Brown) and his first lady Trinitie (Regina Hall) as they aim to rebuild their congregation after a scandal effectively closes their Atlanta megachurch, which maxed out around 26,000 worshippers. The pastor and first lady hire a documentary crew to chronicle their comeback, but the road to redemption — especially in the competitive business of corporatized and commodified Christianity — doesn’t prove easy.
In the 2018 short film of the same name, the couple stand on the side of the road holding a sign that says “Honk for Jesus,” hoping to draw attention from potential congregants. Eventually, Trinity applies white mime makeup and performs in a last ditch effort to draw more eyes.
“The making of the short was the first time that we realized that praise mining was not a universal concept. We thought people don’t want to make it up,” Adanne Ebo tells Variety over Zoom, sitting next to her sister Adamma and bouncing off each other as they recount the story behind their film, which is one of the hottest sales titles at the fest.
When Adamma Ebo workshopped the script for the short, which doubled as her UCLA masters thesis project, people would ask if she’d made up the dance style.
“During my thesis presentation, I pulled up YouTube videos and people were like, ‘Oh, my God,’” she recalls. “I can’t remember specifics about the first time I experienced praise miming, but I just know that I was terrified. I was like, ‘Why?’”